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(Last Updated On: August 8, 2022)

Backpacking season is here and I am beyond excited about it! I had the pleasure of living in Seattle in Washington State for three years and these are my favorite backpacking trips. If you’re looking for some summer inspiration of the best backpacking trips in Washington, you’re in the right place. Let’s break down 15 backcountry locations in backpacking washington for some of the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer!

The ultimate list of the best backpacking trips in Washington for this summer! This guide will tell you the best spots and how to plan!

Photos in Collaboration with Disa Wold, Adam Ramer, and Johnathon DeSoto

Backpacking Washington – Know Before You Go

If you are new to backpacking, don’t worry I’ve got you covered! I have two blog posts that break down my gear, safety tips, Leave No Trace Principles, beginner backpacking tips and more! Check these out below if this seems like a good place for you to start.

Leave No Trace – Backpacking Washington Version

Most people that get outdoors are familiar with the Leave No Trace or LNT Principles. If not I encourage you to check out the link. I’m going to break down some important things that I personally did not know much about as a beginner backpacker.

Pooping in the Woods

Haha I know, what a way to start off this post! There are a LOT of people backpacking in Washington. And unfortunately that usually results in a lot of toilet paper and waste that is not properly disposed of.

When using the bathroom outside, make sure you are 200 feet away from the trail and any water source. And PLEASE pack out any toilet paper. I know this sounds gross, but just bring a ziploc bag or doggie poop bags for toilet paper. You can then tie this to the outside of your bag or put it in an outer pocket of your bag. If you are pooping, make sure to dig a hole at least 6 inches and completely bury it.

If you’re a beginner this might sound insane, but if you CAN go the extra mile, pack out your poop in bags. As long as they are properly tied off, you can dispose of human waste in public garbage after you return to the trailhead. REI sells these toilet kits ($30 for a 12 pack) to minimize the impact of waste on the environment.

I’ve been to so many campsites that are littered in half buried toilet paper and poop. Please don’t be that person in the backcountry (or anywhere, yikes!).

For urinating, I personally like using my Kula Cloth Pee Cloth to avoid using toilet paper for urination. It is antimicrobial and really discreet and doesn’t smell. AGAIN, don’t be that person that leaves toilet paper half buried all around the campsite.

Guide Backpacking Tips for Beginners
Gem Lake

Tips for Packing Out what you Pack In

A lot of people don’t understand that you also need to pack out any food waste. This includes fruit/veggie peels, shells from nuts, etc. These things do break down, but at a VERY slow rate and also impact the wildlife in the area. Example: Banana peels can take up to 2 years to biodegrade. Wildlife can become too reliant on human food waste and lead to dangerous encounters as well as animals being put down due to this.

Bring a small garbage bag or ziploc and keep it accessible for your garbage.

Another tip: Avoid bringing any glass! Not only is it HEAVY to carry in and carry out, it often breaks accidentally and can leave dangerous shards around campsites. It’s never a good situation if someone gets injured from leftover glass 13 miles into a trail.

Stick to Established Trails and Campsites

This is another important one that I didn’t really understand the importance of until later in my backpacking career. Going off trail will leave a mark and impact and can lead to erosion or destruction of fragile habitats. If you see a barely worn trail that shoots off of the main trail, this is an example of this.

Same goes for campsites.

  • Camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams. I see this one violated a lot.
  • When in relatively untouched areas try to camp on durable surfaces like rock, gravel, dried grass – areas that wont leave an impact

If you’ve gotten outside a handful of times, you’ve probably seen the wear and tear that humans cause. Be responsible of your impact so that it can be a place to enjoy for years to come.

Best Backpacking Trips in Washington
Rainbow – McAlester Loop

20 Best Backpacking Trips in Washington

Okay, thanks for bearing with me with the necessary education above! Let’s get into the best backpacking in Washington (in my opinion lol – I feel like I need to state this so people don’t come for me.)

Another Note: Be sure to check if fires are allowed/if there is a current ban. I personally discourage any fires in the backcountry during the summer months even if allowed.

Best Backpacking in Washington
Enchanted Valley

1. Enchanted Valley

  • Location: Olympic National Park
  • Length: 30.6 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 4,642 ft
  • Best Months: March – September
  • Difficulty Level: Hard
  • Permits: Permit is required
  • Bear Cannister Required
  • No Dogs
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

Enchanted Valley is exactly how it sounds – REALLY ENCHANTED. Seriously, I’m talking waterfalls in the mountains towering on both sides of you, PNW fog hovering in all the right places, groves of tall trees, rivers, an abandoned Chalet with a curious history. This is not an easy hike. 15 miles in with some real elevation gain.

If you do not have any backpacking experience, I do not recommend this trip as a first time backpacking unless you are going with someone who does have experience.

