Where do I go next to hike? A question most natives to PNW ask themselves when summer rolls around. Finding great hiking trails with or without a lot of people are abundant around Western Washington. Here are my favorite hikes to do.
Mt. Baker National Wilderness
I believe Mt. Baker national forest is a best kept secret when it come to tourist. To think you are very close to Canada you can throw a stone over the border. Yet very few people I know want to explore this hidden gem in plain sight.
The story goes this beautiful mountain and her surroundings were the pride of Washington until the faithful day in 1980 when she erupted. Thirty five years later the surroundings are starting to come back in a beautiful array of color.
This is the popular hike to take for those living in the Seattle area. The trail can become crowed on weekends during the warmer months, but if you get there early in the morning, you will not have as many people on the trail.
Goose Rock is a trail very few people know about. This trail head is located in the Deception Pass Bridge parking lot. Most people turn left towards the beach, but if you stay right, the trail climbs to a high spot to see out over the Channel and out to the Salish Sea towards San Juan Islands.
Hiking is a rewarding experience many people in the PNW thoroughly enjoy. Last summer I had the opportunity to experience hiking in remote, alpine regions of Western Washington. When I first started out on the big adventure last summer, I failed to realized I may not know what I was up against. I learned the hard way on a few occasion.
What I failed to realized turned into an adventure within an adventure. Here are the things I wished I knew before hiking in the alpine.
Altitude sickness is not for planes:
I have spent most of my life at or a little above sea level and only experienced altitude sickness when in Tanzania. I should have listened when my own body started to struggle with keeping water and a granola bar down. Breathing started to become harder as I climbed further up the mountain, and the dizziness set in when ever I had to exert more energy to get over a log. I thought I was out of shape, but this is not true.
Lesson: Hiking takes a lot of effort to reach the end point. When hiking in alpine mountain regions, you have to take your time going up, and really tune in with what your body is telling you before it is too late. I was lucky it did not get to this point, but it could have become a major medical emergency.
Beware of snow:
Sheets of ice is more like it! Snow can be found in areas in the middle of summer. Avalanches still happen in the summer as they do in the winter. I recall a moment when hiking up to Fremont Lookout in Mt. Rainer National Park last summer where what sound as a gun shot going off in the distance followed by the sound of a roar alerted everyone in the hiking group of an avalanche sliding down the side of the opposite mountain side! Not to mention slipping and landing hard on a snow cover rock or worst falling into a craven or a lake! You may want to have a snowball fight, but be warned, they hurt when it hits you!
Lesson: Be aware of the snow around you. Falling and breaking something is a danger no matter how prepared you are.
Toilet paper is your friend:
The one time I decided to forgo the toilet paper was the time there was no toilet paper to be had! Normally I would carry a role of toilet paper in my pack, but the one time I forgo it was at a trail head outhouse where there were no rolls left by other hikers. Thank goodness it was not while in the Olympic National Park (mountain goats smell urine and can result in a deadly encounter!), but in Mount Baker National Forest. Hiking up the trail and air yourself out is not the best way to start a hike.
Lesson: Always pack a roll of toilet paper while hiking, traveling in a remote area and road trips. I had mine in Tanzania, but for some reason, I did not have one in the wilderness of Washington!
Wildlife, they are not always afraid of you: The sound of marmots whistling at you is a warning to other marmots of your present, but a deer, bear, cougar or any other such animals, are not afraid of you. I will not forget the time a hiking group left me alone out in the open when a deer suddenly bolted upright and headed into the trees sensing a predator. I at the time sense something was not right, and that a bear or cougar was in the area. Fear of knowing at any moment those two animals are not afraid of you is scary. Imagine hiking down the side of the mountain with just a headlamp and see a bear or worst a cougar in your path. These animals think you are the prey.
Lesson: Be aware of your surroundings, and take caution when hiking through bear or cougar country.
Alpine lakes are cold, proceeded with caution:
When there is snow present, there is a lake or river somewhere near by. Lakes in alpine regions are cold-hypothermia cold. Most alpine lakes are fed by snow or glaciers melting, making these lakes crisp, cold and deadly clear. Swimming in them should be done with caution if not ever. On a hot sweaty hiking day in the summer they are inviting, but not all alpine lakes are the same temperature, and each one you encounter will feel different. Having your body submerged in for one minute can cause hypothermia to the body. I remember standing in such lake up to my wast, and started to not be able to feel my legs!! It was difficult to get out of the water, and took ten minutes of rubbing my legs to get the deathly white color to a living flesh color. The rest of the hike back down to the van was painful.
Also, the water is not exactly safe the drink either from a glacier stream, river or lake.
