Tired of your “pandemic walks” on the by-now-all-too-familiar routes through your neighborhood?
Now that summer is in the air, it’s time to bust out the daypacks — and, in some cases, even overnight packs — and head for the hills over the long Memorial Day weekend to see some stunning scenery and breathe in fresh mountain air.
Trail conditions are always a factor when hiking in late spring or early summer. That’s even more important this year because a healthy snowpack built up in the Cascades over the winter means trails are expected to be snow-free later than usual.
That’s why we’ve kept these recommended hikes in the 2,000-foot elevation range. Low-elevation hike opportunities are plentiful in the foothills near Seattle. But if you’re willing to drive a bit over the weekend, here are five that might fly under the radar.
The shallow, firm-bottomed waters of Samish Bay are ideal for growing oysters. No surprise the northern shores of the bay are home to a shellfish farm, and a longtime oyster-specialty restaurant just up the hill on scenic Chuckanut Drive in its early days touted this memorable slogan: “The oysters you eat today, slept last night in Samish Bay.”
The pearl of this oyster haven looms high overhead. It’s Oyster Dome, a rocky promontory on the western slope of Blanchard Mountain and the pride of the Chuckanut Mountains.
And when it comes to day hikes, unlike the oysters below, don’t sleep on this one. The views of the Salish Sea from 2,025-foot Oyster Dome are jaw-dropping.
To the left is the Skagit River flats, Samish Island, Guemes Island, Anacortes and Mount Erie near Deception Pass. To the right is the south end of Lummi Island, and straight ahead, the San Juan Islands. Orcas Island is particularly conspicuous among the islands, thanks in part to Mount Constitution, which pokes just 373 feet higher than Oyster Dome.
Framing all this, way in the background, are the snowcapped Olympic Mountains.
It’s best to begin the hike at the Samish Outlook parking area on Blanchard Mountain. From the trailhead, you’ll start on a section of the Pacific Northwest Trail, descending slightly for 0.4 miles before the junction with the Samish Bay connector and trail to Chuckanut Drive.
At this point, give yourself a high-five. Not only have you saved time and nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain by not starting on Chuckanut Drive, the alternative trailhead, your vehicle also isn’t precariously parked on the shoulder of the busy road.
The rest of the 2.5-mile ascent to Oyster Dome is fairly gentle. At about the 2-mile mark, you’ll come to a junction for the trail to nearby Lily and Lizard lakes, a camping option for the overnight backpacker.
A final scramble up the hill lands you upon Oyster Dome. Take a break, have lunch, watch an occasional bald eagle fly by and take in the breathtaking views.
Lower Gray Wolf River
Often overlooked in favor of more popular trails in the Olympic National Forest, first-time hikers will be impressed by this trail that begins on a logging-road grade, then winds through old-growth, lush peninsula forest along the deep blue waters of the Gray Wolf River.
This scenic canyon contains dense hardwoods and conifers, spring-blooming native rhododendrons, assorted flowers, mushrooms and berries in season.
A campsite along the river is a nice place to stay overnight, or a spot for lunch. But day hikers will want to continue on to the end of the trail at the 4.2-mile mark, a former bridge site, then turn around and come back.
Chelan Lakeshore Trail
How many hiking expeditions in the Cascades are there where you are delivered to the trailhead by boat? That’s exactly how this 17-mile trail on the east shore of Lake Chelan begins.
The adventure is underway when you step aboard the Lady Express or Lady of the Lake ferryboat, either in Chelan or from Field’s Point. The boat will nose right up to the shore at Prince Creek to drop off backpackers from a gangplank over the bow.
That’s where you’ll begin this hike in Eastern Washington that this time of year holds the promise of sunny weather. Your final destination is Stehekin, a remote, breathtakingly beautiful village at the far northwest corner of the lake that’s only accessible by boat, plane or foot.
Along the way you’ll get big views of the mountain peaks west of Chelan, and cross a few sizable creeks. There are several campgrounds along the up-and-down trail until you literally reach the end of the line.
Take your time exploring Stehekin, located in the heart of the North Cascades, before your return ferryboat trip back to your vehicle.
Fort Ebey State Park
This is as low as we go. The high-bluff trail along a beach on the west side of Whidbey Island near Coupeville will take you no higher than 570 feet.
But don’t let the modest elevation dissuade you. You’re high enough to see some spectacular scenery. This trail has unobstructed views across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Townsend, the Olympic Mountains and Vancouver Island. It’s also a great walk for families and hikers of all abilities. Give yourself a low-five.
Heading south from the parking lot at Lake Pondilla at about the 1-mile mark you’ll come across Fort Ebey’s World War II-era bunkers and gun locations. The fort was built in 1942 to protect Puget Sound from a potential attack. Feel free to explore the bunkers, but you’ll want to use the flashlight on your smartphone.
Down the trail at a high point you get a glimpse of Perego’s Lagoon, which offers another set of trails. Retrace your steps and return along the bluff trail, or join the Cedar Hollow Trail to continue the loop back to your vehicle.
Here’s the outlier in the group. This gem of a hike just south of the Enchantments area in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness starts out at 2,000 feet and climbs to about 3,500 feet at Falls Creek.
But this one is too good to pass up. As of the third week of May, the trail was pretty much snow-free up to Falls Creek, a little more than 5 miles in. Check for trail conditions beforehand, and go as far as you can.
The trail is fairly gradual overall, but with occasional steep portions over little ridges as it winds through the forest along Ingalls Creek. The best is yet to come. The trail gets more scenic the deeper you go.
When the snow melts, you’ll walk into meadows filled with avalanche lilies, trillium and lupine. You’ll see boulder fields, granite cliffs and views of the majestic Stuart Range.
The trail winds further up the valley, and all the way to Stuart Pass, where it ends at 6,400 feet. By then, you’re 14.4 miles in and needing to spend the night. If you’re day hiking, you won’t want to hike this far. Instead, plan a return trip later in the season when you can see more territory.