Looking for the best winter hikes in Washington? While others may snug like a bug in their homey cocoon, prolific outdoors people don’t mind the wet and the cold just to get in touch with Mother Nature. Think of wildflowers hidden behind snowflakes or of towering trees frozen in place. Whether you want a short day hike, a trail run or a hike-and-camping trip, the scenic trails of the following areas will definitely jolt your senses awake.
1. Crab Creek Wildlife Area. At a 4-mile loop and elevation gain of 400feet, this Eastern Washington wildlife heaven add more sizzle to your hiking adventure. Think of rolling sand dunes, towering mountains, serene lake and gurgling creek for you to enjoy a hike even amid a wintry spell. Steer clear of hunters during winter though.
What you are likely to see: At this time of the year you will most likely not see much wildlife other than deer, and coyotes. But you are likely to find lots of tracks, and get the first signs of spring in form of red-winged blackbird calls and little desert parsleys (probably Gorman’s or Piper’s) in bloom. But what will really catch your eyes is the colorful lichens and mosses.
The days may be cloudy but the temperature will be perfect for winter hikes.
You are likely to find the larger rocks facing south covered with ice mixed with desert grasses and shining like a jewel in the midday winter sun.
2. Snow Mountain Ranch. A family favorite, Snow Mountain Ranch offers around 9.2 miles loop for avid hikers. Feel closer to the heavens by ensconcing yourself under the summit’s wide blue skies. This winter hiking wonderland, by the way, is part of the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy that also offers fun-tastic activities for everyone.
From the nordic center, you can follow the Snowshoe Hare trail to the Milligan Trail, with signs pointing to Columbine Point. Your destination will be a gazebo at the top of an open sloping meadow with nice views of the surrounding mountains.
This is an easy snowshoe for even beginner hikers but there are many more options here. If you wish, you can spend all day on the trails, or just a quick romp before retreating to the lodge for a hot drink, or some whiskey.
3. Klickitat Rail Trail. Boasting of multiple access points, the Klickitat Rail Trail offers a 31-mile loop with an elevation gain of 200 to 350 feet. You can start off the grassy yet rugged plains of Swale Canyon or at the Columbia River’s mouth or via oak-lined valleys down the Lyle. This old abandoned railroad makes a great adventure even in the dead of winter.
The Klickitat River is a natural habitat of fishes like steelhead trout, Chinook salmon, and coho salmon. This trail provides spectacular scenery that includes carved gorges, amazing geologic formations, abundant wildflowers, oak and Pine woodlands. For bird lovers, it also provides great birding opportunities, including winter habitat for bald eagles near the Lyle trailhead.
What to expect during winter hike: During the winter the trail brings a landscape of quiet solitude and also offers the chance to cross-country ski or if you want, just enjoy unique ice formations along the cliffs. End of Winter and beginning of spring delivers green-draped hills with a profusion of wildflowers.
4. Hog Lake. Lying in the fringes of Spokane is a thriving wildlife heaven for hiking fanatics. Hog Lake offers a 3.5-mile loop and elevation gain of 900 feet.
In the winter, this trail comes alive with waterfowl and songbirds complemented by sprouting wildflowers. If you wish to make a hike count, bring a fishing pole along to catch trout from the icy lake. The trout catching limit at Hog Canyon is 5 fish per day with no more than two fish over 14 inches may be retained. Expect to have fairly stable ice cover of about 4-5 inches thick.
5. Lower Siouxon Creek. Experience how Native Americans connect with their surroundings in a 6.5-mile excursion in South Cascade’s Lower Siouxon Creek. Think mossy forests and snow draped trees. This hiking trail, by the way, is perfect for both beginners and advanced hikers.
This hiking trail remains typically snow-covered in the winter months until mid-Spring. It’s recommended that you bring 4WD or high clearance vehicles due to rough road conditions.
After the temperature drops significantly past freezing the soft, fluffy white powdery snow that’s been sitting for days forms a hard base layer. It’s best for beginner hikers to come along this trail with someone who is experienced in winter hiking.
6. Cape Horn Trail. At around 7miles round-trip and elevation gain at around 1300feet to the top, this hiking arena does not only offer sweeping winter wonderland views of the Columbia River Gorge but also that of Cape Horn Falls. If you want a more challenging hike, the uphill climb and rocky descent will definitely rock you awake.
During winter, expect to find a lot of snow/slush on the trail but it is an absolutely beautiful hike. If you start around 7:30, you will finish it at noon even after taking lots of breaks for pictures and snacks. Go for it, you will definitely love the tunnels and waterfall.