Lesson: Just dip you hot sweaty feet into the water instead of the shoreline and treat the water you pull from the lake if drinking it.
Storm clouds are in your face:
I will not forget staring face to face with a dark black cloud on the Johnson’s Ridge Observatory Trail at Mount St. Helens. Being high up with little to no treeline protection can mean anything can happen in a split second. Scary when the cloud can have lightning. Hurricane Hill in Olympic National Park I remember how fast those clouds moved across the landscape, and how one minute it is a nice sunny day with warmth to a few seconds it is blizzard conditions and the temperature drops to freezing. A simple rain jacket is not enough, nor a simple baseball cap and even the fleece jacket does not keep you warm. Hypothermia strikes by lightening or anything nature throws at you can become life to death situation.
Lesson: Be prepared for all-weather conditions and pack winter clothing when hiking in higher regions of the mountains not matter if it is an eighty degree weather day. Dressing in layers that can be easily shed during the hike or put on is your friend.
Go Girl can be a lifesaver: Men have it easier than women when needing to go on a backcountry trail. Men just go off into the bushes without much thought, but us women, we need to find a secluded vulnerable place to do our business. After having to (TMI alert) pee off a trail stripping to be half-naked, and almost if not peeing on ones self, is just too much work (and cold wind blowing on your bum). Not to mention some other hikers just don’t get it why you are crouched down in the bushes!
Lesson: Get a Go Girl to use for hikes where the nearest outhouse is miles away, and you can discreetly just go behind a bush.
Wildfires: Where there is smoke, there is a fire! This is not something I learned the hard way, but it was always in the back of the mind. Hiking in the alpine and backcountry regions of the mountains during the late spring through the fall can put hikers into the path of a wildfire. From an old fire lookout, I saw a two (one-off in Canada, the other in Eastern Washington) wildfires in the distance burning in the opposite directions from me. Still, to see the smoke hanging in the air, it was a sign to start back down to safety in case the fire decided to switch directions.
What to do: Always check conditions before leaving on the hike, being aware of the surrounding area, and when you smell smoke, see it or hear it, move fast away from it. See this link for more information: Dos and Don’t s of Wildfires.
Once you hike in the alpine, you are never the same again!
This summer go enjoy a backcountry hike, and don’t do what I did!
Taking off on an impromptu back country adventure was in store for one last hurrah before we all moved to different parts of the world. Packing the van with our gear and headed out towards Mount Baker Wilderness, we started the beginning of goodbyes.
Backcountry camping at it finest! By the time our group got to the trailhead, the sun had set and the stars were out in all force. The plan was to hike up the trail by headlamp to spend a night in the lookout. It did not pan out in the end, and decided to set up camp and get up early in the morning to chase the sunrise on the way up. With a sleeping pad and a bag, I fell asleep under the stars watching shooting stars across the sky.
Getting up early for another sunrise with hot chocolate made getting up the trail better. At the Twin Lakes Peak, I watched as the golden rays slid up the slopes of the mountains for another day of hiking.
There is a quote about nature reminding us all how small we are, and nature keeps moving forward greeting the day with beautiful rays of joy. Sunrises from mountaintops remind my of nature is more beautiful then we give credit. With the small haze of wildfires, even the sun still comes up in clear golden rays.
Mount Baker throughout the hike up loomed in the distance reminding me this would be the last sunrise in the alpine for some time. It also looked cold and deselet compare to Mount Rainier.
After eating some instant oatmeal bars, we headed up the trail towards the lookout.
One part of the trail we had to slide down a snowfield in order to cross. My butt got so wet by the time I reached the bottom, it looked as if I peed on myself and I think my tailbone got bruised in the process after hitting a small chunk of ice sticking up. Also, we had to stop for a snowball fight as well to get each other one last time before we all headed off around the world.
Just hiking up, you could see how much beauty there is in the alpine. The rugged peaks in the distance marked where the United States and Canadian border is. That is how close I was to Canada. At one point I did ask the Canadian if they wanted to make a run for the border. The answer was no.
For some reason I ended up being the first one to the submit where the lookout was. On my way up the trail, I saw a group of hikers coming back down the trail and realized they were the ones who spend a night in the lookout. I am normally the last one to the top of may hike, so beading a whole bunch of people made it extra special.
Of course inside the lookout was very warm, and could see from the log book countless people had been up here in the past few months. As a funny joke, we all signed the visitor book as the Marmots of 2018. A class about a year ago did the same thing when they visited, and we found it in the log book!
The sign below reminds all who venture up here that you cannot be unhappy and still be here. You have to be happy!
