With so many trail options available to the greater Seattle area, it can be tough to choose one. Whether you’re visiting Seattle, new to hiking, or anxiously planning a mountain adventure, the internet can offer a wealth of information that can quickly become overwhelming. To narrow down the search, start by deciding how far you are willing to drive roundtrip, what kind of mileage you have time for, and the elevation difficulty you can safely handle. I’m generally training towards an overnight backpacking adventure, or have been cooped up indoors far too much during the week. Those factors have me craving distance and elevation gain. Whether you’re like me and wanting to cram in some after-work exercise, or you’re just looking for some day hikes without having to drive far, these seven hikes are a must!
Snoqualmie Pass (off of Interstate 90), Highway 2, and the Mountain Loop Highway offer stunning forested mountain hikes featuring alpine lakes and are within two hours of Seattle.
Interstate 90 Hikes
Trails along the Interstate 90 (I-90) corridor are the more easily accessible day hikes. The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest offers stunning alpine lakes and densely forested trails where you can find a nature reprieve and get an awesome workout in. With Interstate 90 easily accessible from the city and so many great hikes just over an hour away, it’s no wonder the locals (and visitors!) head east.
AllTrails Data: 6.7 miles with 1,699 feet of elevation gain; rated as Moderate.
The trail is a moderate incline all the way to the crest of the mountain, until you begin to descend toward Snow Lake itself. Along the way you’re graced with mountain views, an abundance of trees, and a variety of alpine wildflowers including Sub-alpine spirea, Tiger lily, Columbine, Mountain heather, and Paintbrush.
AllTrails Data: 11 miles with 2,670 feet of elevation gain; rated as Difficult.
Continuing on from Snow Lake for a few short miles brings you to Gem Lake. If you have the time and energy, you won’t be disappointed and it’s definitely worth the extra trek. Gem Lake features dark blue-green waters with brilliant reflections and more solitude than its nearby neighbor.
AllTrails Data: 9.7 miles with 2,680 feet of elevation gain; rated as Difficult.
An hour from Seattle, the creek crossings and rocky terrain that precede Hemlock Pass make this hike on the more challenging side. However, likely due to its length and difficulty, this trail is significantly less traveled than other I-90 hikes. If solitude is what you prefer and a challenge is what you seek, this day hike is for you!
Highway 2 Hikes
Highway 2 connects western Washington to central-eastern Washington and is bounded to the north by the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to the south. Needless to say, being surrounded by mountains means the hiking options are plentiful.
AllTrails Data: 7 miles with 3,372 feet of elevation gain, rated as Difficult.
Located within the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness Area, Blanca Lake is famous for its turquoise-colored water that is truly unlike any other lakes in the Cascades. The cold, silt-filled water that feeds into the lake from the Columbia Glacier is what gives this lake its unique color and composition.
AllTrails Data: 7.4 miles with 2,709 feet of elevation gain; rated as Difficult.
Lake Serene is an alpine lake that sits at the base of the famous Mount Index, which can be seen in all its glory from Highway 2. Be prepared for never-ending steps and take the time during the beginning of the hike to check out Bridal Veil Falls.
Mountain Loop Highway Hikes
The scenic Mountain Loop Highway begins near Granite Falls and winds along the Stillaguamish River before eventually turning north to parallel the Sauk River up to the town of Darrington and the southern end of the North Cascades. There are many trailheads available along the way that provide exceptional recreational opportunities and have some of the most diverse landscapes in Washington state.
AllTrails Data: 5.8 miles with 1,473 feet of elevation gain; rated as Moderate.
An oddly named but well-known trail, Lake Twenty-Two offers waterfalls, mossy forest, scenic viewpoints, an alpine lake, and a stunning mountain backdrop.
AllTrails Data: 10.5 miles with 1,722 feet of elevation gain; rated as Moderate.
The mileage of Goat Lake may seem daunting, but the traverse is gradual and well maintained, making it some of the easiest 10 miles you will hike. This hike can be done as a loop, and I recommend doing so as both trails provide an equally nice jaunt through the forest.
Always remember to recreate responsibly when hiking in Washington!
All photos copyright of Sole Wanderer Photography.