I also want to note that this is not a secret place. It can be VERY crowded and permits are needed and can be required prior or walk up. They may begin limiting permits due to erosion and other damage that human traffic is causing. If you do get the opportunity to visit this beautiful place, I trust that you’ll want to respect it and practice leave no trace etiquette.

Check for the most current permit information at the Lake Quinault Ranger Station. For more Destinations in Olympic National Park Check out my blog post: 10 Must See Locations in Olympic National Park

2. Gem Lake

  • Location: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
  • Length: 11.0 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,670 ft
  • Difficulty: Rated difficult (Moderate option is Snow Lake!)
  • Solitude: Crowded on trail and around Snow Lake, minimal-moderate traffic on the trail to Gem Lake, minimal people camping at Gem Lake (We were one of 2 tents that overnighted on a Thursday in July)
  • Camping: first come first serve in established campsites. NO campfires
  • Bathrooms: at trailhead and at Snow Lake
  • Dogs: allowed on leash
  • Fee: Northwest Forest Parking Pass
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

Gem Lake was such a special overnight for me! I hadn’t been backpacking in almost a year and had moved away from Washington and this was such a great trip to come back and do. Check out my guide or Youtube Video below and you’ll see why it’s some of the best backpacking in washington.

Waptus Lake

3. Waptus Lake

  • Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness
  • Length: 17.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,434 ft
  • Best Months: April – October
  • Difficulty Level: Hard
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash
  • No Permit Necessary
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

My friends and I camped here on accident. We were heading towards Spade Lake (which is an additional 9 miles round trip and 3,500 ft), but we could see the dark clouds and snow lingering above the area we were headed and stayed put at Waptus Lake instead.

And this is now one of my favorite backpacking memories! There were hardly any other people and the lake was so serene. Truly a stunning place to camp with plenty of camping spots along the way to make this a 2 day trek there!

Marmot Pass

4. Marmot Pass

  • Location: Buckhorn Wilderness
  • Length: 12.8 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 3,917 ft
  • Best Months: July – November
  • Difficulty Level: Hard
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash
  • No permit required
  • Northwest Forest Pass Required
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

This is a busier trail and for good reason. I’ll never forget the absurd cloud inversion I saw here. There are many places to camp and the trail actually continues up along a ridge with sweeping views if you’re willing to go a little bit further! This one definitely kicked my butt haha.

5. Pete Lake/Spectacle Lake

  • Location: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
  • Length: Pete Lake – 9 miles round trip, Spectacle Lake – 18.1 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: Pete Lake – 734 ft, Spectacle Lake – 2,601 ft
  • Best Months: July – November
  • Difficulty Level: Pete Lake – Easy, Spectacle Lake – Moderate
  • Dogs: Allowed
  • No Permit Required
  • Northwest Forest Pass Required
  • AllTrails Link: Pete Lake, Spectacle Lake

When I did this trail, we hiked to Pete Lake to set up camp and then day hiked to Spectacle Lake the next day to swim! Spectacle Lake is stunning and I highly recommend making the push there either for an overnight or day. All my pictures here are with an ex boyfriend, so i’m going to spare us all and let you check out photos online instead haha. The Pacific Crest Trail runs along this area too if you’re looking for more miles.

Gothic Basin

6. Gothic Basin

  • Location: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
  • Length: 12.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 3,284 ft
  • Best Months: June – October
  • Difficulty Level: Hard
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash
  • No Permit Required
  • Northwest Forest Pass Required
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

Gothic Basin was a very challenging hike. 3,000 feet in 6 miles to get to the top? But my goodness it was worth it. This was a post break-up hike for me with some girlfriends and it humbled me in all the right ways. I’ll never forget the sunset there and the sunrise on that alpine lake.

This hike has gotten extremely busy from what I’ve heard. I’d recommend trying to go during the week rather than weekends if you are able.

Best Backpacking in Washington: Hardest Hike Award Goes to…

Backcountry Fire Lookout Washington
Lookout Mountain Lookout – Photo by @disa

7. Lookout Mountain Lookout

  • Location: Marblemount
  • Length: 9.1 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 4,432 ft
  • Best Months: July – October
  • Difficulty Level: Hard
  • Dogs: Allowed
  • No Permit Required
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

I had an awesome time doing this hike with some friends, and I was freshly unemployed and about to move to Alaska. This hike DESTROYED ME. It IS beautiful and is worth it, but seriously make sure you are physically up to the 1,000 ft per mile. There was a lot of bushwhacking for us and full of mosquitoes and stinging nettle.

We saw multiple bears and got to the lookout only to have another group beat us by a little bit. They were kind enough to let us sleep on the porch since there were multiple bear reports.

Tip: Check the sign in log to see if anyone beat you to the trail if you are planning to stay in the lookout. Bring tents in case you need to camp below the lookout. And another warning is this hike is definitely a high avalanche risk, so be sure you go when the snow is gone.