On the way back down we all decided to go another route back to the campsite. It ended up having to hike climb across a snowfield. The whole time I was thinking “dear God, what the heck did I get myself into?” It is harder then you may think to cross an icy sheet of snow and climb up it with bare hands! At one point we all were sliding back down the slope towards the sharp rocks in the talus field below! I even had some one’s butt in my face, and it was enough motivation to get the heck up the icy slope. Finally, we all managed to get to the top with fingers painfully stinging and white. No frost bite for any of us, but came close!
Once down at the trailhead, we made a dash for the lake! There is no picture of me jumping into the cold alpine lake waters to wash off the grime of the trail, but it was divine experience worth it. After having the sun dry us all off, we packed up the campsite and headed for civilization with a stop at the Taco Bell for lunch.
This picture sums up hiking in the backcountry. Around every corner is something unexpected and once you have completed one hike, you go back for more. I can see this type of hiking continuing for years to come. Once bit, you cannot go back!
I find myself in beautiful places and with that, I find myself at places I least expect.Every time I think of the Olympic Mountains I think of the Sound of Music. Wide open alpine meadows with peaks looking straight out of Alps. Why did Leavenworth have to be in the Cascades? Three days spent in what I believe the most beautiful natural park in Washington, a beautiful place everyone should visit.
Hurricane Hill Trail:
In order to find the trailhead, you have to drive past the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center along a narrow road with one nerve-wracking switch back with a cliff. No tour buses here!
The trailhead at the time could only be accessed by the lower trail parking lot. Along the first mile of the trail, the Olympic Peaks peeked out between trees. The vistas were spectacular with so much beauty coming all at once. While hiking to the top, our group came across so many deer walking around as if people did not bother them. One even came popping out of the bushes while a group of us were trying to figure out of we saw a bear in the distant slope.
Marmots were also out lazy sunbathing on rocks like vacationers. Clouds coming across the slopes like wisps of smoke and a spooky show at the same time. The quietness of the landscape was so beautiful and unreal when this high up.
Lunch was on a rock outcrop I ended up climbing up later to survey all the surrounding area. While climbing up the rock pile, clouds whipping all around me to the point where it was a wall of clouds. The songInto The Mist by Eivør going through my head as the clouds surrounded me.
Walking in the mist No one knows where I’ve been Far from my home now Going in circles round and round I’m on my own now
Something’s hiding in the dark Lurking in between the rocks Whispers in my ear I turn around but no one’s there I call up but there’s no answer
Shadow, shadow by my side Drifting through the misty night Are you wandering just like me Within this surreality?
At this point I was separated from the group….and…I had a feeling something was not right. To be alone and exposed to predication (cougar sightings in the area along with bear), it was unnerving to see a deer below take off running into the trees with deadly quietness following. I knew something was close by, and I needed to figure out where it could be coming through. Thank goodness the group showed up with laughter and not coming face to face with a predator.
Later a group of hikers had seen a black bear on the trail close by! I was lucky! The rest of the hike was uneventful and mostly viewing all the plants and other animals around the trail. The ride back to camp was rocking out to Mumford and Sons “I Will Wait For You” with a smile on my face.
Obstruction Point Trail:
There is a dirt road turn out before the parking lot at Hurricane Ridge that goes down to this backcountry trail. Many people don’t see it, and this is one of the best-kept secrets of this area of the National Park. The road is long dusty with lots of switchbacks as it winds towards a small parking lot with a pit toilet. So bring your own toilet paper!
Sunsets are starting to become a thing lately, and I am not complaining about it. Rewarding after a long day of hiking to summit a peak to watch the sun sink down ending another day.
Spending time atop of a mountain viewing the sunset listening to the wind whip around you in near silence is as close to God as it gets.
When night fell, and it was time to put the headlamp on, we trekked down the mountain trying to keep on the trail that was nonexistent in the dark towards the van. Out here the stars shine brightly, and yet a shooting star decides to give us a show. On this night laying in a field with others viewing the stars in the sky made the world seem so small.
Five am wake up call again to chase the sunrise. Again we trekked towards another lake to view the coming sunrise. Pumpkin Seed Lake is an alpine lake very few people know about. It is somewhere off the beaten path of Obstruction Point Trail and finding it can be challenging. Challenging since the trail to it is not marked. You may have to ask someone who knows.
This frog did not have a great morning after being caught two times by people. By the second time he just sat there defeated.
With enough coffee coursing through my veins, I headed up towards other alpine lakes in the area. These nondescript lakes are nestled between other peaks and off known trails where climbing talus and boulder fields is a must.
This alpine lake at the bottom of the ravine was not as cold as the one at Heather Lake. Just getting down to it was interesting with the possible slide completely down into the lake if you lost your footing.
