Embrace the rain and enjoy uncrowded time in the forest.
Hikes near Seattle are famously crowded — on sunny days, that is. Something about raindrops falling on our heads makes us want to stay indoors. But this is precisely when nature can most lift our drooping spirits, and hiking in a drizzle can be perfectly pleasant, with the right gear and on the right trail.
Tired of waiting for a sunny fall day (thanks, wettest October on record!), I explored possibilities for good rainy hiking experiences. I sought out trails near Seattle with well-maintained surfaces; interesting things to see along the way, not dependent on a sweeping view from the top; and access roads that are reasonably passable in wet weather.
These are five of my favorites. Distances are round-trip.
This 5.6-mile waterfall hike is a classic, which means it can often be crowded on nice days. Here’s your chance to hike it in peace. The trail is well-maintained, and you can always turn around after the lovely Middle Falls viewpoint, before the final section of trail turns steep. “Mostly dirt pack, a great canopy that dissipates most of the direct rain, and with a lot of views of running water, it’s easy to feel a part of the water cycle,” my friend and fellow hiker Chris Matthias describes it. Near Gold Bar, off Highway 2.
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On rainy days, parts of this riverside trail just outside North Bend can be muddy, but the Forest Service and Washington Trails Association improved the surface over the summer. Even better: Most of the access road, once nearly impassable for passenger cars, is now paved. This is a good time to check out these upgrades before they draw crowds next summer. While the whole trail goes on for miles, many of the draws, including Stegosaurus Butte, are within the first mile or so; after that, turn around if you encounter a seasonal stream-crossing beyond your skill. Near North Bend, off Interstate 90.
Tiger Mountain is an urban-adjacent playground full of little delights, both natural and man-made. Talus Rocks, an intriguing cluster of giant boulders, is one of my favorites. From the High Point Trailhead, I make a 3.5-mile loop by hiking up part of West Tiger 3, crossing on the Talus Rocks connector trail leading to the rocks and a slender waterfall, and heading down the Nook Trail. A couple of small stream crossings on the connector can be slick during the wet season; to avoid them, go up and back via the well-maintained Nook Trail, perhaps detouring at the start or finish to check out the flat Bus and/or Tradition Lake trails. Make sure you bring a map, as the trail system can be confusing. Near Preston, off Interstate 90.
Grand Forest trails, Bainbridge Island
Plentiful waypoints make it easy to find your way through the maze of hikes in this multi-section preserve that’s close to civilization but doesn’t feel like it. Rains reduce traffic on these easily navigable paths through a lush wooded landscape. Pack on up to five miles by traversing from Grand Forest West to Grand Forest East via the Hilltop connector trail, then stop at one of Bainbridge’s eateries on your way home. On Bainbridge Island, off Miller Road.
This is one of my favorite hikes any time of year, with undulating elevation and a big payoff in the namesake falls (be sure to take the staircases to viewpoints!). Like the Middle Fork trail, this one got much-needed repairs over the past couple summers. The trail is steep in places and can be muddy, so good boot tread and hiking poles will help. The trailhead is easy to find, the waterfall viewpoints are rewarding, and the hike is a perfect half-day outing at 3.5 miles. East of North Bend, off Interstate 90.
Tips for rainy-day hiking
Do your research. Find well-maintained trails with minimal exposure and few rocky sections. Recent trip reports can warn of impassable access roads and tricky water crossings. Contacting the local U.S. Forest Service office is a good idea if bad weather may have made trails impassable.
Use the right gear. My favorite purchase last year was a pair of flexible, stretchy rain pants. Waterproof shoes or boots are essential. Bring microspikes if there might be ice, slush or snow on the trail. Hiking poles can also help you keep your footing.
Test waterproofing before you go. If you haven’t used your rain gear for an extended hike for a while, test it at home to make sure it’s really rain repellent. Most waterproof-breathable outerwear will let in moisture eventually if pummeled hard enough. A non-breathable shell with zippered vents might be a better option for heavier precipitation.
Keep your daypack dry. You can’t just leave the essentials home when it rains. In fact, you probably need more layers and food than usual. Ensure they’re kept dry with a backpack cover or a dry bag.
While a bit of rain is workable, high winds are not. They call trees “widowmakers” for a reason. You don’t want to be on a trail when a gust blows down a giant limb or even a whole tree.
Turn back if things get too hairy. If severe weather is coming in, if the trail is in unexpectedly bad shape, or if your gear is not as adequate as you thought, it’s better to head back than make someone rescue you.
• Washington Trails Association posts hike descriptions and hikers post trip reports on its website, wta.org
• Bainbridge Island hikes: biparks.org/parks-trails-finder
• Trails in the Issaquah Alps, including Tiger Mountain:issaquahalps.org
Note: Most hikes require a Discover Pass or a Northwest Forest Pass. Check the appropriate website before you go.