8 Iconic Pacific Northwest Backpacking Trips

The Pacific Northwest is an adventure junkie’s paradise. It’s a breathtakingly diverse playground of craggy granite peaks, high alpine lakes, meadows socked with wildflowers, a rugged windswept coastline, and more shades of green than your eyeballs can handle.

With so many stunning trails to choose from, it can sometimes be tough to find the ideal hike. That’s why we put together this list of our personal favorite Pacific Northwest backpacking trips. These are some of the most iconic and spectacular trails the PNW has to offer, so dust off your pack and add one of these gems to your summer adventure list.

PNW BACKPACKING CONSIDERATIONS

LEAVE NO TRACE: We love backpacking and we want to spread the love. That’s why we put resources like this together and we have a lot of fun doing it. The one thing that we ask in return is that you please follow wilderness regulations and help keep our wild spaces pristine for years to come. Leave no trace y’all.

BEST TIME TO TRAVEL: Snowpack is a key factor for trip planning in the Pacific Northwest. Some years a heavy winter snowpack and early season storms will keep trails covered into July. On warmer years with lighter snowpack, June backcountry trips are quite doable. The same is true for autumn hiking; some years early snowstorms make areas inaccessible and other years it’s stable into October. Whenever you plan to hike, know how to cross snow safely and carry proper equipment. Pay close attention to the weather forecast and current trail conditions before your trip.

DIFFICULTY RATING: Difficulty depends on your experience, physical fitness, pack weight, trail conditions, and weather. It’s nearly impossible for us to make individual difficulty recommendations without knowing you, so please think about those considerations when planning your hike.

PACKING LIGHT: We love lightweight backpacking because it makes hiking more enjoyable. And in the PNW, keeping your pack light makes a huge difference on climbs and descents. A big part of CleverHiker (our Gear Guide) is dedicated to recommending exceptional lightweight equipment to help minimize pack weight and maximize comfort.

SOLITUDE: Many of the trails on this list are iconic and therefore popular. Hiking during the week or outside of peak season will reduce the number of travelers you see on the trail. There are also hundreds of beautiful trails in the PNW where you can escape the crowds. So if solitude is a key concern for you, you might want to check out some other trails.

NAVIGATION: The trails listed in this guide are generally well-maintained and well-marked. That said, you should always carry a topographical map and compass in the wilderness and know how to use them. If you need a navigation refresher, check out our two videos; Navigation #1 – Staying Found, and Navigation #2 – Map, Compass, & GPS.

MOSQUITOES: July and August are generally great for wildflowers in the Pacific Northwest, but that’s also the time when mosquitoes will be the worst. Use a combination of permethrin on your clothing and a small amount of 30% DEET on exposed skin for full protection.

BEARS: Black bears are common in the Pacific Northwest, so proper food storage is very important. You’re less likely to see bears on popular trails, but there will still be small critters trying to get into your food supply, and they’ll happily chew through your expensive gear to get after it. Make sure to carry a food storage container or know how to hang a bear bag properly. Bear canisters and Ursacks are the most effective and easiest storage methods.

RAIN: It’s no secret that it rains a lot in the PNW. That’s the main reason it’s so green and lush, but continuous rain can also be a major bummer on backcountry trips. Hypothermia is a very real danger when hiking in the rain, so learning how to stay safe, dry, and happy in the rain is a key PNW skill. Pay close attention to the weather forecast before your trip and always be prepared for wet weather.

BACKPACKING BOOKS: The Backpacking Oregon and Backpacking Washington books are two of our favorite resources for Pacific Northwest trip planning. They feature well-detailed information on iconic trails such as the ones listed below, but also some lesser known yet equally worthy hikes. If you find yourself in the PNW backcountry often, find a space on your bookshelf for both.

WONDERLAND TRAIL

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  • Length: 93 miles
  • Days needed: 8-13 days (most people take around 10 days)
  • Location: Mount Rainier National Park
  • Best time to hike: Late July to mid-September
  • Difficulty: Strenuous

The Wonderland trail circumnavigates massive and spectacular Mount Rainier over the course of 93 miles. It’s a very challenging hike, with over 23,000 feet of elevation change, but the rewards are plentiful. With breathtaking glacier views, wildflower meadows, pristine lakes, and miles of lush rainforests, the ever-changing landscape of the Wonderland Trail will not disappoint.

Permits for this very popular hike can be secured in advance through a yearly lottery system, though the park does save some permits for walk-in travelers. In 2016 no advanced permits were issued, so all permits are being given on a walk-in basis. First come, first served. So, 2016 may be a good year to attempt this glorious beast of a hike.

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