The famous Ptaragen made one last apearence before it flown away. Many people do not believe they exist because they are hard to spot, live in the highest coldest parts of the mountain ranges. Hear them is at times the only clue they are in the area, and they do get stepped on because they look just like the surrondings.
Hurricane Ridge Trail:
After partying with another group at the campsite, we all headed towards Hurricane Ridge to hike the small Hurricane Ridge Trail.
So I said in a previous post I had fed wildlife. Well, I did it again! Yep, this time it was a bunch of gray jays that are also known as camp robbers. To hold a bird in your had is a Disney princess moment. They loved crumbled granola bars and would take a sandwich if I let them. I know shame on me again! I will not be doing this again-it is out of my system now.
Ok moving on…
Three days hiking in the Olympics was and will be a breathtaking experience. The peak was alive just as in the Sound of Music.
Standing at the base of Mount Rainer at Sunrise is awe-inspiring and humbling. Seeing the mountain from afar looming on the horizon on a clear day does not give it any justice of the beauty of this symbol of Washington State. For two days sunset to sunrise, I had the awe-inspiring moments to see the mountain in all its glory.
Sunrise area at the northeast corner is the highest of the park’s roads accessible areas to the mountain and the best place to get an up-close look at the biggest glacier collection in U.S. Sunrise like it name was where I set out on viewing the majestic sunsets and sunrises from nearby lookouts.
The first things first, we had to stop by the White River campground to pitch our tents so we can fall into them into them without having to worry about it later that night. Getting two campsites together was a challenge, but we did find two (later that night we would come back to one of the sites having people already pitched a tent and asleep!). At roughly 2pm we headed for the trails to hike up to see the sunset while eating dinner.
We headed towards Fremont Lookout on Fremont Peak via the Frozen Lake trail. The trail starts out next to the Sunrise Rainier National Park Hotel. The trails at this point were busy with day hikers coming and going.
Many hikers we encountered on the way up did talk of seeing bears in the area. Most said the higher up you went towards the lookout, the more chance you would see a bear in the distance. Cougars I can handle, but when it comes to bears, it can be scary to encounter one on a trail. Mount Rainier only has black bears and not grizzly bears thank goodness, but it still was in the back of my mind when I hiked up with the group of us.
The trail up towards Frozen Lake is long, dusty and has little shade along the way as weaving through the mountainside. Bringing extra water is a must if the temperatures are above 70°F. Side cliffs opened to vistas of Mount Rainier looming before I covered in icy snow.
Frozen Lake is a lake with a snowpack that melts throughout the summer for drinking water in the Sunrise area of the park. It really is a small glacier that must be massive in the winter time. There was not a way of telling how cold this lake is because you cannot swim in it due to being blocked off from the public.
At the crossroad of trails Frozen Lake and Fremont Lookout, this Cascade Golden Mantle Squirrel was begging for the walnuts we had in our packs. At one point we could get close enough to touch it, and it took the nuts right out of our hands. I will admit to knowing full well there are no feeding animals in the park, and yes there was a sign on the other side of this rock stating this! Shame on me!
The trail up to Fremont Lookout was rocky slopes with small boulder and talus fields to navigate. Towards the top, the trail narrows with massive boulders below reminding all hikers to be careful navigating the loose rocks making up the trail. At one point while getting closer to the lookout, there was a sound like a gunshot/firework coming from the slopes of Mount Rainier opposite of me. This happened not only once, but a few times as an indicator of an avalanche and even in the middle of summer, it is still an issue hikers face. The avalanche was not viable to us on Fremont Peak.
Once in sight of the lookout building, the temperature started dropping as the sun was sinking closer to the horizon. Even saw the mythical bird called a Ptargen that lives in the alpine.
After exploring the lookout (the lookout is locked, and cannot camp out in it anymore), we all settled into the rock outcrops to enjoy our dinner in a sealed pouch. While eating our meals, we watched the sunset in quietness enjoying natures most beautiful sight.
Sunsets are a life-changing moment for many who witness them. Experiencing them atop a mountain is a once in a lifetime moment. Watching the sun sinking into the horizon reminds me to take a step back and just experience life as it is in the moment. The pinks, purples and golden rays refracting off the slopes of Mount Rainier is and always a beautiful sight to behold.
It’s even better then an Instagram post could ever capture!
After spending another hour atop, we headed down the trail in dying light toward camp. By halfway down the darkness started to change the landscape into something of a mystery. I have only ever hiked in darkness once. Being told by forest rangers this is bear and cougar country, it does make one very hyper-aware of your surroundings. I will say it was nerve-wracking to be the one in front of the group leading them down the trail! I did get down the trail unscathed as a group of people started heading up the trail (it must be a thing to hike at night). I arrived with the group back at the campsite and passed out after 5.2 miles!
