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Hike Washington's National Forests

Get to know the national forests in Washington.

Can you name the 7 national forests in Washington? How many of our national forests have you hiked in? Return to some of your favorites or try out a new one.

Below is a quick rundown of our six bigger forests, and some incredible hikes in each one. The next time you’re out hiking, impress your friends with some fun facts and info about our amazing public lands.

The Can’s and Can’ts of National Forests:

Here in Washington, public land is managed by many different agencies. National forests are managed by the federal government and have thier own set of rules and regulations. The following list addresses some of the common questions people have. 

  • You can use your Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful pass for trailheads that require a parking pass. 
  • You can hike with your dogs in most national forests, with the exception of some sensitive ecological areas. While not all national forests require dogs to be on leash, WTA recommends hikers always leash their dogs for the safety and comfort of fellow hikers. 
  • You can often find dispersed camping. Be sure to contact the nearest Forest Service office for guidelines.
  • You can fish and hunt in accordance with state rules and regulations. 
  • You can't set off fireworks. (This is true on almost all public land.)
  • You can't use a Discover Pass, because it only works on state land. National forests are managed on the federal level. 

Colville National Forest

History: Formed in 1907 as the Colville Forest Reserve, it was later renamed Colville National Forest.
Location: Northeastern Washington
Size: 1.1 million acres
Miles of hiking trails: 486 miles

Sherman Pass by Rolan.jpg
Sherman Pass during larch season. Photo by Rolan.

This region of the state was first shaped over 10,000 years ago by Ice Age glaciers that carved three major valleys. The Okanogan, Kettle River and Selkirk Mountain ranges (considered the foothills of the Rocky Mountains) run through the forest, dispelling any thoughts that eastern Washington is flat. Keep an eye out for wildlife like grizzly and black bears, cougars and bald eagles. 

Fun fact: The Colville is home to the last remaining herd of woodland caribou in the U.S.

Explore this forest on these hikes:

Sherlock Peak: 7.0 miles, 1,580 feet elevation gain
Abercrombie Mountain: 7.3 miles, 2,350 feet elevation gain
Crowell Ridge: 8.4 miles, 2,700 feet elevation gain
Kettle Crest Trail: 44 miles, 8,000 feet elevation gain (one-way)


Gifford Pinchot National Forest

History: Formed in 1897 as part of the Mount Rainier Forest Reserve, it was set aside as the Columbia National Forest in 1908 and renamed in 1949 for Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the Forest Service.
Location: Western slopes of Cascade Range from Mount Rainier National Park to the Columbia River
Size: 1,368,300 acres, including the 110,000-acre Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Mount Adams.
Miles of hiking trails: 1,500 miles

Sunrise at Mount Adams. Photo by seltaire.jpg
Sunrise at from Mount Adams. Photo by seltaire.

Fun fact: The White Salmon River runs through this forest and is one of Washington's Wild and Scenic Rivers, a special designation that protects intact stretches of river across the country

EXPLORE THIS FOREST ON THESE HIKES:

Grassy Knoll: 4.4 miles, 1,048 feet elevation gain
Stagman Ridge: 9 miles, 1,700 feet elevation gain
Strawberry Mountain: 10.7 miles, 2,280 feet elevation gain
Heart Lake via Lily Basin: 13 miles, 1,900 feet elevation gain


Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

History: Formed between 1893 and 1897this forest was renamed and combined many times over the next 75 years, and officially named Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie in 1973.
Location: Western side of the Cascades, stretching from the Canadian border to Mount Rainier National Park
Size: 1.7 million acres
Miles of hiking trails: 1,500 miles

Twin Lakes from Winchester Mountain. Photo by mbravenboer..jpg
Twin Lakes from above. Photo by mbravenboer.

Sixty two percent of Washington residents live within a 70-mile radius of the forest, making it one of the most visited national forests in the United States. Its diverse landscape encompasses glacier-covered peaks (including Mount Baker and Glacier Peak volcanoes), lush alpine meadows and old-growth forest. The forest is home to more glaciers and snow fields than any other national forest outside Alaska and includes about 800 (mostly alpine) lakes.

