Best Washington Backpacking Trips

Christina Perez
• Friday, 25 December, 2020
• 13 min read

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Whatever kind of backcountry adventure you're looking for, you're likely to find it in Washington. From the rugged coast to the Cascade mountains, there is no shortage of amazing trails and beautiful places to spend a night under the stars.

Newbie backpackers and seasoned vets alike can find the perfect backpacking trip on this list. Take a look at these incredible adventures, and we're sure you'll start planning your next backpacking trip in Washington ASAP.

Photo: Sam Patterson We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. We've selected trails that are perfect for novice backpackers, or for those interested in backpacking trips with lower mileage and more time for relaxing and enjoying the scenery.

This low elevation trail allows for early and late season adventures along the emerald green waters of Thunder Arm of Diablo Lake and through giant old growth forests. As you continue to travel along Thunder Creek be sure to stop and admire the periodic forest canopy openings to take in the views of towering peaks surrounding the valley.

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After hiking through dense forest, you'll find beautiful meadows and a picture perfect log shelter. During berry season, the meadows offer a tasty treat of blueberries that shouldn't be passed up and in the fall the area turns into waves of red, orange and yellow foliage.

The trail begins with a series of switchbacks, quickly climbing a few hundred feet past sword fern and salad before leveling out high above the river in a section of old-growth firs. The wide, well-maintained trail breezes past trees hundreds of years old and then abruptly descends back down to the riverside.

Hikers will find wildflowers and berries galore as they hike through alpine meadows with panoramic views of Mount Adams. You will reach the East Fork Adams Creek in about 2.5 to find the first of several campsites, or continue on to join the Pacific Crest Trail toward Killed Meadows.

Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here. It would take a lifetime to scratch the surface of all the magic that Washington has to offer, but here is a collection of some of the most impressive trail systems in the state.

If you got an early start, you might choose to take in the sights and sounds of Deer Lake for lunch before advancing to a higher camp, such as Potholes Camp at 4.9 miles or one of many sites at the Seven Lakes Basin around mile 7.5. In addition to group camps, there are several single campsites further into the basin, towards We Lakes if you can secure a permit and want the added solitude.

backpacking olympic national park valley hiking enchanted trip trips wildlandtrekking tours
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Mountain goat populations, when uncontrolled, are detrimental to fragile alpine environments, and ecologists hope that this relocation will help restore the park’s ecology to a more natural state. It is hard to get a sense of scale from this view, but for some context: Blue Glacier contains around 580 million cubic feet of ice and snow.

Heart Lake, located below High Divide at mile 10.5, sits around tree-line and has some great camping options. Keep an eye open for Roosevelt Elk, a species unique to the Olympic region, as hikers often see them grazing in the meadows.

Once you leave Heart Lake, the trail dips back into the forest, regularly meeting up with the raging Sol Due River before joining with the junction near the falls once again. The Sol Due Valley is on the Northern side of the Olympic Peninsula, located off Hwy 101 between Forks and Port Angeles.

Road conditions can vary with weather, especially in the early spring and late fall. From Port Angeles: Drive west on Hwy 101 for 29 miles until you reach Sol Due Road.

Once you pass the hot springs and resort, you’ll soon reach the parking lot at the end of the road. There are a limited number of permits for overnight campers to protect this alpine landscape.

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You can make reservations in advance, which the National Park Service recommends between May 1st and September 30th. However, if you’re looking for a last-minute trip, half of the campsites on the High Divide loop are kept open for walk-up permits at the Wilderness Information Center.

Mid-July through September is the best time of year to hike this loop due to late Snowbelt and early snowfall at higher elevations. The tour company handles permits, gear, transportation, meals, and provides a professional guide, so you can focus 100% on enjoying your adventure.

Before setting off on your hike, talk to a ranger at the Wilderness Information Center about the tides and best times to ford rivers and get past the rough sections of trail. Once equipped with a tide table, start at the Oil City trailhead and take the South Coast Trail along the How River.

You’ll continue to descend and climb, adding elevation to what would be an otherwise gentle trail. Camp near Mosquito Creek and plan to ford the river at low tide the next day.

Tiny fish dance amidst the floating kelp, while nearly invisible crabs scuttle back and forth in the pools. Barnacles open and close their shell, extending a feathery appendage, to take in microscopic plankton.

spokane washington park mount state mead alltrails map trails parks near cities area
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To drop a car at the Third Beach Trailhead, drive north on Hwy 101 for 1.5 miles. Turn right to head south on Hwy 101 for 15.8 miles until you reach Oil City Road.

Permits are required for overnight travel in Olympic National Park, and you can obtain one at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles. Always bring a topographical map and tide chart to ensure you follow appropriate routes and times each day.