Shadow Lake Trail:
Getting up to chase the sunrise can be a pain in the butt at 5am after only four hours of sleep the night before. Having no coffee and only a granola bar to get me to the lake just makes it harder. But seeing the sunrise was worth it! As I trudged onward towards my final destination, the rays from the sun started moving up the mountain in golden rays reflecting off illuminating all around the lake. At Shadow Lake, the place was remote enough to allow peace to resonate as nature started waking up for another day.
Here coffee finally was pumping through my veins waking me up for another day of hiking. The only sound I could not stand was the deer flies and the mosquitoes trying to add to the collection of bites from the previous day.
After spending relative peace and quiet taking in the beautiful sunrise, it was time to head towards the next trail-First Burroughs Mountain Trail. As I climbed up to the junction for the trail, I passed an old 1930s campground. The outlines of the camping spots can still be seen to this day.
First Burroughs Mountain Trail:
The Frozen Lake Junction is where a few other alpine trails split off. One such trail is First and Second Burroughs Mountain trail. The trail is 4.7 miles of steep switchbacks along some rocky talus fields were marmots, ptarmigans, pika and the famous mountain goats made appearances. One such marmot ran down the steep slope and jumped right in front my face as he made is way past me!
Once to the top of First Burroughs Mountain, I was up close and personal with a mountain that is a sleeping volcano. My second one in a span of four weeks!
Spending an hour looking at Mt. Rainier, and checking out all the peaks of interest, the group and I made our way down the trail towards the parking lot. Five Guys Burgers and a Starbucks were in order after two days of hiking in the alpine of Mount Rainier.
What are some favorite memories at national parks? Is Rainier on your list of places to visit? Let me know in the comments!
Alpine lakes stir up images of crystal pristine water with emerald green vegetation, with possible snow on the high slopes. Heather Lake Trail is one to do in late spring early summer to view this beautiful alpine wonder without having to backpack very far up a mountain. This lake has been on my list for some time, and when I had the opportunity to hike to this lake as my first alpine hiking trip, I could not pass it up.
With a pack all loaded with all the essentials, I headed out for a 4.6 miles round trip to the lake summit. The trail winds through young growth and old growth forests with lots of green vegetation along the path. There were sections where old boardwalks and bridges have been beaten up by nature.
Along the trail, there were small streams running over rocks with small pools of water where salamanders were hiding. A fellow hiker in my group caught a salamander hiding under a rock in the above picture. The little guy was not a happy camper about it, and at one point almost slipped out of her hand entirely.
At one point a banana slug was found to be moving slowly up a trunk of a moss-covered tree. This one decided it did not want to be down on the trail and decided to move to a higher location.
If you are wondering, yes I have licked a banana slug before, and the slime from the slug does make the tongue go numb for a short while (I do not endorse licking slugs in general!). One time was enough for me and thus would never do it again.
Once to the top of the lake shore, my fellow hikers and I found a nice vantage point on a rock overlooking the lake for lunch. This rock has been known to be proposal rock and a few people have been asked here in the past.
After much needed substance, the snow pack near the slope by the lake was a call to be explored. The whole time I was looking for watermelon snow (snow that is a ting pinkish-red) for a sample to analyze in the lab later. Watermelon snow does taste a little like watermelon, but you do not want to consume it for you will get a bad case of Hersey squats!
While there appears to be one lake, Heather Lake is actually made up of one large lake and a smaller one more like a marsh. Here plants and small animals thrive to create a mini ecosystem in an alpine elevation.
While exploring the smaller lake area, I came across some frog eggs. At first I though they maybe salamander eggs, but frog eggs have a distinct color and shape to them. They almost look like a bunch of eyes looking at you in my hand.
With the summer heatwave in full effect, the 80°F temperature made this one heck of a sweaty hike. At one point I decided to dip my feet into the lake to cool off. Just imagine how refreshing it was for thirty seconds before you cannot feel your foot! Heather Lake is an alpine lake being fed by glaciers, thus making this lake very cold!!
After spending some time by the lake soaking in the quiet beauty and being one with nature, I headed down towards civilization. Even with a dip in the alpine lake, the hike down was still sweaty from the 80°F heat the area was getting at the time. By the time I reached the parking lot, I was clear out of the water! A ranger station a few miles down the road had a water spigot to refill my water bottle for the drive home. A reminder to carry enough water with you, even if it is two water bottles full of water.
Have you hiked Heather Lake before? Did you do it in spring or summer? Or in fall or winter?