Five End-of-Summer Hikes to Try in Washington
September is a wonderful time to get outside and enjoy Washington’s many hiking trails. Summer temperatures have finally subsided (which means so have the mosquitoes and crowds of people!), there’s still plenty of daylight, and the leaves are just starting to transform into brilliant shades of orange, gold, and red.
One of the best things about hiking is that you don’t need any special skills or equipment to enjoy it, other than a pair of comfortable, sturdy shoes. You can go hiking on your own, with a friend, or even with young children. However, no matter how much hiking experience you have and regardless of what the weather is when you head out, it’s a smart idea to bring plenty of water, wear a hat, and pack an extra layer. This is the Pacific Northwest, and weather conditions change quickly – a rain jacket or sweater can be the single difference in not just making your hike more enjoyable, but keeping you warm and dry as well.
Lace up those hiking shoes, grab an adventure buddy (or don’t!), and check out some of the best hikes in Washington.
1. Maple Pass Loop
– 7.2-mile loop
– 2,150 feet elevation gain
Located in the Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest, Maple Pass Loop can be done either clockwise or counterclockwise and has a number of shorter side trails. For example, Lake Ann is just a half-mile detour off the main trail. Hikers who complete the entire Maple Pass Loop are rewarded with spectacular views of many iconic North Cascade peaks including Black and Corteau, as well as Frisco Mountain and Rainy Lake. There is a climb, but it’s gradual, and the ridgeline at the top of Maple Pass is relatively flat.
It should be noted that the North Cascades Highway, or State Route 20, typically closes for the season due to heavy snow before Thanksgiving. According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, the closure shuts SR 20 down between mile markers 134 and 171. Maple Pass Loop is located just before mile marker 158 at the Rainy Lake Trailhead, so this hike is inaccessible for several months each year. That’s all the more reason to get out there in September and early October before winter weather moves in!
2. Rainy Lake
– 1.8 miles round trip
– 50 feet elevation gain
Sharing a trailhead with Maple Pass Loop, Rainy Lake Trail is more of a leisurely mountain stroll than a hike, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less magnificent. It has a fully paved path, so it’s one of just a few hikes near Seattle that’s wheelchair-accessible and stroller-friendly. Follow the path just under one mile through thick canopies of trees to Rainy Lake, where you’ll be treated to views of waterfalls surrounding the crystal-clear blue water. There are plenty of benches and shade, so bring a picnic lunch and enjoy your time here.
Please note that since Rainy Lake is located at the same starting point as Maple Pass Loop, you want to be sure and visit early in the fall. Heavy snow and avalanches close the North Cascades Highway in mid-November most years, making several trailheads inaccessible.
3. Sullivan Lake Trail
– 8.2 miles round trip
– 250 feet elevation gain
Situated in eastern Washington’s Selkirk Mountains, Sullivan Lake is the biggest natural lake in Colville National Forest. This trail is widely regarded as one of the best hikes in Washington for seeing the brilliant fall colors, as the aspens, birch, and larch trees light the forest up in shades of gold and orange throughout September and October. Sullivan Lake Trail is a relatively straightforward, easy hike ideal for families with young children and leashed dogs, and there are also a number of campsites here. Take your time exploring the many small beaches and coves, but be on the lookout for wildlife. A large bighorn sheep herd calls nearby Hall Mountain home and wolves are not an uncommon sight.
4. Tonga Ridge Trail
– 6 miles round trip
– 400 feet elevation gain
This is a popular hike in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest that’s well-known for being fairly easy and family-friendly. Tonga Ridge Trail is an out-and-back hike along a ridgeline with gentle slopes, so go all the way to Sawyer Pass or hike only as far as you wish before turning around. Sawyer Pass is a flat open area in the middle of the forest with several logs for having a snack, as well as a handful of campsites. The explosion of berries in the fall is nearly as impressive as the color-changing leaves, but beware of wildlife – where there are berries, there are often deer and bears. Wear bright colors and make plenty of noise on the trail, so animals and hunters alike will be aware of your presence.
5. Lime Kiln Trail
– 7 miles round trip
– 625 feet elevation gain
This trail is anything but ordinary, making it one of the best hikes in Seattle for experienced hikers and children alike. Located in the Robe Canyon Historic Park, Lime Kiln Trail takes you along the banks of the Stillaguamish River, or “The Stilly,” through a damp, mossy canyon, and past several historic sites, including what remains of the Everett and Monte Cristo Railroad. This area was important to both logging and limestone mining in the 1800s, and many artifacts still dot the trail. About 2.5 miles in, you’ll find the main attraction, a 20-foot-tall, moss-covered lime kiln. Many people turn around here, but the trail actually continues for another mile to the river bank. If you’re visiting in September or October, keep your eyes open for spawning salmon.
Where to stay
Whether you’re taking on several of the best hikes in Washington or just one this fall, Hotel 116 in Bellevue is an ideal basecamp. It’s located just 20 minutes outside Seattle and right off the freeway, providing easy access to many of the state’s best trails. When you come back from a busy day of exploring the best hikes near Seattle, enjoy being within walking distance of many wonderful restaurants, shops, entertainment options, and much more.
– Complimentary parking
– Pet friendly
– Seasonal swimming pool
– 24-hour business center
– Fitness center (may be closed or have limited availability due to COVID-19)
– Complimentary shuttle within a 5-mile radius (may be closed or have limited availability due to COVID-19)