Heavy rainfall and high stream flow levels in the winter and spring increase the challenge of this trail, so it is recommended only to experienced backpackers during these seasons. The tour company handles permits, gear, transportation, meals, tide table logistics, and provides a professional guide, so you can focus 100% on enjoying your adventure.

The backpacking trips in this park will lead you through old-growth forests, wildflower-filled meadows, into some of the best alpine terrain this country has to offer. As you look out onto a vast wilderness system of hundreds of glaciers crowned with jagged peaks, you’ll gaze at a dynamic yet vulnerable ecosystem that is continually being shaped by our changing climate.

Talus fields lead the way towards Cascade Pass, and if you engage your senses, you may be able to hear the resounding whistle of a marmot before you see one scurrying between rocks or lounging in the sun. As you reach the crest, expansive views into Elton Basin open up in front of you.

snoqualmie pass alpine washington wilderness lakes map alltrails area trails near parks
(Source: www.alltrails.com)

As you climb higher, Doubtful Lake, which sits beneath Shale Peak, comes into view. The terrain in the last mile crosses loose boulder fields and requires navigation by cairns.

Once you make it to Shale Glacier Camp, you are rewarded with some of the best views in the state, and maybe even the country. Stake your tent down well here; weather can roll in quickly in this alpine environment, and high winds are common.

Upper Stephen River Valley If you don’t have a Shale Glacier Camp permit, or you’re saving it for later on your trip, head downhill from Cascade Pass to descend into Elton Basin through hills of blueberry bushes (which reach their peak in early-to-mid September). Elton Basin Camp sits at the bottom of this valley and is a great Basecamp to explore this area.

If you are continuing to Basin Creek Camp, cross a small pass through a stand of trees. Native tribes first crossed these rugged mountains for hundreds of years before eventually, prospectors arrived to search for gold and other precious metals.

While this is one option, one-way variations of this hike (such as Cascade Pass to Stephen or Thunder Creek) are available if you have multiple cars to shuttle or arrange a key swap with another party halfway through. Directly after the town of Marble mount, turn slightly right and cross a bridge onto Cascade River Road.

marblemount washington alltrails map near
(Source: www.alltrails.com)

From Sedro-Wooley: Follow Hwy 20 east for miles until reaching the small town of Marble mount. Backcountry permits are required year-round for all overnight trips into the North Cascades National Park.

Advanced reservations are available for many sites in the park and are highly recommended if you want to secure a permit for the Shale Glacier Camp. Bear canisters are required by campers at Shale Glacier Camp and are loaned to backpackers by the Park Service for free.

Proper food storage, in canisters or by bear hangs, is required in all other parts of the park. Mid-July through September is the best time to do this backpacking trip due to the high elevation of the trails.

Weather and trail conditions are more variable at other times of the year and should be checked for every backcountry outing. The Spider Gap to Buck creek Pass loop is a spectacular late summer backpacking trek that leads you through pristine wildflower-filled meadows, over snowfields, and through rugged alpine terrain.

You will marvel at the beauty of the Central Cascade Range and get close-up views of Glacier Peak, one of Washington’s five volcanoes. You climb up and over multiple mountain passes, setting you up for over 8000’ of elevation gain by the end of your journey.

forest okanogan national wenatchee washington map alltrails trails area
(Source: www.alltrails.com)

The endless mountain views, remote atmosphere, alpine lakes, and wildlife sightings will astound you, helping you to forget how hard you’re working. This trip is best suited for those with backpacking experience as it requires navigation skills and travel over difficult terrain.

At mile 5, you emerge from the trees and enter Spider Meadows: a popular backpacking and day hiking destination. If you don’t mind crowds, camping in these meadows is a great option for a more leisurely first day.

Early in the season, snow and ice coverage can make this section impassable. This trail leads to Image Lake, an incredibly worthy detour to your trip at around 7.5 miles round trip.

On your final day, descend steep yet steady terrain into the Buck Creek Valley. Views of Liberty Cap and Buck Mountain keep you company as you hike out of the wilderness to the Trinity trailhead.

If you only have one parked car, you will have to add on an extra three miles of road walking back to your vehicle. No permits or reservations are required for this backpacking trip, although visitors are asked to sign the trailhead register.

cascades north national park washington parks alltrails map trails area
(Source: www.alltrails.com)

Bear canisters are recommended as hanging food at many of the campgrounds is difficult due to small alpine trees. Like many hikes in the Washington high country, this trip is best done in late summer so that the last of the winter snowfall is melted out.

Snow levels can make this route impassable to most parties too early or late in the season. The Pacific Northwest region offers an array of incredible hiking and trekking experiences in Washington State.

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