Fun Fact: Mount Baker is one of the snowiest places in the world; in 1999, Mount Baker Ski Area set the world record for snowfall in a single season with 1,140 inches!

EXPLORE THIS FOREST ON THESE HIKES:

Boundary Way: 8.2 miles, 1,458 feet elevation gain
Bedal Basin: 5.2 miles, 1,900 feet elevation gain
Johnson Ridge: 4 miles, 2,650 feet elevation gain
Huckleberry Mountain: 12 miles, 4,600 feet elevation gain


Olympic National Forest

History: Formed in 1897, as the Olympic Forest Reserve, this forest was renamed to Olympic National Forest in 1907.
Location: Olympic peninsula surrounding much of Olympic National Park
Size: 628,115 acres
Miles of hiking trails: 250 miles

Mount Ellinor by Kennethjw.jpg
View from Mount Ellinor in the southeast portion of the peninsula. Photo by Kennethjw.

Despite its small size (relative to Washington's other national forests), the Olympic National Forest contains five very distinct landscapes:

  1. Temperate Quinault rainforest
  2. Snow-capped peaks likes Mount Washington
  3. Saltwater and sea stacks of the Pacific coast
  4. Large lowland lakes
  5. Long, winding rivers like the Bogachiel, Elhwa, and the Dungeness

Fun Fact: The wettest portion of the peninsula (the higher elevations of the southwest) receives over 200 inches of rain annually. The driest area in the northeast corner gets as little 15 inches a year.

EXPLORE THIS FOREST ON THESE HIKES:

Jefferson Ridge: 4.8 miles, 1,832 feet elevation gain
Mildred Lakes: 9 miles, 2,300 feet elevation gain
Notch Pass: 8.6 miles, 2,700 feet elevation gain
Mount Muller: 12.7 miles, 3,350 feet elevation gain


Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

History: Formed on July 1, 1908
Location: Eastern slopes of the Cascade Range from the Canadian border south past Mount Rainier National Park.
Size: more than 4 million acres
Miles of trail: 1,285 miles

View from Earl Peak. Photo by NellaS..jpg
This vast forest is extremely diverse. Here you'll find everything from glaciated alpine peaks in the Cascades to valleys of old growth forest to the dry shrub-steppe grasslands in the east. View from Earl Peak. Photo by NellaS. 

Fun Fact: The northern reaches of the Okanogan-Wenatchee are home to a wide range of endangered species including one of the largest populations of lynx in the Lower 48 and the most elusive wolverine.

EXPLORE THIS FOREST ON THESE HIKES:

Mount Lillian: 4.1 miles, 1,100 feet gain
Lookout Mountain Lookout - Methow
: 2.6 miles, 1,100 feet elevation gain
Burch Mountain: 10 miles, 3,200 feet elevation gain
Goat Peak: 6.5 miles, 3,200 feet elevation gain


Umatilla National Forest

When: Formed on July 1, 1908 from part of the Blue Mountains National Forest and all of Heppner National Forest. The Wenaha National Forest was added on November 5, 1920.
Location: Southeast Washington and northeast Oregon
Size: 1.4 million acres
Miles of trail: 715 miles

The Blue Mountains of Southeast WA Photo by jordankress.jpg
 The Blue Mountains of southeast Washington. Photo by jordankress.

This is the traditional land of the Nez Pierce (or Nimi'ipuu), Umatilla, Yakima and Walla Walla tribes. Lewis and Clark traveled through on their way to the Pacific, and many folks traveling the Oregon Trail westward stopped and settled here. The Umatilla is home to one of the largest herds of Rocky Mountain elk found in any national forest and also Rocky Mountain big horn sheep.

Fun fact: In 1905, you could find more than 275,000 grown sheep, 40,000 head of cattle, and 15,000 horses wandering the northern half of the forest.

EXPLORE THIS FOREST ON THESE HIKES:

Sawtooth Ridge: 8 miles, 500 feet gain
Mount Misery: 16 miles, 1,000 feet elevation gain
Oregon Butte: 6 miles, 987 feet elevation gain
Smooth Ridge
: 9.4 miles, 2,540 feet elevation gain