I am apt to cringe when someone asks about my favorite photography sites in the Pacific Northwest. How can I choose when there are so many? Though it’s still winter I am already eagerly anticipating my favorite spring hikes in Washington, described below.
Ray Westberg Trail
At the top of my favorite list is the Ray Westberg Trail near Thorp (east of Snoqualmie Pass). The trail is named for the late Ray Westberg, a popular high school coach. Wildflowers can bloom as early as March, though this year they seem to be later. Look for grass widows, death camas and yellow bells in the sage-scented hills. The views of Mount Stuart are photo-worthy and the hike is also a good conditioner. Wildflower displays continue through summer with an ever-changing cast of characters (Washington Department of Natural Resources).
The Westberg Trail is 7.6 miles round trip with 1,700 feet gain
To get there from Seattle take I-90 east to Exit 101 (Thorp). Turn south (right) on Thorp Highway to Cove Road, turn right and follow to roads end at the trailhead. A Discover Pass is required.
Iron Creek Trail
Another favorite is “Iron Bear” via the Iron Creek Trail – the trailhead is located off US Highway 97 east of Cle Elum. This is one of the earliest trails to melt out in the Teanaway/Blewett Pass region. On this trail you’ll find numerous wildflowers and views of Mount Stuart. There are so many wildflowers you might want to include a wildflower guide – look for yellow bells, bitterroot and more (Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest).
The Iron Creek Trail (Iron Bear) is about 6.8 miles round trip with 1,000 feet gain.
To get there from Seattle take I-90 east to Exit 85. Drive east on highway 970 to junction with US Highway 97 and turn left (north). At 2.2 miles past the Mineral Springs Resort turn left onto Iron Creek Road, continue to road end and trailhead. The road to the trailhead can be challenging in spring where a stream crosses the road; there are other parking areas along the road if you can’t clear the stream. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
Easton Ridge/ Kachess Beacon Trail
When it’s raining on the west side of Snoqualmie Pass head over to Easton Ridge/Kachess Beacon Trail (the weather almost always improves by the time you get to Easton). Several trails start from the Easton Ridge/Kachess Ridge trailhead (Easton Ridge, Kachess Ridge, Kachess Ridge Beacon, Thomas Mountain and Mount Baldy). These trails melt out earlier than most trails on the west side of Snoqualmie Pass. Be prepared for snow at higher elevations if you go in early spring – poles and traction devices advised. (Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest).
Easton Ridge/Kachess Ridge Trails
Kachess Beacon Trail: 4 miles round trip with 2,300 feet gain
To get there take I-90 east to Exit 70. Cross over the freeway to the frontage road and turn left. Drive to Kachess Dam Road and turn right. In about a half mile turn right onto unsigned gravel road, continue to trailhead. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
Wildhorse Viewpoint: mileage and elevation gain negligible.
To get there from Seattle via I-90 get off at Exit 138 (after crossing the Columbia River), drive to parking area. The viewpoint and horses are just above. No pass required.
Ginko State Park and Petrified Forest
Another spring gem is Ginkgo State Park near Vantage. The trail is bordered with sagebrush and there are interesting displays of petrified wood along the trail. To see more petrified wood displays, petroglyphs and more stop in at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest Interpretive Center; don’t miss the nearby Ginkgo Gem Shop in Vantage as well. There children will love the life-size dinosaur replicas and inside there are geodes, gems and petrified wood displays to admire and/or purchase. Another photo worthy objective is a visit to the Wild Horse viewpoint off I-90 after crossing the Columbia River. Further west is the Wild Horse Wind Farm (east of Kittitas); we’ve seen displays of hedgehog cactus in early spring; be prepared for strong winds (it’s called a wind farm for a good reason).
The Petrified Forest trail is two miles round trip with about 200 feet gain.
