By Penny Fox
There are few more beautiful places to hike than in the great state of Washington in the Pacific Northwest. From crystal-clear lakes to craggy summits and snow-covered mountain tops, hikers of varying levels of skill will be afforded panoramic views and an endurance-building trek. Below are five of the most energizing hiking trails in Washington State for your consideration.
Hiking the trails at the Enchantments located near Leavenworth, Washington, is definitely not for first-time hikers. This strenuous trail is good any time of year, but fall presents the best weather for the 18-mile journey up the Central Cascades, a major mountain range connecting Washington, Oregon, and California. The trail is comprised of two basins created by glaciers, including Enchantment and Prusik peaks, and pristine lakes. This is a prime example of alpine climate and landscape with glacier-worn ridges, occasional thunderstorms, the observance of mountain goats, and rock-turned-wildflower meadows. The fee to traverse the trails here is nothing compared to the beauty found there. Early discoverers named the peaks the area is known for by fairy names like Gnome Tarn, Troll Sink, Sprite, and Naiad Lake. Once you experience it for yourself, you’ll agree that it is enchantment defined.
Stretching over nearly 1,900 acres in the Cascade Mountain range that runs from Washington to California, Mount Pilchuck has a mile trail that goes up the highest peak and includes an old fire tower, built by the U.S. Forest Service in 1918. Skiing used to be permitted on the mountain, but was discontinued in the 1960s because of treacherous conditions that can quickly develop on the mountain. Experienced hikers will find this 5.4-mile round-trip trail to be intriguing and worthwhile, and one that can be completed in one day if you maintain a steady pace. Hikers should stay on the marked trails, however, because there are numerous false trails and signage is limited. Remember to register at the ranger’s station, and come prepared for weather changes. Daunting and demanding, hiking Mount Pilchuck will be memorable and is definitely worth the effort.
This 5.75-mile loop trail that begins at Paradise takes you on an unforgettable scenic journey of Mount Rainier, and provides a breathtaking view of Tatoosh and Stevens ridges, and the crystal-clear Reflection Lake in the distance. You’ll appreciate the crisp mountain air and when you get your lungs full, you can begin your trek up the rocky incline, past the rocky crags and conifer trees that reach to the clouds, all the way up to the summit at 5,700 feet. There is almost always snow here, and every season brings a special scenic treat from the spring wildflowers to the colors of the fall valleys below. Parts of the trail have no railings, so be careful as you navigate them. There are also plenty of photo opportunities along the way, so don’t forget to bring your camera.
This very popular, albeit challenging trail will build your endurance and enhance your appreciation for the majestic views that come with it. Appropriately named, you’ll understand as you hike up the 8.6-mile round-trip trail to the summit, with the snow-capped Mount Rainier to the south. Closer, but still in the distance is Kaleetan Peak, Crystal Lake and Tooth, but you’ll have to keep your sights on the mossy path to avoid slipping on the rock-strewn avalanche chute. This is one trail that’s better navigated in the summer months because of quickly-changing weather and snowfall that can make perilous conditions quickly.
This intermediate level trail is one of the most popular starting at Paradise on the southern side of Mount Rainier in Washington. Most hikers can complete it in five hours at a steady pace, taking time to stop now and then to enjoy the magnificent views across the valleys and ridges on the way up and down. On a clear day you can see forever, but even when the clouds are low and the fog is heavy, there’s an unparalleled beauty that will leave you speechless. The misty fog creates an ethereal presence on the mountain, and you’ll feel like you’re the first and only person to navigate the path to the top and back again. Remember to take plenty of water and your camera so you can capture the stunning waterfalls and glaciers along the trail. There’s a perfect place to stop for lunch near the top.