Travel

Top Five Favorite Hikes in the Pacific Northwest

I was been blessed to have been raised in a place as beautiful and picturesque as the Pacific Northwest. Every summer my friends and I set out to find great places to explore and hike to. Our journey has brought us up mountain sides, behind waterfalls, and into forests. This post will outline our favorite hikes to date and how to successfully navigate them yourself.

1. Mount Pilchuck

Location: Granite Falls, Washington. North Cascades-Mountain Loop Highway

Length: 5.4 miles round trip

Difficulty: Intermediate

Description: Two of my friends and I completed this hike in late June. Despite it being summer, there was some snow in the area; but the trail was still easily navigable. The gravel road to the trail head was pretty long and bumpy. I would suggest driving very slow on this road because rocks fly up as you drive. You do not have to pay to park. According to the Washington Trails Associating the difficulty level of the trail is intermediate; I would agree with this rating. The trail was very well groomed but the incline was pretty steep and if you are not an avid hiker it will definitely leave you out of breath. My friends and I each packed one water bottle which wasn’t nearly enough. Be sure to pack several water bottles and wear a hat or sunscreen if you are hiking during the summer. The heat was intense and we were sweating buckets on the way up. The trail is almost as beautiful as the destination though, so be sure to look around and take it all in as you ascend to the fire lookout. Toward the very top of the trail, right below the fire lookout, there is a steep and rocky incline that you will have to navigate. These rocks are what the fire lookout is sitting on. Once you get inside the lookout the views are to die for. This hike was one of the most beautiful I had ever been on.

The hike out is significantly easier because it is almost completely downhill. We took about 3.5 hours to complete the hike but this can vary depending on how many breaks you take and how long you spend at the lookout. Overall, I would recommend this hike to anybody is in decent physical shape and loves great views.

2. Angel’s Rest

Location: Corbett, Oregon. Inside the Gorge.

Length: 4.8 miles round trip

Difficulty: Intermediate

Description: My friends and I completed this hike in early June of 2016. As of now I am unsure of how similar the trail is due to the Eagle Creek Fire in 2017. The trail has been reopened by the Oregon State Parks Department but they warn of some hazardous areas along the hike due to the fire. Please hike carefully. During our experience the hike was well groomed and the trailhead was easily accessible off the road that winds through the Gorge and you did not have to pay to park. The trail was as incline for the better part of the hike so I would suggest packing plenty of water. The Oregon State Parks department classifies this hike at intermediate level; I would agree with this classification. The trail was easily navigable but the incline was a true workout. This trail is very popular in the Gorge so be prepared to be hiking with/near many other people. The view at the top is incredible and there is plenty of space for fellow hikers to spread out and get a great photo.
I would suggest this hike to a semi-experienced hiker due to the hazards caused by the Eagle Creek Fire. Overall, this hike is one of the best in the Gorge.

3. Smith Rock River Trail

Location: Terrebonne, Oregon. Smith Rock State Park

Length: 2.5 mile loop

Difficulty: Easy

Description: Unlike the other hikes on this list, this trail is on the eastern side of the state. The trail’s location gives it a beauty all its own. I would call Smith Rock a mix, visually, between Sedona, AZ and the Gorge in Oregon. Parking at the park was a bit of a nightmare. We went to Smith Rock at the end of May on a weekday and it was still filled with people. Parking costs a few dollars but it is very difficult to find a spot. Be prepared to circle around for some time and to parallel park. Immediately upon entering the park (no entrance fee), you are met with breath-taking views, the tall rocks and river are gorgeous. My husband and I drove to Smith Rock from Portland and we didn’t gear up for an intense hike. We planned a day trip to see the park without knowing anything about the trails there before we left. Because of this, we decided to stick to the River Trail because we weren’t dressed for the infamous Misery Ridge trail. The River Trail is a favorite for families and older hikers due to the flat terrain and decent length. It circles around the rim of the park and allows you to see all of the low land beauty.

Rock climbers often set up their gear off of the River Trail so it is likely that you will see climbers on the cliffs high above you as you go. My only suggestions would be to bring bug spray, the river attracts a lot of insects, and to arrive early in the day if you want to find a parking spot or hike several trails. The trail was well worth it and we plan to go back again soon.

4. Snow Lake

Location: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Length: 7.2 miles round trip

Difficulty: Intermediate

Description: The Snow Lake hike is one that is near and dear to my heart. I have hiked it several times over the years, the most recent time being July 1st, 2017. The Snow Lake trail head is located inside Mount Rainier National Park near Paradise. The trail head is easily accessible and has a parking lot that fills up quickly a the beginning of the day. To enter the park you need to pay at the entrance but the fee covers all of your hikes and re-entries for 7 days. The trail is well groomed and very beautiful for the first several miles but after that it can be difficult to navigate if there is still snow. The first few miles feature other smaller lakes to check out and some pretty creeks that you may have to jump over. Due to the lake’s high elevation, the trail was still mostly covered in snow toward the top in early July. Despite the difficulty my husband and I were able to navigate to the lake over the snow. I would not recommend this to inexperienced hikers. The snow easily gave way several times and it was difficult to avoid falling in. If you travel to Snow Lake in late august or September you will have a much better chance of seeing the lake in all of its glory. The lake is nestled in next to large hills and the water is impossibly blue.

You may be tempted to jump in after the long hike but beware the water comes from melted glaciers and is incredibly cold. Many people brave the temperatures and swim in the lake anyway though. I would suggest bringing bug spray on this hike to keep the insects that hang around the lake at bay. I would recommend this hike to any hiker who is willing to commit to a 7 mile distance, it is well worth it.

5. Abiqua Falls

Location: Silverton, Oregon

Distance: 5.3 miles (sometimes longer depending on where you park)

Difficulty: Moderate

Description: The Abiqua Falls trail is by far the most difficult to locate of the five trails. Northeast of Salem, the trail is hidden off of several winding backroads. Google maps will take you as far as the entrance road but after that you are on your own. The entrance road is incredibly rough and very long. I would not suggest bringing less than a four-wheel drive on this road unless you plan to park along the first mile. If you don’t drive to the end of the road before starting your hike, be prepared to double your hike time. The road is easily navigable by foot but most cars will struggle with the intense potholes that litter the area. When my husband and I hiked this trail we stopped relatively early on the road and it took us about 35-40 minuets to get to the trail head. A black and white private land sign is the only indicator of where the trail starts.

Once you find this sign though you are on the right track. From this point the trail is well kept and easy to navigate. The journey is heavily wooded an very pretty. As you travel downhill you will come to a set of ropes that help you to get down a very small cliff. After that you walk alongside a river for a very short time before you come upon the falls. The falls are incredible and beautiful however, if you want to get a great photo I would suggest coming on a weekday.

Despite the trail’s difficult location many people hike it every year. My husband and I traveled to Abiqua Falls in early June so it was still a little to cold to swim in the pool beneath the waterfall but many people do swim here or in the river along the trail. To leave, you go out the way you came in and then gear up for the long walk back up the gravel road. I would suggest bringing water and a secure backpack to hold your things while you navigate down the rope area. This hike is definitely a hidden gem and I would recommend it to anyone.

These are 5 of my favorite hikes in the Pacific Northwest. Please post pictures or comments below if you end up going on any of these trails, I would love to see your adventures!

-Ash

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