Best Hiking Trips in the Pacific Northwest

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The Pacific Northwest is epic in every sense of the word. Landscapes range from rugged wind-battered coastline to rare temperate rainforests and jagged icy peaks. The opportunities for outdoor adventures are seemingly endless with different seasons bringing new and exciting challenges.

There’s a certain mystic beauty to the Pacific Northwest. When explored on foot, it’s easy to feel at one with nature and to appreciate the majesty of the world and every part of its creation. Hiking can open the door to a wondrous range of experiences and there’s no better place to find that path than in the Pacific Northwest.

Top Trails 1 – Olympic NP, Washington

Washington State is tucked into the top corner of the US and is in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. It boasts three National Parks and miles of exquisite coastline stretching as far as the eye can see. Known as The Evergreen State due to the extraordinary amount of rainfall it receives, this is the perfect area for hiking amongst the magnificent pine forests.

Olympic National Park receives 150 inches of annual rainfall making it one of the wettest areas in the continental US. This creates a lush ecosystem with a dense network of moss-dripping trees. Mist rolls through the undergrowth as water cascades from waterfalls making its way towards the sea.

A top location to explore is the Hoh Rainforest with the Hoh River Trail being the most popular hike in the area. For an aerial view, Hurricane Ridge offers a mountain-top panorama that looks over the rainforest and across the Olympic Peninsula.

Olympic National Park also spills onto the Pacific coast and includes 60 miles of remote beaches and hidden coves. La Push and Rialto are two extremely popular spots situated on the mouth of the Quillayute River.

From La Push, there are many spectacular trailheads to the south. Spend the day picking your way along the coastline searching for narrow paths through the rocks and roots. At Rialto, you can hike north along the beach, using the enormous driftwood trees as an obstacle course en route.

Top Trails 2 – Crater Lake NP, Oregon

Oregon is another state bursting with natural beauty. There are 361 state parks, 21 national wildlife refuges, and 11 national forests, not to mention Crater Lake National Park, one of the state’s most popular hiking areas.

Crater Lake is a feature of biblical proportions. It is one of the best examples in the world of a caldera. This is essentially a depression in the ground which forms when a volcano collapses in on itself. In the case of Crater Lake, this caldera then filled with snowmelt and rainwater to produce one of the deepest lakes in the US.

To top that off, Crater Lake also has an island in its center. A cinder cone, formed from volcanic rock fragments, called Wizard Island. Perhaps the most popular hiking trail in the area is Garfield Peak. It’s a steep there-and-back route that takes you to a magnificent overlook of the lake.

For hikers wanting to see the pristine blue waters of the lake up close, you can follow the Cleetwood Cove Trail to explore the serene shoreline.

Top Trails 3 – Vancouver Island, British Columbia

For spectacular wildlife, there are few places better in the Pacific Northwest than Vancouver Island. Bears, sea lions, eagles, orcas, wolves, cougars, elk, and many other species inhabit the island. Not only are they present, but they exist in such high numbers that sightings are regular occurrences.

If you go backcountry camping, it’s not unusual to wake up with paw prints outside your tent or to hear animal noises around camp at night. Make sure to pack bear spray and to keep all your food in sealed containers to avoid them getting too close!

For those seeking the ultimate bucket list backpacking trip, it’s hard to beat the West Coast Trail in the Pacific Rim National Park. This is a hike that will test every ounce of your reserve over a challenging 47-mile trail. It will bring you closer to true wilderness than arguably any other hike in the Pacific Northwest.

There are many other fantastic hikes on Vancouver Island’s west coast. At East Sooke, you can follow a loop trail through the rainforest then up to Pike Point and Iron Mine Bay. No backpacking trip to Vancouver Island would be complete without venturing to Ucluelet and Tofino. Take a stroll along the vast plain of sand at Long Beach and if you’re up to it, hike the full 10 miles from headland to headland.

Top Trails – Bonus Locations

Backpacking options are extremely varied in the Pacific Northwest. Those looking for a more isolated hiking experience should head to the North Cascades National Park in Washington. Mount Rainer National Park is another popular hiking area, though this is considerably busier with Seattle and Tacoma locals.

Lastly, there’s Mount St. Helens. This is less about wilderness and more about the history of the volcanic eruption, but there is no shortage of sensational views either.

Gear Tips

As mentioned, the Pacific Northwest is a temperate region and receives a high amount of rainfall. Waterproofs are essential for any hiking trip. Invest in a good set of waterproof trousers and a jacket. It’s also worth considering a waterproof cover for your backpack to protect your valuables.

At higher elevations temperatures drop and alpine conditions prevail. Pack warm layers for the trip and take special care to check the weather forecast regularly as storms can strike without warning at any time of year.

Hiking boots are the maker of any walking trip. Invest in a good pair and look after your feet. Moss, mud, tree roots, slippery rocks, snow, and river crossings are all common in the Pacific Northwest. Purchase hiking boots that are prepared for this and have ankle support to prevent trip-related injuries.

An additional tip is to ensure you wear-in your hiking boots. Don’t embark on a big trek before you’ve had time to get comfortable with the boots. Practice walking shorter distances in the hiking socks you intend to use on the trail before you depart. Happy feet make a happy hiker.

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