Baker Lake

8. Baker Lake Trail | Best Backpacking Trips in Washington

  • Location: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
  • Length: 13.9 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,358 ft
  • Best Months: April – November
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Dogs: Allowed
  • No Permit Required
  • Northwest Forest Pass Required
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

Backpacking Washington: Worst Night of Sleep in the Backcountry goes to…

Thunder Mountain Lakes

9. Thunder Mountain Lakes

  • Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness
  • Length: 12.6 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 3,940 ft
  • Best Months: June – October
  • Difficulty Level: Hard
  • Dogs: Allowed on Leash
  • Permit Required at Trailhead
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

I’m so glad I had an offline map (AllTrails pro version), because it can be easy to take the wrong trail at multiple points. There were so many incredible views on this trail, but windy weather rolled in just as we got to the camping area. I’ve heard so many reports of this same experience on this trail, so it seems like a fiercely windy night is a common occurrence. Like, my tent was caving in on me the entire night. Slept zero hours, but I can laugh about it now haha.

10. Hoh River Trail

  • Location: Olympic National Park
  • Length: 41.4 miles round trip (OKAY, but hear me out, you can even just go 5 miles in!!)
  • Elevation Gain: 8,622 ft (again haha this is absurd and I did not do the entire trail)
  • Best Months: June- September
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to Hard (Depending on how far you go!)
  • Dogs: Not allowed
  • Permits Required: HERE
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

This was actually my first backpacking trip in Washington and second backpacking trip EVER. I legitimately could barely walk after this. We set up camp about 6.5 miles in at Happy Four Campsites. We then dropped our bags for a day pack and hiked as far as we could to get an incredible glimpse at Mount Olympus, which ended up being around 20 miles total. The terrain changed so many times and was truly a beautiful hike.

Best Backpacking Trips in Washington: Worst Mosquitoes Award goes to…

Beginners guide to backpacking
Rainbow – McAlester Loop

11. Rainbow-McAlester Loop

  • Location: North Cascades National Park
  • Length: 31.5 miles round trip, 2 nights/3 days
  • Elevation Gain: 6,650 ft
  • Best Months: June – October
  • Difficulty Level: Hard
  • Dogs: No Dogs Allowed
  • Permits Required: HERE or at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount
  • Washington Trails Association Link: HERE

This was one of the most challenging backcountry weekends I’ve done. The elevation gain never seemed to end, but neither did the views. It was so much fun doing a loop trail and staying at a different campsite each night. We barely saw another soul out here and it was magical. But with each magical moment or alpine lake dip, came hoards of mosquitoes. Make sure you pack your face bug net.

12. Rialto Beach

  • Location: Olympic National Park
  • Length: 3 miles to 13.1 miles round trip (depending on how far you want to go!)
  • Elevation Gain: 100 ft to 2,600
  • Best Months: Year round honestly, but Summer and Fall are my favorite here
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate
  • Dogs: No Dogs Allowed
  • Bear Cannister Required
  • Permits Required: HERE or try your luck with a walk up permit at any of the ranger stations there.
  • National Park Pass Required
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

I LOVE this trail. It’s easy and has incredible sea stacks and rock formations to keep you occupied. I typically like to hike a couple miles past Hole in the Wall which is at 3.3 miles in. If you don’t plan out the tides correctly to pass through hole in the wall, there is a very steep trail at the forest line that goes up and over and is a little scary with packs on to be honest.

Second Beach photo by Adam Ramer

13. Second Beach

  • Location: Olympic National Park
  • Length: 2.1 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 278 ft
  • Best Months: Year round
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Dogs: No Dogs Allowed
  • Bear Cannister Required
  • Permits Required: HERE or walk up at ranger stations in Olympic NP
  • National Park Pass Required
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

Similar vibe to Rialto Beach, Second Beach has some unique rock formations and really incredible tide pools to check out. I like to try to camp on the bluff in the woods just a little bit tucked away to cut down on wind.

Tuck and Robin Lakes

14. Tuck and Robin Lakes

  • Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness
  • Length: 13.7 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 4,343 ft
  • Best Months: August – September
  • Difficulty Level: Hard
  • Dogs: Dogs are allowed on leash
  • Free self-issuing permits are available at the trailhead
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

I had somehow convinced my not-so-outdoorsy sister to come with me on this challenging hike for her first time backpacking. She vowed to never go with me again after that haha (which didn’t last long, Love you Chels!), but we saw mountain goats, a rainbow, an epic sunset and a meteor shower! I’ll never forget this backcountry trip.