To get there from Seattle take I-90 east to Exit 136, Vantage. Drive north (left) through Vantage to the Vantage Highway and turn left then continue about two miles to the trailhead. Stop in at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest Interpretative Center (the spur to the center is well-signed) which is open March 1 through November 1. You’ll pass the Vantage Gem Shop as you drive through Vantage (stop in). To reach the Petrified Forest Trails exit the Visitor Center and at the Vantage Highway turn right (west) continue two miles to the parking area. A Discover Pass is required.
Wild Horse Wind Facility: Mileage and elevation gain negligible.
To get there from Seattle: Head east on I-90, get off Exit 115 (Kittitas). Drive north (left) from the exit into Kittitas on Main Street and then turn east (right) on 4th, then north (left) on County Road No. 81 to the Vantage Highway. Turn right, continue 10.3 miles to the Wild Horse Wind Facility. No pass required.
Carbon River Entrance Mount Rainier National Park
On the west side – for an easy walk and chances of solitude drive to the Carbon River Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park and hike the Carbon River Road as far as time, energy and conditions allow. You can also ride a bicycle to Ipsut Creek Campground (but not beyond). In spring a nature trail near the entrance is aglow with skunk cabbage, called “swamp lanterns” by old timers (Mount Rainier National Park).
Mount Rainier National Park: www.nps.gov/mora
Carbon River Entrance Mount Rainier National Park
From Enumclaw drive Highway 410 west to Buckley. Turn left onto Highway 165 and follow signs toward the Carbon River Entrance of the park. At the junction for Mowich Lake, stay left, continue to the Carbon River Entrance. Entry fee or Northwest Forest Pass required. Paradise is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (winter). Chains required to be carried from November 1-April 1 inside the park.
Paradise and Longmire Mount Rainier National Park
In winter while there may be fewer places to go you can’t go wrong at Mount Rainier National Park. If the road to Paradise is closed there are scenic trails between the Nisqually Entrance of the park and Longmire that can satisfy an appetite for photography, hiking and snowshoeing. When Paradise is open you can ski or snowshoe from Paradise to Reflection Lakes; hardier folk can continue to high points along Mazama Ridge when avalanche danger is low.
From Seattle take I-5 south to Exit 127. Drive east (left) on Highway 512 to Highway 7 exit, turn right. Continue south to Elbe. At Elbe leave Highway 7 for Highway 706 which leads into the Nisqually Entrance of the park. Entry fee or Northwest Forest Pass required. Paradise is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (winter). Chains required to be carried from November 1-April 1 inside the park.
Hyak/Gold Creek (winter)
Closer to home: Snoqualmie Pass/Hyak near Snoqualmie Pass offers winter photo opportunities at Commonwealth Basin (via the old Pacific Crest Trail) and Gold Creek (Hyak). Do NOT go to Snow, Gem or Source Lakes – these lakes sit in avalanche-prone bowls and are hazardous; wait for summer. Instead enjoy an easy, photogenic snowshoe tour to Gold Creek which is also featured on this website (Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest).
From Seattle head east on I-90, get off at Exit 54; follow the frontage road (east) to the Gold Creek Sno-Park on the north side of the freeway. A Sno-Park permit for ungroomed trails is required. For additional information on Sno-Parks and Washington State Parks call 360-902-8844.
You can also hike (or snowshoe) to the base of Mount Si though the trail is often packed down and icy (take traction devices and poles); snowshoes may also be necessary. It’s a strenuous hike year-round with about 3,300 feet of elevation gain. The views of the Snoqualmie Valley are dizzying; there are several rocky outcroppings where you can safely perch (Washington Department of Natural Resources).
From Seattle head east on I-90 to Exit 32 then turn north (left) toward North Bend and turn right at the Mount Si Road. If you get to North Bend you’ve gone too far! For the Old Si Trail start at the Little Si trailhead; otherwise continue to the Mount Si trailhead further up the road (Discover Passes are required for both trailheads).
For more information visit:
Washington State Park Information: www.parks.wa.gov/parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources: www.dnr.wa.gov
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest: www.fs.usda.gov/okawen/
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest: www.fs.usda.gov/mbs/