By Penny Fox
There’s nothing better than escaping the hustle and bustle of the city and spending time in nature to refresh. And there’s no better place than the beautiful Evergreen State with the majestic mountains, pristine lakes, and literally hundreds of trails just waiting to be explored. Below are five of the best backpack camping spots located around Washington that will bring you and nature together.
The signs leading up to Mount Rainer mark the evacuation route that would be followed if the mountain decided to erupt. It’s hard to imagine that the beautiful glacier-topped mountain that reaches over 14,000 feet into the clouds is still considered an active volcano. The drive up any side of the mountain is breathtaking, but the farthest by car you can go on the southeast side is Sunrise, and Paradise lookout on the southwest side offers a stunning view of the distant scenery, wildflowers, and trails. Mount Rainier National Park is nearly 370 square-miles of some of the most spectacular wilderness that is available for hiking, backpacking, and camping. No permits are required for daytime use except for the backcountry Wonderland Trail, but a permit is required for overnight camping and can be obtained at several visitor centers on the way up the mountain. Other fees apply, and it’s best to reserve your overnight camping well in advance of when you want to visit due to popularity. Trails range from easy to challenging, depending on the ascents and density of the forests, and other factors. Because the weather can change dramatically very quickly, those traveling over any mountain trail should be prepared and aware. Pets and bikes are also not permitted on the trails. Part of the Pacific Coast Trail runs through the park, but there are no established camping sites there.
North Cascades National Park is the largest park in the area that includes the wilderness of Washington and British Columbia, and represents the rugged beauty of the farthest corner of the United States. There are over 300 glaciers, the most of any park in the continental U.S., and there is more than 27,000 acres for backpackers to explore. There are numerous rock types and formations and over 127 pristine lakes in the park. Where Mount Rainier National Park has the backcountry, North Cascade National Park has the front country, and hikers can be seen traversing the 400 trails between April and October. This wilderness area provides a veritable smorgasbord with the many ecosystems, and there are 140 designated camping sites throughout lower elevations, and each has a flat tent pad, pit or composting toilet, and water. Fees apply, so make sure to register at the ranger’s station before starting your journey. Also, weather can change quickly and the park is home to bears and other animals, so you will want to use precaution and food storage containers to avoid problems with the wildlife.
Washington State has one of the most unique environments of any state in the U.S., and that includes a rain forest and coastal region. You’ll feel like you just took a step back into prehistoric times when you see the old-forest growth and extremely large trees covered in thick green moss, the large ferns covering the forest floor, and feel the light rain on your cheeks. There are 130 miles of trails that can be explored, and 38 miles are along the coast. If you take the well-marked Moss Trail first, you’ll learn to identify the trees and plants as you go up the Hoh River Trail. It’s best to register in advance as well and there are applicable fees for hiking and camping overnight.
Part of the Central Cascades near Leavenworth, Washington, the Enchantments are exactly what they sound like. With lakes named Perfection and Inspiration, you could get the idea that this area is a place of contemplation, serenity, and peacefulness. And you’d be right. And with place names like Sprite, Leprechaun, and Aasgard, you might think of the legendary locations in tales like “The Lord of the Rings.” And you would be correct again. And as with any true path to peace and tranquility, great effort is needed to achieve the elevated perspective. The path to the Enchantments isn’t one for the faint-hearted or inexperienced. The first step in the journey is to obtain an overnight permit through a lottery that starts in February, and that may well be the easiest action. Hikers must travel seven miles before they reach the first lake, but the reward is a view of the astonishing beauty of the glacier-carved crystal clear Snow Lake. Strong hikers need a full day to navigate the trails and switchbacks, and there are strenuous climbs over granite boulders and sharp pyramids. There are patches of meadows as you climb, with the color of the season reflected in the lakes you encounter. Pets are not allowed, and campfires are prohibited. Be aware of the trail conditions before you go and take plenty of iodine tablets for the water.
If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase “purple mountains majesty” came from, you’ll know exactly where if you backpack to Gem Lake near Snoqualmie, Washington. After hiking the difficult trail near the Alpental Ski area, this 10-mile roundtrip journey will lead you to extraordinary views of the mountains in the distance. You can pitch your tent or choose to sleep under the stars, but as the sun sets, the clouds change from cotton candy pink, to cherry red, to soft lavender, to dark blue before fading, and all this color is divinely reflected in the quiet waters of Gem Lake. As the stars come out and twinkle beside the ghostly moon, the shadows of the tall aspens reach to them. As with other hiking, backpacking, and overnight camping, certain fees apply, so register at the ranger’s station before proceeding on your adventure.