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How to Hike Safely During the Rainy Season

Hiking in the rain. While it might not be your first choice, rainy day hikes can offer solitude and a special ambiance, especially if you're dressed to stay dry and warm. Below are tips for planning a rainy-day hike and staying safe while you're on the trail.

Hiking in the rain. While it might not be your first choice, taking a rainy day hike can offer solitude and a special ambiance, especially if you're dressed to stay dry and warm. Below are tips for planning a rainy-day hike and staying safe while you're on the trail.

Staircase Rapids by Olympic Dave.jpegThe suspension bridge over the Skagit is often covered with a light drizzle. Photo by Olympic Dave.

    Choose your hikes wisely

    Hiker and contributor to Washington Trails magazine, Pam Roy, has this excellent advice for choosing a hike for a drizzly day:

    "Pick trails suitable for the weather and avoid exposed ridge walks or hikes involving scrambling over slick rocks. Think old growth forests."

    Check the weather

    There are no shortage of good online sources for mountain weather and road conditions.

    For mountain forecasts, our favorite is the National Weather Service's Mountain Forecast website. It gives detailed forecasts for both mountain passes and actual hiking destinations, and includes links to zone area forecasts for freezing/snow levels.

    Check your access roads

    For road conditions, WSDOT has up-to-date mountain pass conditions, including cameras on five well-traveled routes. It is also wise to call ahead to the ranger station where you plan to hike or snowshoe to determine current conditions, especially the local roads where storms or fallen trees can shut off routes unexpectedly.

    • When hiking during or after very heavy rains, it's a good idea to take a little extra caution and watch your footing around any steep drainages, along hillsides, some shorelines and on snowfields. Drainages around recent fire activity can be particularly unstable to mud and debris flows.
    • In winter, heavy rains could destabilize snow and increase avalanche danger. Be sure to check the check the mountains forecast page and the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center avalanche forecasts.
    • Rivers can also swell unexpectedly, even late in the season, so make sure to carefully assess any creek or river crossings.
    • If you see a landslide across a trail, let your local ranger station know. You can also report landslides to the Department of Natural Resources.

    Clothing: what to you need?

    You don't need to buy a new wardrobe before you hit the trail, but you'll need a few basics to stay safe and comfortable. You'll probably get wet at some point while hiking in the rainy season, but using the tips below will help you stay warm and safe.

    While you don't need expensive or new gear to hike in the rain, avoid cotton when hiking in the rain: it's a poor insulator when wet, making you feel colder and increasing your risk of hypothermia. Look for synthetic (like fleece) or wool materials instead, both of which are in abundance in thrift stores.

    • Base layer: If you’re hiking in colder weather, this might long thermal underwear tops and/or bottoms.
    • Warm, insulating layer: Do you have a fleece jacket? How about a comfy wool sweater? Both of these work great as a insulating layer that provides warmth if it gets chilly.
    • Waterproof/windproof layer: This includes both rain/wind jackets and hiking or rain pants. The jacket will keep you warm and dry on windy ridges and rainy days, and the pants will keep you warm and protected from brush and mud.
    • Socks: Hiking-specific socks offer more cushioning and breathability than cotton tube socks and protect them from blisters (particularly important on long hikes).