As the country begins to reopen, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.
Within an hour or two of downtown Seattle’s Space Needle, you can be in desolate wilderness, hiking through evergreen forests with views of Puget Sound, Mount Rainier, and the Olympic range. The Seattle area is full of great hikes, but some of them are more well-known and crowded than others. How do you avoid hiking alongside hundreds of others on a busy weekend? You ask a guy who knows his way around the off-the-radar trails. We called up Craig Romano, author of more than 20 books on hiking in the greater Washington area—including the recent Urban Trails Seattle and Urban Trails East Side—to ask for his favorite, lesser known hikes within 75 miles of downtown. Here’s what he picked.
Best For: A Year-Round Workout
Mount Si | North Bend
The hike up Mount Si is hardly a secret. You can find half of Seattle here on sunny weekends, trudging the eight miles round-trip and sweating through a lung-busting 3,300 feet of climbing to a scenic outlook with views of Mount Rainier, the Seattle skyline, and the Olympic range. It’s an easy 40-minute drive up Interstate 90 toward Snoqualmie Pass to reach the trailhead. “Mount Si attracts more than 100,000 hikers a year, making it one of the most popular mountains in the state,” Romano says. “But it’s one of the few big mountains in the area you can usually hike year-round, allowing for some excellent winter cardio workouts.” Pro tip: in late fall and winter, you’ll find fewer crowds here.
Best For: When It’s Raining
Ebey’s Landing Loop | Whidbey Island
Ebey’s Landing Loop is a 5.2-mile round-trip hike on Whidbey Island, located within a national historic reserve. To get there, take a ferry from Mukilteo, north of Seattle, to Clinton, then drive 29 miles to the town of Coupeville, where you’ll find the trailhead across from an old cemetery. “This is one of the oldest non-Native settlements in Washington,” says Romano. “You’ll stroll across a verdant prairie, past restored homesteads, to coastal bluffs towering above crashing surf. It’s in the rain shadow, so the weather is mild, and oftentimes when it’s raining elsewhere, it’s dry here.” While wandering across a wild stretch of beach, look for migratory seabirds and views of the Olympic Mountains. With just 310 feet of elevation gain, this hike is doable for every member of the family.
Best For: Incredible Views
Mount Pilchuck | Granite Falls
The 5.4-mile round-trip trail up Mount Pilchuck, at the base of the North Cascades, is one of the most accessible and popular hikes off the Mountain Loop Highway, and the trailhead is just under two hours from Seattle. The route covers a robust 2,200 vertical feet of climbing to reach a restored fire lookout tower. You’ll walk through old-growth forest and big talus boulder fields to reach the peak. From the top, you can see Mount Rainier to the south and Mount Baker to the north. “It’s one of the best views for a very moderate hike,” says Romano. Getting to the trailhead requires traveling down a rough gravel road, which helps keep crowds at bay.
Best For: Proximity to the City
Squak Mountain | Issaquah Alps
On the days you don’t have time to drive a ways out of the city for a hike, head to the Issaquah Alps, the name for the highlands near the town of Issaquah, 30 minutes from downtown Seattle. The area, which includes the popular Cougar Mountain and Tiger Mountain trail networks, can see a lot of people. But Squak Mountain tends to be less trafficked. Hike through a ravine on the relatively new Margaret’s Way to reach Debbie’s View, and you’ll cover seven miles and 1,600 vertical feet. “Margaret’s Way winds up steep slopes through groves of mature trees,” says Romano. “Not only will you get a good workout following this well-designed trail, but you’ll also get some visual rewards, including a view of Mount Rainier.”
Best For: A Waterfall Payoff
Heybrook Ridge | Index
Not everyone knows about the new trail up Heybrook Ridge, which was completed in 2017. To get to the trailhead, drive an hour and 15 minutes northeast from Seattle toward the town of Index in the central Cascades. The trail is a moderate 3.4 miles round-trip, with 780 feet of elevation gain to hike the ridge, so it’s doable for kids who are motivated by the promise of a waterfall. “Wind through mossy forest up an emerald ridge to a view of Mount Index and Bridal Veil Falls,” says Romano. “The waterfall can be very dramatic. You’re looking across this small valley at the wall of Mount Index and the waterfall coming out of Lake Serene.”
Best For: Getting Away from the Crowds
Granite Lakes | North Bend
Many of the trails in the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River Valley see bustling foot traffic. But the 8.8-mile hike up Granite Creek Trail to Granite Lakes is less crowded, according to Romano, who recently hiked this route and spotted all of two people on it. “A quieter alternative to nearby busier locations, the hike to Granite Lakes follows a crashing creek to two small lakes set in a talus-strewn cirque and home to several rare amphibians,” he says. The trail, which climbs 2,300 feet to reach the lakes, is an old logging road that’s been converted into a scenic hiking trail through second-growth forest. Drive Interstate 90 east from Seattle for 40 minutes to reach the trailhead near the town of North Bend. The road to the trailhead was paved a couple of years ago, making for easier access.