7. Tolt-MacDonald Park. Just right at the heart of Puget Sound and Seattle Tacoma area rests the gem of King County folks– Tolt-MacDonald Park. From wildlife observation to relaxing chippers of creatures in the marshes as they brave the winter cold, this park ultimately give winter hikes a thumbs up every time. A suspension bridge just right over the Snoqualmie River welcomes everyone to the majestic trails ahead.
What to expect in Winter: The river is likely to flow high but in general, the weather stays dry during a winter hike. You are likely to see only a few people hiking during this time of the year. The trail itself is likely to be a bit muddy. Fortunately, or unfortunately, you may encounter cub bears so stay alert.
8. McCormick Forest Park. If you come anywhere near Tacoma, Seattle, Olympia or Port Orchard, this gem in the Kitsap Peninsula is an excellent option for a hike. At 3 miles (round trip) and elevation gain of 200 to 400 feet, getting those winter boots muddy is definitely worth it. A fenced dog park can also be found in the park making it perfect to give your trail dog some rest and for you to enjoy the scenery in your lonesome.
This is a great winter hike destination in Washington. All the trails are in very good condition with only a couple of slush areas. There are many cross trails, and a back loop, that can provide a fairly level trail, or some steep ups and downs.
There is also a nice picnic area near the parking lot. If you feel more adventurous, you can try across the road trails on the western side. There are a couple of miles of unmaintained trails, which leads to the 10-acre dog park where you can do a workout hike with your dog. The trail provides enough elevation to feel like a hike in the mountain.
9. Dune Forest Loop (LeadBetter Point State Park). Located just in the fringes of Washington’s famed Olympic coast, it boasts of approximately 2.9miles round trip hike at an estimated elevation of 60 feet. Apart from hiking, the cold yet calming breeze coming from the beach and plenty of wildlife at the Leadbetter Point State Park are enough to warm every hiker’s senses. IF you are an avid bird watcher, this place is definitely heaven for your photographic prowess.
It’s best to hike during low tide as there are signs where the water commonly goes over the trail, so you should plan accordingly. Also, there are several deadfalls along the trail that is easy to go over, under, or around.
Turning off the beach you can head into the forest. This trail is in good condition most of the way. So you will enjoy the hike in winter. About halfway around the western part of the loop, there is a blue trail that goes to weather beach. This trail is however not on the state park map on their website but is on the signage at the park. You can see blue herons and waterfowls if you are lucky.
10. Moulton Falls. A little around 4 miles (round trip), this Southwest Washington hiking destination leaves the imagination go wild. With an elevation gain of 90 to 570 feet, you get to enjoy relaxing sound of cascading waterfalls and the calmness of a nearly frozen Lewis River as you stroll along. While it is best for spring and summer hikes, Moulton Falls definitely sizzle even during a wintry spell.
What to expect: The mossy trees and green foliage will make you as if you’re in a jungle. There may be few people out at this time of the year but it is not a busy trail at all. You may have some trouble if it’s your first time as the trails are not marked and you can get turned around a lot. So it’s better if you can do this trail who has hiked the trails before.
Step out and choose any of these best winter hikes in Washington to unleash your inner energy. Don’t let the cold spell drag you down. Simply get in the rhythm of the season and discover how nature offer solitude even in the most direst of circumstances. For safety purposes, get the right winter hiking gear and an updated map before setting out.
Here are a few tips and precautions that you must take before hitting a trail during the winter months:
1) If you are doing a snowy trail, definitely check the Northwest Avalanche Center to determine the local mountain weather and avalanche conditions.
2) It is essential that you always let someone know where you are going and when you are expected to return. Don’t forget to call them when you do return!
3) Other than the regular hiking essentials, don’t forget the special necessities for snowshoeing and winter hikes like carrying adequate extra clothes for layering, headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries as days are short in winter, extra food as snowshoeing is a strenuous exercise. Also carry a sleeping bag even if you are going for a day hike, just in case you get caught up or delayed and are forced to take shelter for a night.
4) As tempting as it may be to reach your destination, know when to turn back which can prevent a dire situation from developing. Attaining a summit or making it to a lake isn’t worth risking a night out in the cold or getting lost in a white-out.
It’s necessary to consider these extra precautions because hiking in winter is riskier than your average summer day hike. Yes, this usually means you will have a heavier pack and will need some more preparation time, but on the other hand, it will help you burn more calories on your trip and better chances for you to return safely to your waiting car.
What according to you are the best winter hikes in Washington for enjoying the flora in the late fall and winter? Let me know by commenting below.