Not many other cities embody the spirit of outdoor adventure the way Seattle does. The waters of Puget Sound and Lake Washington lie within the city itself, beckoning intrepid kayakers, while the rugged Cascade Range is less than an hour drive from downtown. Seattle, like much of the Pacific Northwest, is an outdoor lover’s paradise, a place where you don’t need a whole weekend to get out of the city for a hike. Hiking near Seattle can be done with as much or as you little time as you have, and you can easily hit the trail in the few hours of daylight after a day at the office. Here are three of the best hiking destinations near the city.
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One of Seattle’s most popular hikes, Rattlesnake Ledge is a short 35-minute drive from downtown along I-90. The trail starts at Rattlesnake Lake Park, a location worth visiting just for an afternoon swim, but also a great place to cool off after you’ve sweated it up visiting the ledge above. The imposing cliff above bursts from the pine-covered slope overlooking the lake and the trailhead parking lot.
The trail up to the ledge is four miles round trip with almost 1,200 feet of elevation gain. It’s heavily trafficked because it’s relatively easy compared to other hikes in the Cascades, and it’s close enough to the city that it doesn’t require a whole day. Most people can complete the hike in a little over two hours, but it’s worth it to budget some extra time to take photos, enjoy the views, and maybe get that swim in afterwards. Be mindful of bringing children on this one, though, as the cliffs are very steep and a fall can be fatal.
Most of the hike goes through a lush forest of mossy boulders and ferns, so it's especially amazing when the trees do open up to the views over Rattlesnake Lake.The trail is possible in the winter, but trekking polls and crampons are recommended, and extreme caution along the cliffs is critical.
No, the name is not wordplay suggesting dismal scenery from this trail, but instead references the sound that logging trains made as they traversed the flatlands below the Point back in the 1800’s. At 3.8 miles round trip and with just under 1,800 feet of elevation gain, this trail is best suited for hikers with a free afternoon (and a desire to burn some calories). It’s also a popular paragliding site, and on the right days, you’ll get to see a whole slew of colorful parachutes drifting in the winds, slowly making their way to the valley below.
The pathway begins by crossing a large open field between the parking lot and the main trail. As you’re hiking, be careful of paragliders who might be landing in the field! From there, the trail begins a steep ascent, with some sections comprised of steps carved into the mountain’s stone. After a mile and a half, the trail opens up to impressive vistas of an area known as the South Launch Viewpoint, one of the two main jump sites for paragliders. A climb of another quarter mile will get you to the North Launch Viewpoint and then Poo Poo Point. The views of Issaquah, Bellevue, Lake Sammamish, are stunning, and on a clear day, you’ll even get to see a few of Seattle’s skyscrapers.
This last trail is a bit of a drive from Seattle and is better suited for a weekend – or better yet, a weekday off from work, when there are fewer hikers on the trail. Located 85 miles from the city, Summerland is the area’s premier hike; located in Mount Rainer National Park, it provides some of the best scenery the Pacific Northwest has to offer. The Wonderland Trail, of which Summerland is a part of, is incredibly popular and requires a permit for camping. These permits are issued via lottery months in advance, but day hiking in the area requires no permit at all. However, parking is limited, so it's important to get there early.
The trail starts three miles past the White River entrance to the park, at the parking lot next to Fryingpan Creek. The path is gentle at first, with the first two miles making a series of easy switchbacks. The trail then makes its way up the mountains for several miles to a secondary valley, where the best views of Mount Rainer can be had. The next half-mile steeply climbs to the Summerland Meadows, which can get quite crowded with hikers during summer weekends. If you're interested in continuing on for three more miles, and climbing another 600 feet up, you can continue up to the Panhandle Gap, but snow and ice can be a problem.
Round trip, Summerland is 7.5 miles and includes 2,100 feet of elevation gain. It’s not the easiest hike, but the switchbacks make it something that most people can complete given enough time. Hiking the trail takes about five hours, but you’ll want to budget extra time to spend at the meadows.
Seattle is an amazing place to live if you’re a fan of the outdoors – rugged mountains to hike up, cobalt blue lakes to swim in, and a wide array of rivers and lakes to paddle through. It’s a place where, at least during the summer months, a person can clock out of work at 5 and be on the trail by 6, with plenty of daylight left to get a hike in. With so many options, planning a hiking trip from Seattle can be a bit of a challenge. Rest assured, though, that any day spent in the mountains is going to be a good one.