Flanked by the Cascades and the Olympic Mountains, there might not be an activity more iconic to Seattle and the greater area than hiking. But if you’re new to the area or just haven’t laced up your boots in a while, venturing into the evergreens can be daunting. The following is a guide of what to remember before going out for the day.
What to Bring: The 10 Essentials
Though hikers always have their own individual opinion as to what “essential” means, this list covers the basics to keep you and your family safe and happy on the trail.
- Water—It is vital to bring enough water for each member of the hiking party. Equipping everyone in the group with a hydration pack can make the experience less strenuous and ensures access to water at all times.
- Rain gear—Even a sunny day can quickly turn in the Pacific Northwest, especially when hiking in upper elevations. Always bring a waterproof jacket to stay dry and comfortable no matter what the conditions.
- Flashlight/headlamp—Any experienced hiker knows that a trail can, on occasion, take longer to complete than anticipated. A flashlight on hand will ensure a safe return to the trailhead despite the lack of sunlight.
- Nutrition—In addition to your regular lunch or snacks that will be consumed on the trail, bringing extra food can help if extra energy is needed or the trip takes longer than expected.
- Bug repellent—Nothing can ruin a wonderful day on the trail like bug bites. While it is important to apply bug spray before starting a hike, it is recommended to touch up on the trail after breaking a sweat or enjoying a refreshing swim in a subalpine lake.
- Sunscreen—Sunblock needs to be reapplied every two to three hours and more often if sweating or enjoying the water. Bringing sunblock and setting a reminder timer can help protect from the sun’s lovely but scorching rays.
- Emergency shelter—Even with excellent rain gear, a quick onset storm can put a hiker at high risk for hypothermia. An emergency shelter, such as a tarp or tent, can help you keep dry and provide a place to sleep in the event of being stranded overnight.
- Map/compass—Even if familiar with the area, rapidly changing conditions, such as inclement weather or deteriorating sunlight, can quickly disorient even the most experienced hiker. Check for the most up-to-date maps and ensure the compass is functional before trekking.
- First aid kit—A sufficient first aid kit will contain bandages, gauze pads and antiseptic wipes. If someone in the hiking party is at risk, you will also want to include an EpiPen in the event of an insect sting.
- Extra clothing—Being prepared for any type of weather is vital for the PNW hiker. With so much rain and so many beautiful rivers, extra clothing can make or break a fun day on the trail.
Where to Go: How to Check the Trail
Though part of the fun of exploring the great outdoors is the sense of mystery and beauty, it is best for everyone to be prepared for trail conditions. Thankfully, Washington State has a wonderful community of hikers and outdoorsmen committed to communicating about the viability of trails and which locations are worth the trekking time. With multiple resources available, it is easy to plan a safe and satisfying trip.
Washington Trails Association (WTA)
WTA’s website is one of the go-to tools for hikers in the Seattle and Bellevue area. The website provides timely, detailed descriptions of each trail, driving directions with a Google map link to GPS, and its most popular feature: trip reports from other hikers. The website is heavily used, and it is rare for a trail to not be reported on every few days, allowing hikers to determine whether they are up to the challenges the trail may currently be offering. This resource is also a good way to connect with other hikers in the area; users are encouraged to create a profile and participate in the conversations.
This website offers detailed information for each hike that includes elevation and a trail description. In addition, there are also current trip reports. However, this community of hikers is not just limited to Washington State and allows outdoor enthusiasts the ability to explore and research trails from all over the country and into Canada. This database is different from WTA or other resources as it allows you to view a map of an area and find the trails that are in the vicinity.
Visitor Centers at National Parks
For up-to-date road conditions, such as construction or rock slides, you can call the visitor center at most national or state parks. They provide information and insight as to the best trails to visit on that particular day. Forest and park rangers offer valuable input when planning a hike. You can find visitor center information for each national park and forest on the U.S. National Park Service website.
How to Get Involved: Try a Trail Party
Since the PNW is one of the most sought-after destinations in the world for camping and hiking, it can become quite the undertaking to keep up the trails. The Washington Trails Association hosts many work parties where hikers are invited to join organized adventures dedicated to repairing and maintaining the trails of Washington.
“From kids 10 and up who need school credit, to retirees trying to stay active, to hikers that just want to give back to the remarkable trails and upkeep for future generations, there are opportunities for most anyone,” says Kindra Ramos, director of communications at WTA.
There is no need for advanced carpentry or botany skills to participate. Although you will get your hands dirty, Ramos says everyone is pretty relaxed and keeps the work lighthearted. “Everyone works at their own speed and ability,” she says. “And there is always a 10:30 chocolate break to make sure no one is working too hard.”
Listed below are some of the planned events throughout the summer, but you can find the entire list located on WTA’s website. “It’s an opportunity to explore a new area and meet some new people. It’s a real sense of accomplishment to look back and see how you improved that trail,” Ramos says.
Notch Pass Trail, July 11 or 18 or 25, 8:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m.
If you’re interested in working on a trail for the first time but are unsure of camping overnight, this is an excellent option. The crew is scheduled to repair a bridge over Allen Creek on the Notch Pass Trail. Only a two- to three- mile round-trip through the forests of the peninsula, this would be a perfect starter adventure for the family.
Wonderland Trail, July 8–15
This is an adventure for the dedicated hiking enthusiast. This trip lasts eight days and is slated to help repair and maintain the famous Wonderland Trail. This is a good option for those interested in botany as the trip will center on pruning vegetation and maintaining waterways. There is an extensive gear list for this adventure, and you will want to be in good physical shape to withstand the conditions.
Walt Bailey Trail, Aug. 10–13
This five-day trip is to restore rough and rutted tread on the trails near Cutthroat Lakes. With a four-mile and 2,300-foot elevation gain, the trail will be challenging but rewarding with the breathtaking views. The work party will use various tools to widen trails and also assist in pruning vegetation. The short and rewarding nature of this trek makes it an excellent option for families with older children.
Trips can be booked up to 48 hours in advance and at wta.org/volunteer.