Mount Rainier Backpacking
Wonderland Trail

15. Wonderland Trail to Granite Creek and Mystic Lake

  • Location: Mount Rainer National Park
  • Length: 17.4 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 4,780 ft
  • Best Months: July – September
  • Difficulty Level: Hard
  • Dogs: Not Allowed
  • Permits Required: HERE or Call Longmire Wilderness Information Center about walk up availability
  • National Park Pass Required
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

I was lucky enough to score a permit for part of the Wonderland Trail and I jumped at the opportunity! If you’re not familiar with the Wonderland Trail, it is a 96 mile loop around Mount Rainier with 25,000 ft of elevation gain that typically takes people 10-14 days to complete. Me and a coworker hiked into Granite Creek Campground where our permit was to camp, set up camp, and then day hiked to Mystic Lake. The hike to Mystic Lake was tiring, since we did it the same day, but SO worth it.

Best Backpacking Trips in Washington: Early Season Backpacking Award goes to…

Best Backpacking Trips in Washington
Ancient Lakes photo by Adam Ramer

16. Ancient Lakes

  • Location: North Columbia Basin State Wildlife Recreation Area
  • Length: 4.6 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 288 ft
  • Best Months: March – September
  • Dogs: Allowed on Leash
  • Discovery Pass Required
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

I’ve backpacked here 3 times! When it’s spring time and I was tired of the cold, wet Seattle weather, I’d plan an overnight or two here! I have fond memories of laying in the sun here and feeling like I traveled out of Washington! The waterfalls and sunsets here can be so lovely.

Note: You must pack in all your water. The water that is available is not safe even when filtered due to pesticide run off from nearby farms.

Backpacking in washington at Fire lookout. Park Butte lookout trail.
Park Butte Lookout Photo by @itsloganmarie

17. Park Butte Lookout Trail

  • Location: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
  • Length: 7.2 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,020 ft
  • Best Months: July – October
  • Dogs: Allowed on Leash
  • Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass
  • AllTrails Link: HERE

I did this trip on a Monday while there was still some snow melting out of the mountains in mid July. There were a lot of cars in the parking lot from people accessing climbing routes for Mount Baker. We were lucky and got to the lookout before any other overnight guests and had the most incredible sunset.

Note: Blue bags are provided at lookout as no toilet paper or pooping in holes is allowed at the summit.

Backpacking Washington Trips on My Bucketlist

There are quite a few backcountry trips in Washington that are still on my bucketlist:

  • Seven Lakes Basin
  • Sahale Glacier Camp
  • Jade Lake
  • The Enchantments
  • Goat Lake

Summary

I hope this list has you inspired to plan your first or next backpacking trip in Washington. Backpacking in Washington state is my absolute favorite place to get outside. If you have any questions about these trips, feel free to leave a comment and I will answer the best I can or provide a contact for a ranger station that could better answer! There are endless trails in Washington, and I can’t wait to get back out there myself!

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The ultimate list of the best backpacking trips in Washington for this summer! This guide will tell you the best spots and how to plan!
The ultimate list of the best backpacking trips in Washington for this summer! This guide will tell you the best spots and how to plan!

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8 Comments

  1. Stefanie on May 25, 2022 at 8:52 pm

    Wow, what a selection!
    I haven’t backpacked in Washington yet, but I would love to do it soon, maybe even still this summer. What tour would you recommend for beginners?

    Thank you!!
    Best, Stefanie

    • Miss Rover on May 27, 2022 at 11:31 am

      I think for beginners it’s best to look for something with elevation at 2,000 ft gain or less! Unless you’re in the mountains hiking regularly! REI offers a lot of tours where you can join an expert. But If you’re wanting to try it out, Rialto beach and second beach are easier hikes that are gorgeous!

  2. […] Best WA Backpacking Trails […]

  3. […] 20 Best Washington Backpacking Trips […]

  4. Patricia - Savvy Exploring on July 16, 2023 at 10:14 am

    Awesome selection and I love the awards! You should add Chelan Lakeshore trail to you bucket list for an early season trip, assuming you haven’t done it.

  5. Megan Gibson on August 8, 2023 at 3:23 pm

    My friends & I are planning on backpacking for 2 nights next week in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. We’re torn between Waptus (with a day hike to Spade), Marmot Lake (with a day hike to Jade) or Tuck & Robins Lake. We would love your opinion on which was your favorite!

    • Miss Rover on August 8, 2023 at 3:33 pm

      Ooooh that’s a tough one and I’m so jealous!! I still haven’t been to Jade, but from what I know of it – it’s incredible and is top on my list personally. Tuck and Robin lakes were mind blowing to me. We saw mountain goats and a meteor shower. I would lean between those two! Not super helpful I know haha

  6. Michelle on May 13, 2024 at 1:07 pm

    HI Miss Rover – I’m heading to Eastern Washington for work and want to add a 2-3 night backpacking trip to it. June 21-23. Recommendations? I’m experienced and looking for elevation gains as I’ll be doing tour du mont blanc in July and want to get some training in. Thank you!!

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