Backpacking in Washington is something special. Whether seeing the stars far from city lights or watching the sun rise from camp, backpacking lets you unplug, see new sights, and relax in nature.
With hundreds and hundreds of backpacking options across the state, your trips can be any length of time, from one night to weeks on the trail. The sweet spot for most people usually falls a long weekend or a week. To that end, we've put together a few options around the state for 3-5 night trips that offer beautiful terrain, incredible wildlife and challenges to conquer.
Days and distances: The distances of the trips below are only suggestions. Some hikers prefer stretching a 12 mile trip into four days, and others might knock out 44 miles in an overnight. Below are just a few ideas to get you started, as well as some tips for finding your own adventure.
Note on water: In drier months, some areas can lack abundant water sources, so check conditions and recent trip reports before you go. Plan your sources carefully and file a trip report when you return to let other hikers know what to look for.
Map Your Own Route
Backpacking trips can be as long (or short) as you'd like to make them. When you go to put together your own backpacking route, remember the following tips:
- Decide where you'll camp each night. Plan your daily mileage around reasonable expectations so you can make it to designated camping areas without hiking late into the night.
- Hike near reliable water sources. Many streams and creeks dry up in the hot summer months. Be sure that water sources will be running when you plan your trip so you can stay hydrated.
- Consider elevation gain. Hiking a 30 mile trail with 500 feet of gain is a lot different than hiking a 30 mile trail with 7,000 feet of gain. Climbs will take longer and require more energy. Plan ahead for variable terrain and set reasonable expectations for your distance with elevation gain factored in.
- Use our Hiking Guide to put together your own trip and get the latest info on trail conditions using trip reports. The more information you have before heading out, the better. Research your trip and plan accordingly.
- Check out these step-by-step tips for plotting your own hiking or backpacking loop.
Location: Palouse and Blue Mountains
Mileage: 20 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1300 feet
This loop travels through a remote part of Washington’s hiking terrain, the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness, situated in the SE corner of the state. The trail starts out on top of Grizzly Bear Ridge, then drops down to the Wenaha River, where a trail parallels the waterway. Follow the river, then ascend back up on the Slick Ear Trail to your car. The Wenaha River Trail offers miles of hiking and many connections to other trails for those with some extra days to explore the area.
WHITE MOUNTAIN VIA KETTLE CREST TRAIL SOUTH
Location: Kettle River Range
Length: 28.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
This 28-mile round trip offers the best of the Columbia Highlands as it passes through old-growth ponderosa pine stands, skirts five significant peaks in the Kettle Range, and showcases the effects of the White Mountain Fire of 1988. The Kettle Crest Trail passes just beneath the summits of Sherman and Snow Peaks, Bald Mountain, Barnaby Buttes and White Mountain. 360-degree views include Lake Roosevelt and the Selkirks to the east, Canada to the north and the Cascades to the west.
PACKERS TRAIL - MOUNT MISERY LOOP
Location: Palouse and Blue Mountains
Length: 45 miles
Elevation Gain: 9234 feet
The Blue Mountains lure hikers in with their open vistas along the high ridges, intense colors at sunrise and sunset, prolific wildflowers, wildlife sightings, and some of the largest old-growth trees in Eastern Washington. The Mount Misery trail is a tough one (beginning with a rough ride up the forest road), but it almost guaranteed for solitude.
Kettle Crest Trail
Location: Eastern Washington
Mileage: 44 miles
Elevation Gain: 8000 feet
This trek across Washington's less famous crest will test both your mental and physical fortitude as you gain 8,000 ft. over the up and down of the traverse. Plan to spend a few nights doing this trip. Besides taking the time to enjoy the sub-alpine sage and meadow terrain, the gain and mileage is heftier than your average backpacking excursion. However, you'll feel a big sense of accomplishment for having completed it, and the views are fantastic as you go up and down the various peaks.
Grand Valley Loop
Location: Northern Coast
Mileage: 7.9 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2080 feet
The Grand Valley Loop is appropriately named. Start out on an exposed ridge with expansive views of the Olympics, then descend into the valley flowing with a lush creek that fills three lakes. Depending on the time of year wildflowers will blanket these slopes and valleys. There are a number of other trails that can be added to this 8-mile loop. To extend your journey consider including Lillian Ridge, Grand Pass or the Elk Mountain Trail.
