By Douglas Scott
What little snow has fallen in the mountains is melting, flowers are blooming, and the trailheads around the wilderness of Washington State are getting popular again, meaning one thing—spring is here. With a mild and mostly snow-free winter behind us, the hiking season of 2015 is sure to be one of the busiest ever for the state’s many national parks and forests, state parks and other trails spread throughout the entire Pacific Northwest. With unrivaled beauty at out finger tips, our hiking options around the Puget Sound are unlike anywhere else in the world. From volcanos to glacier fed rivers and waterfalls, the world is our geoduck.
Choosing between the thousands of miles of trails to explore within a few hours of drive time from Tacoma can be more exhausting than the hike itself, which is why I put together five favorite spring hiking destinations. Offering majestic views, memorable experiences and the very best of the natural wonder that we call home, the following trails are sure to become favorites you visit again and again. Whether you hike one or explore all five, the springtime hikes around the South Sound are sure to get you ready for a summer full of adventure.
High Rock Lookout
Distance from Tacoma: 68 miles
Miles: 3.2 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 1,365 feet
There might not be a more iconic Pacific Northwest hike than the trek up to High Rock Lookout, just east of Elbe. Located on the incredibly impressive Sawtooth Ridge south of Mount Rainier, the views from High Rock are some of the best in the state of Washington. The trail is steep for those not used to hiking, but the views are worth every foot of elevation gained. Along an exposed ridge that gives some vertigo, look down to the Nisqually River Valley over toward the majestic southern flank of Mount Rainier and south toward Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. You won’t regret this hike, as it is one of the most perfectly placed lookout towers in the Pacific Northwest.
Little Mashel Falls
Distance from Tacoma: 37 miles
Miles: 5.75 miles, round trip
Elevation gain: 700 feet.
Located in Pack Forest just southwest of Mount Rainier, Little Mashel Falls is a springtime must. Once a hidden secret, the falls are increasing in popularity—and for good reason, too. Plummeting 120 feet in a single drop, the waterfall is at its best during the spring thank to runoff from the melting snow. With two places serving as overlooks at the fall, as well as some interesting scrambling opportunities for those itching for a closer look at this stunningly beautiful waterfall, Little Mashel Falls is a fantastic day hike. While not recommended, there is a cave located behind the falls that is quite impressive (if you can get behind it). As always, use your best judgement when hiking and be aware of the slippery rocks.
Point Defiance Park
Distance from Tacoma: 0 miles
Miles: Trails vary in length, 0.5–16 miles.
Elevation gain: Variable
Hiking around Point Defiance Park may seem like a simple adventure, but with over 16 miles of trail options in this Park maintained by Metro Parks Tacoma, adventure awaits you around every corner. Perfect for explorers of all ages and abilities, the well-maintained trails around Point Defiance not only offer stunning views of Puget Sound, but also a great walk on the beach, impressive forests, flower gardens and a chance to step back in time at Fort Nisqually. Hiking around the Five Mile Drive and Point Defiance is close, convenient and stunning, especially in spring. Take in the views from Owens Beach, gaze at the Tacoma Narrows Bridges, listen to eagles, avoid the raccoons, and experience the best park in our own backyard.
Tahoma Creek Suspension Bridge
Distance from Tacoma: 58 miles
Miles: 6.5 miles, depending on whether Westside Road is open or closed.
Elevation gain: 1,900 feet
Located on the Wonderland Trail, a 95-mile path that encircles Mount Rainier, Tahoma Creek is one of the forgotten streams in Mount Rainier National Park. While millions drive over it each year, quickly passing through Longmire and Paradise, few take the trek upstream toward one of the more awesome hiking destinations around the state. At 6.4 miles round trip, while taking a hike along Tahoma Creek one gets an appreciation for the sheer power and ruggedness of Mount Rainier. The highlight of this trail is the Tahoma Creek Suspension Bridge. At 160 feet above Tahoma Creek, the suspension bridge swings for 200 feet, supported only by cables and a wooden walkway with quarter-inch gaps between each board. This trail is completely underrated and needs to be added to every must-hike list.
Distance from Tacoma: 82 miles
Miles: 2.2 miles, round trip
Elevation gain: 200 feet
Tucked away in the Skokomish River Valley, the Staircase region of Olympic National Park is one of the area’s fastest growing hiking destinations. With incredible views of the North Fork of the Skokomish River, a bridge crossing, old growth timber and forests filled with elk, deer and moss, the Staircase Loop is a perfect family-friendly hike on the Olympic Peninsula. With options for extended hikes to remote lakes, rugged peaks and some of the best backcountry campsites around, you might find yourself wanting to spend more than a day exploring the Hood Canal region of the Olympic Peninsula. Staircase is phenomenal year round, but the smells, sights and sounds during the spring make it memorable for visitors of any age. Take the trip out to the Olympic Peninsula and discover the beauty of the region for yourself!