Some say it’s the solitude. Others say it’s the ambiance. For various reasons, many Washingtonians like to hike in the rain, purposely seeking out the slop, the mud and the fog that’s so common this time of year in the Pacific Northwest.
“I choose to hike in the rain, particularly old-growth forests,” said Brittany Catanzaro, a videographer who lives at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “They have a beautiful aesthetic.”
She includes a rain cover for her backpack, wraps her electronics in a waterproof poncho and swears by Vasque waterproof boots. Her favorite rainy-day spot is the Ranger Hole Trail, near Brinnon off the Hood Canal, and her preferred companion is her dog, Ginger, who wears a doggie rain jacket.
There is a different kind of beauty when it’s wet outside. The rain-soaked moss clings to tree branches like giant, squishy green puffs. The landscape is a riot of earthy browns, Kelly greens and lustrous yellows.
“There’s not a whole lot of people out on the trail,” says Nate Smith, a board member with the Issaquah Alps Trails Club. “You only get the people out there who want to be out there and dealing with it.”
Rainy-day hikers have their rules: Wear waterproof gear. Dress in layers. Don’t wear cotton. Do wear wool. Get some boots that have good tread and won’t slip.
Plus, dogs like the rain, and the folks who show up with blaring radios in their packs aren’t on the trail when it drips.
During one recent Saturday drizzle, a drive around Issaquah — a favorite destination for locals avoiding worse weather on trails off Interstate 90 — revealed 15 cars at the parking lot for the Margaret’s Way trailhead on Squak Mountain.
Crista Matteson, a Seattleite dressed in a white pullover-style jacket and green baseball cap to shield her eyes from the rain, was chasing after Fender, her 2-year-old golden retriever. She was turning 56 that day and wanted to celebrate by going on a mushroom hunt with friends.
“I just like being outdoors all the time,” Matteson said. Her friend, Brenda Winter-Hansen, also liked the quiet rain. “It refills the well,” she said. Both women and their husbands were heading up to Debbie’s View, a nearly two-hour slog up and down numerous switchbacks that lead to Squak’s Perimeter Loop Trail, then the viewpoint. On a sunny day, one can see Mount Rainier.
That Saturday, not so much.
Nearby, Julie Conroy of Covington, and Jon Morrison of Kent had finished hiking and were trying to get Izzy, a very wet, black cattle dog mix, back into her carrier.
“If you don’t hike in the rain, you remain on the couch,” said Conroy, who was outfitted in waterproof Eddie Bauer pants and a black Gore-Tex jacket.
“It’s less crowded for the dog,” said Morrison. “And the smells; there is nothing like a good rain to clean the air.”
Across the parking lot, two Amazon employees who identified themselves as Raj and Vikas, both of Redmond, said they nearly got to Debbie’s View.
“It’s awesome,” said Vikas, “We get out of the digital world we’re employed in.”
Raj admitted that, with gray sweatpants, he wasn’t exactly dressed in optimal rain attire, but with a wave of his hand toward the trees, he wondered aloud, “Why would you miss this?”
At the Red Town trailhead on Cougar Mountain’s western flank, there were 26 cars in the lot. Some of the hikers there touted the lack of crowds.
“On a summer morning,” said Vyto Mickus of Redmond, “you wouldn’t find a place here.”
Hiking “makes me feel better,” said Linda Pickard of Newcastle. “And if you’re in the right gear, it’s fine.”
Children were out on that soggy day, including 5-year-old Xander Eberling of Renton, clad in a bright-blue coat with a hood. Occasionally, he tipped his head back to let drops of rain fall on his tongue.
“The Seattle drizzle doesn’t count as rain,” his father, Donovan Eberling said. “I prefer this to a clear day. There’s a bit of romance to it.”
Rainy days are a good time to acclimate kids to bad weather, says Lindsay Woelke, an Issaquah resident who takes her three children out in wet weather.
“It’s a lot quieter on the trail and it’s calming for me,” she adds. “I grew up here and I like the rain.” She chooses wooded trails for rainy-day hikes, “so it’s not like you’re out in the open getting dumped on.”
Sheri Beutler of Bonney Lake swears by forested trails.
“When you’re hiking in old-growth forests, even when it’s pouring out, you stay dry on a lot of trails,” she says. “On the Olympic Peninsula near Hoodsport, they have a lot of old growth there. I’ve never seen so many shades of green, and the thick moss is just gorgeous.”
Beutler also touts forested hikes along state Route 410 on the way to Mount Rainier, such as Snoquera Falls and the Palisades Trail, as the place to be. On rainy days, she takes along a thermos of MarketSpice tea.
“I always wear a baseball cap and put my hood over it. That keeps the splatter away. I don’t notice the rain. I am never miserable, and I am never cold.”
By showing up when it pours, “I kind of feel like I am defeating the elements,” Beutler said. “I get my nature fix.”
Dogs take to rainy hikes as well. Kristen Fox-Hill, an elementary-school teacher who lives in Graham, has to be on the trails every weekend to train for an upcoming climb up Mount Baker. She brings Largent, her 7-year-old bichon-poodle mix, along for hikes. (He has his own Instagram page, @LargentTheAdventureDog, and a rain jacket.)
Largent gets muddy and avoids the rain when at home, but “once he hits the trail, he’s game on; let’s do this,” Beutler says.
Mark Griffith of Issaquah directs software development for Amazon and runs every weekend. Rain, he admits, does make it harder to include the dog, so “I don’t often take the Labradoodle, because it’s a royal pain to clean the mud off her paws.
“Other than getting a little wet or cold, rain doesn’t stop me,” he adds. “If it’s raining really hard, I take waterproof gloves and a waterproof jacket, but no waterproofing on the boots. If you are trail-running, you can’t keep your feet dry. So I wear wool socks and shoes that vent water. If you are moving, that will keep your feet warm.”
He repeats the adage about there being no such thing as bad weather; it’s all about clothing and preparation. He wears contacts instead of glasses, because the latter struggle with humidity and fog. For misty weather, he wears an Outdoor Research helium jacket with layers underneath.
“You’re going to heat up if you’re moving. You’re either sweating, which is wet from the inside out, or you’re getting rained on, which is from the outside in. Anything like a super-heavy Gore-Tex jacket will trap moisture in.”
Beutler wears Smartwool products for underneath layers, chooses leggings instead of pants and uses gaiters to cover the boots.
“I don’t think you have to spend a fortune on name-brand gear,” she says. “But you never want to hike in cotton because when it gets wet, it stays wet for a long time. Wool is best; I try to wear head-to-toe wool in rainy weather.”
Smith, who says his Arc’teryx Incendo rain jacket keeps him dry, says that people who avoid the rain simply won’t get to hike much.
But for those who do, “The animal sounds are different, the way the trail feels, what catches your eye, the fog, the shades of green,” he says, “it all adds up to a different experience.”
So gear up and get out on the trails — before it’s too nice outside to hike in the rain.