Six Fantastic Lesser-Known Northwest Hikes

Park rangers and other experts give their picks for tucked-away PNW trails
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Seattle is conveniently situated between the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges. These peaks, and the foothills leading up to them, have enabled us to embark on many amazing hikes, soak in the stunning vistas and even capture a photo worthy of being on a postcard.

And now that spring hiking season is almost here, snows will begin to melt and it'll be time for many to venture up into the nearby peaks we so often only enjoy from a distance.

However, there’s nothing worse than planning an excursion into the wild only to have it interrupted by hordes of other people using the same trail. So, we tapped several trail experts to recommend a few hidden hiking gems that are big on views and low on crowds.

Olympic National Park

Heather Park

Image courtesy of Craig Romano

Heather Park

Hurricane Ridge is a fantastic day hike known for its breathtaking views, extensive visitor center and year-round activity offerings. Unfortunately, all of this means it’s heavily used as well. According to Barb Maynes, public information officer for the Olympic National Park, the Heather Park Trail is located 12 miles away from Hurricane Ridge, is less crowded and still offers incredible views. If you can ascend the extra 100 vertical feet to First Top after reaching Heather Park, you’ll be rewarded with a view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca from west to east, Port Angeles below and a multitude of peaks to the south.

The National Park Service (NPS) classifies this hike as a well-maintained trail with a moderate difficulty rating. At about 10 miles roundtrip and an elevation gain of nearly 4,000 feet, moderate may be somewhat of an understatement. By taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island, the drive to the trailhead should be three hours.

Camping available by permit only.

Lake Angeles

Image courtesy of Protrails.com

Lake Angeles

Maynes also recommends The Lake Angeles Trail, a 3.5-mile hike that starts at the same spot as the Heather Park Trail. It meanders through a peaceful and well-shaded second-growth forest and will bring hikers to an oasis among the snowcapped peaks of the Olympics. Lake Angeles is about 20 acres in size, with a quaint island in the middle that’s surrounded by fresh mountain water. If you’ve still got some proverbial gas left in the tank, consider pressing on for an additional three miles and another 1,800 altitude gain to Klahhane Ridge for even more vistas and fewer people.

NPS gives the Lake Angeles Trail a moderate rating and cites a 2,300-foot elevation gain.

Camping available by permit only.

Mt. Rainier National Park

Rampart Ridge

Image courtesy of Protrails.com

Rampart Ridge

Ranger Sarah Pigeon recommends the Rampart Ridge Loop trail, a 4.5-mile loop that provides wonderful shots of Mt. Rainier without taking too long or taxing your body too much. It begins at Longmire, 25 miles past the small town of Elbe. About halfway through the total distance, you’ll find yourself on top of a ridge, with views of Mt. Rainer and a few glaciers.

With only a 1,300-foot elevation gain in under 5 miles, this trail is classified as moderate and is well looked after. Since this is a loop, it can be completed in either direction, but the NPS recommends going clockwise to keep Rainer in front of you more often.

Camping available by permit only.

Mount Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest

Just below Park Butte Lookout

Image courtesy of Randy Godfrey.

Ridley Creek

Ridley Creek Trail is 7 miles roundtrip and has a 2,600-foot elevation gain. “This trail has recently been improved and is a lesser-known way to get to Park Butte Lookout and avoid the crowds,” says Rowena Watson, visitor services assistant for the North Cascades National Park. The popular Park Butte Lookout offers panoramic views of the north Cascades and has some interesting history: the Forest Service used the lookout in the past to spot fires, a practice that was very common just a few decades ago. It features an old cabin that would’ve been staffed by lookouts and provides spectacular views of Koma Kulshan (one of the indigenous names for Mt. Baker).

Alltrails.com rates this hikes as difficult. From Seattle to the trailhead is about two and a half hours.

No pass required.

Shannon Ridge

Image courtesy of Sarah Miller.

Shannon Ridge

Trail #742 “is a nice hike with good views from Shannon Ridge,” Watson says. She notes that it “starts in the National Forest, but ends up in the National Park, so no dogs are allowed once you get to the park boundary.” This path is mostly a route for climbers ascending Mt. Shuksan from the southern side, which means it doesn’t receive a great deal of TLC (but that also means it won’t be crowded). Beautiful alpine meadows and sightings of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan await.

Heading up to Shannon Ridge could be moderate to difficult depending on the trail’s condition. It’s an 8.2-mile distance there and back and has a 2,800 foot gain. Getting to the trail takes between two and three hours.

Northwest Forest Pass required.

Sunset from the Pacific Northwest Trail

Image courtesy of PNT.org

The Pacific Northwest Trail

The Pacific Northwest Trail (not to be confused with the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada) is a 1,200-mile route that runs east to west starting at the Continental Divide in Montana and ending on Washington’s coast. Its route has been crafted with two things in mind: to provide breathtaking views as frequently as possible and to allow access for hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders alike. It was designated as a National Scenic Trail in 2009.

In 2015, the Forest Service established the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Advisory Council to "provide recommendations on trail uses, signage, establishing a trail corridor, and prioritizing projects," according to the Spokesman Review. Although the trail can be walked from end to end, there are small stretches that use Forest Service roads and even highway shoulders, like Deception Pass for instance. As the trail advisory council recommends changes to the Secretary of Agriculture, processes will begin to construct those new sections. The goal is to eliminate as much road hiking as possible.

Given the fame of The Pacific Crest Trail (thanks, Wild), you can bet this one will be much less crowded. Whether you feel up for a 1,200-mile jaunt or just want to experience a few miles of it, this trail will not disappoint. You could also donate to the organization behind the trail's development or volunteer your services to this exciting new wilderness experience.

Updated: This post was edited on Monday, March 21, to reflect the correct name of Mt. Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest.