An Oregonian's Guide to Hiking and Biking in Washington

Don't let a state border keep you from tackling some of the best trails around.

By Rachel Ritchie July 20, 2015 Published in the August 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Shutterstock

Ape Canyon/Plains of Abraham

When Mount St. Helens blew its top in 1980, it left behind a landscape molded by searing heat and washed clean by massive mudflows. The terrain remains otherworldly—a lunar landscape that, especially on two wheels, is nothing short of stunning. This route traces the Ape Canyon Trail’s singletrack through an old-growth stand of noble firs and emerges on the fringe of the blast zone, overlooking the rocky cleft of the canyon itself, then continues across vast pumice fields on the Loowit Trail. The denouement comes at the Plains of Abraham, and their head-on views of the volcano’s dramatic eastern slope. Round Trip: 21 miles; Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet; Nearest Town: Cougar; Distance from Downtown: 1h 40m

Second Beach

This mostly flat, scenic stroll to one of the Olympic Coast’s ravishing wilderness beaches is a no-brainer for families: you’ll encounter Sitka spruce–lined creeks, starfish-studded tide pools, mountains of driftwood, wide stretches of sand, and a natural arch. Plus, gray whales and eagles will likely make dazzling cameos as you admire the Quillayute Needles—a cluster of fantastical sea-carved rock formations sprouting trees from their peaks. Round Trip: 4 miles; Elevation Gain: 350 feet; Nearest Town: La Push;  istance from Downtown: 4h 30m

Silver Star Mountain   

Named for the pattern of five ridges radiating from its summit, Silver Star is beloved for its showy wildflower displays, colorful autumn foliage, and sublime panoramic views. The trail begins on a steep old roadbed, traversing the face of the mountain before ascending to the crest of a meadow-covered ridgeline. When you reach the summit’s knobby plateau, you’ll understand why this peak is the crown jewel of the Chinook Trail, a 300-mile loop encircling the Columbia River Gorge. Round Trip: 4 miles; Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet; Nearest Town: Battle Ground; Distance from Downtown: 1h 30m

Goat Lake (Elliot Creek Trail)    

No surprise that this glassy lake surrounded by snowy peaks gets crowded on summer weekends—it’s one of those quintessential Northwest destinations. (In other words, if you’re craving solitude, head for Goat Lake on a weekday.) A split trail creates a varied loop boasting dense forest, multiple stream crossings, a pair of waterfalls, patches of wild strawberries, and peekaboo views of jagged peaks, and the eponymous lake awaits atop a final climb up a rocky hillside. Entranced by your surroundings? Settle in at one of the lake’s nine tent sites. Round Trip: 9 miles; Elevation Gain: 1,300 feet; Nearest Town: Darrington; Distance from Downtown: 5h

Naches Peak Loop  

Over a mere three miles and minimal elevation gain, this mildly strenuous loop packs a lovely sequence of alpine pleasures in Mt Rainier National Park. A stretch of the famed Pacific Crest Trail gives way to a hillside above a lush, wildflower-strewn valley. You’ll find an unnamed lakelet perfect for wading. A viewpoint with a rock bench overlooks crystalline Dewey Lake, while grassy meadows command killer views of the mountain. And, in August, an abundance of huckleberry bushes hang heavy with ripe fruit. Round Trip: 3.2 miles; Elevation Gain: 600 feet; Nearest Town: Paradise; Distance from Downtown: 3h

  • Watering Hole: Just beyond the Columbia, Vancouver’s Low Bar is perfectly situated for a final pint before you cross the bridge and head home. Taps pour microbrews made near and far, and fresh-baked buns cradle satisfying burgers.
  • Stay Overnight: Tucked in the southwest corner of Olympic National Park, the rustic 1926 Lake Quinault Lodge seems to reverse time. Recline in an Adirondack chair while gazing upon the low ridges that ring the trout-filled lake, or repair to the grandeur of the lobby’s stone fireplace. 
  • Go Big: Though only about half of the 10,000 or so climbers who attempt Mount Rainier’s 14,410-foot summit complete their journey, it is nothing less than a rite of passage for any Northwest mountaineer.
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