SOUTH COAST WILDERNESS TRAIL
Location: Olympic Coast
Length: 17 miles
Elevation Gain: 3000 feet
Season: All year
Experience one of the wildest - and most beautiful - stretches of coastline in the contiguous United States on this 17 mile traverse. But beware: this isn't just any leisurely beach walk. The going is tough. You'll be climbing ladders with your backpack on, scrambling along muddy headland trails, waiting out high tides and fording creeks. Up and down you'll go on this demanding trail. But it is entirely worth it for the ocean sunsets, the unexpected encounters with wildlife, the incredible sea stacks and the constantly crashing surf.
Flapjack Lakes via north fork skokomish
Location: Hood Canal
Mileage: 15.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3050 feet
This is a great backpacking option because it starts out on old road grade, letting you ease into things and get used to carrying a heavy pack. And you’ll want to be warmed up because after a few miles the trail turns away from the Skokomish River and heads up to the lakes. This is a great destination for camping and makes a good basecamp to launch some other explorations like the Gladys Divide and Black and White Lakes, which are both worthwhile excursions made more enticing by the fact that you can leave your heavy pack behind at camp.
Mount Adams Highline
Location: Mount Adams Area
Mileage: 22.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1550 feet
The Mount Adams Highline trail brings you up close and personal with one of Washington's volcanoes. The second highest mountain in Washington, Adams is the main feature of his trail, but there is plenty to look at besides the majestic beauty of the mountain.
Depending on how fast you hike, this could be a two day trip, but if you want to relax and drink in the mountain views, three days would work great. Be sure to plan your stops around active water sources in the summer. Depending on the season and weather, water can be hard to come by in some areas.
Location: Mount Rainier/Sunrise
Mileage: 36.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 7430 feet
The Eastside Loop offers a fantastic tour of a piece of Mount Rainier National Park. With each new trail, you’ll enter a new segment of beauty, including a string of waterfalls, a tunnel of huckleberries and the open meadows of Summerland at the end. You’ll also get a taste of the Wonderland Trail without having to circumnavigate the whole mountain. When it comes to backpacking at Mount Rainer, this option is on the shortlist.
PCT Section I - White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass
Location: White Pass/Cowlitz River Valley
Mileage: 99.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 17,771 feet
The Pacific Crest Trail can be a daunting prospect, but you don’t have to hike the whole 2,653 miles. This segment will give you a great tour of Washington’s southern reaches. Over these 99 miles hikers pass through varied landscapes that tell the story of land use in our state, passing within 12 miles of Mount Rainier in one section and through a heavily logged corridor in another. It’s hard to think of another trail that offers as thorough of a tour of this section of the state.
Rainbow McAlester Loop
Location: North Cascades Highway
Mileage: 31.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 6650 feet
This loop offers a tour through the heart of the North Cascades. Start out on the PCT, and link up with the loop trail that circumnavigates a cluster of high peaks. The route never strays too far from a creek, which means water is plentiful, and Rainbow Lake and McAlester Lake add two attractions along the way. You will also go up and over a few passes that afford views to the northern tip of Lake Chelan with the town of Stehekin, a reasonable detour for those out on a leisurely trip.
Park Creek Pass Via Thunder Creek
Location: North Cascades Highway
Mileage: 55.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 9800 feet
Take the Thunder Creek Trail as it cuts through a remote part of the North Cascades National Park. This trail is a long route that mostly stays in the trees, offering many days’ worth of solitude and contemplation of the majesty of this watershed. The views that come at Park Creek Pass will feel earned after such a long approach. From here, enjoy the reward of this playground. And for a grand finale, consider heading out on the Cascade Pass Trail to link up with a shuttle vehicle you’ve left there.
Mileage: 37.8 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2600 feet
The Pasayten Wilderness offers many backpacking opportunities, but this option is especially great as an early season trip since it has a relatively low elevation. Follow Lake Creek north into more and more remote parts of this wilderness, passing Black Lake, then Fawn Lake. Eventually, you’ll arrive at the junction with the Boundary Trail, which nestles up near the Canadian border. This main thoroughfare links to many other trails nearby including several worthy side trips.