We've turned the corner on winter, coming through the season's dark tunnel into the brighter light of not-quite-spring. It's that curious time of year when the high country is still locked deep under snow, but the lowland is already waking up to the new season. If tromping through snow drifts isn't your jam, then these lower elevation trails are perfect for hiking in late winter.
No, spring has not officially sprung. But it's close. And below are a few ideas of trails to watch the season change before your eyes. Look for trees budding out, wildlife perking up and the very first wildflowers of spring—grass widows, buttercups, desert parsley, gold stars—coming into bloom.
Worst case scenario: you're a week or two early, but at least you got out there in the bracing wind, rain or sunshine for a hike.
Lake Aldwell Overlook Trail
Location: Olympic Peninsula — Northern Coast
Length: 1.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 50 feet
Floods may have made much of the Elwha River Valley inaccessible, but the Lake Aldwell Overlook Trail offers a short little jaunt to see a section of this mighty, now free-flowing river. You can also learn a bit about the history of the area, as well as some of the biodiversity it has to offer, thanks to a telescope and some laminated information pamphlets at one of the overlooks.
Columbia Hills state Park - Crawford Oaks
Location: Southwest Washington -- Columbia River Gorge
Length: 4.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: minimal
A number of hikes around Columbia Hills make this area a reliable early spring destination. Follow this trail through rock benches, groves of oak trees and fields of flowers. Bitter cherry bushes, fiddle neck, showy phlox, puccoon, prairie stars are some of the flowers you may see throughout the year, as well as balsamroot and lupine. But all the gorgeous flowers come with a prices — be sure to check for ticks!
Whipple Creek park
Location: Southwest Washington -- Vancouver Area
Length: 3.1 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 110 feet
Get the deep-forest experience without the deep-forest drive. Whipple Creek Park is a 300-acre green oasis in the midst of farmlands to the west of the Clark County Fairgrounds. This hike loops through colossal Douglas fir trees and waist-high sword ferns to provide a primordial experience where you are dwarfed by nature.
snow mountain ranch
Location: Central Washington -- Yakima
Length: 9.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1140 feet
Snow Mountain Ranch offers a variety of year-round walks on 9.2 miles of trails. Along the way, the views expand with every step, and much of the trail is lined with wildflowers: grass widows and desert-parsleys early in the season followed by balsamroot, lupine, phlox and fields of big-headed clover. Once on the summit, kick back, bask in the sun and enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. When it’s time to return, descend the way you came or make it a loop by descending on the east leg of the Cowiche Mountain Trail.
Location: Central Washington -- Potholes Region
Length: 4.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
The Vantage area is a popular destination for rock climbers, but the fascinating rock formations and early-season blooms of the Gorge can still be enjoyed with both feet planted firmly on the ground. In spring, a waterfall may being flowing down the tall wall. Flowers festoon the area near the water, though a variety of blossoms accompany you the entire length of the trail, and keep you company on your way to the waterfall and back.
Fishtrap Lake - North
Location: Eastern Washington - Spokane/Coeur D'Alene
Length: 4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 126 feet
Though it's likely not completely snow-free quite yet, keep your eye on trip reports for flowers at Fishtrap. Early buttercups show their faces as the snow melts away, and bitterroot keep the ground gorgeous well into summer. WTA has worked here to improve the trail system. So if you want to join us, keep an eye on our trail maintenance schedule, and return with WTA around May.
Puget Sound and Islands
Deception Pass State Park - Goose Rock
Location: Puget Sounds and Islands -- Whidbey Island
Length: 4.3 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 484 feet
Hike along an open, grassy area on a rocky hillside, in spring look for the pink flowers of wild currant. Look out at Cornet Bay and on a sunny day, Mount Baker in the distance. All along this section notice the contorted branches and peeling red bark of the native madrone trees. These will have clusters of flowers in the spring, and red-orange berries in the fall. Some of these trees are quite old, with huge trunks and grey bark at the base.
Location: Puget Sounds and Islands -- Seattle Area
Length: 3.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 800 feet
This urban park located in northwest Seattle includes forests, streams, beaches and meadows. Check the meadows and forest floor for early season flowers making an appearance. During the winter months when the deciduous leaves have been shed, visitors can enjoy the added benefit of views from Puget Sound all the way to the Olympic Mountains.