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Greenwater Lake Trail in May. Photo by Josh Lun

Spring Hiking: A Season for Building Strength

After a long, gray Northwest winter, the first hints of spring incite frenzy among hikers. We’ve spent the winter fantasizing about the amazing places we’ll go when summer comes, and now we want to hit the trails! The days are getting longer, the sun is peeking out more often and the temperatures are climbing. Summer is coming, but it’s not here yet.

Bring along a friend and spring hiking will be even more fun. Even better, introduce a new friend to hiking. Photo by Shae Wyatt.

By Lindsay Leffelman

Summer hiking adventures are even more fantastic when you spend the spring preparing. Naturally, the best way to ensure you’re ready for the longer summer hikes on your wish list is to hit the trails now. Spring hiking in Washington usually means hiking in the rain, though, and winter lingers in the mountains. Here are tips to help you plan your spring trips and take your hiking to the next level.


As with any hiking trip, planning is key. Choosing the right trail for this time of year is critical, as is choosing the right trail for your experience level. With so many trails, the options can be overwhelming. A good place to start is by drawing on the experiences of other hikers. The trip reports on WTA’s website are an invaluable resource. Use the advanced search options to the perfect trail.

When reading trip reports, consider:

  • Road conditions: Forest roads can take a beating in the winter, and many don’t melt out until later. Use trip reports to determine if the road to the trailhead is snow-free and in drivable condition.
  • Snow conditions: Most trip reporters will detail whether the trail is completely snow-covered or if there are just a few patches here and there. Assess your comfort level with snow travel and choose a trail accordingly.
  • Trail conditions: Even trails that have melted out can be covered with downed trees or washed out in sections.

You will find a number of trails that you’d like to tackle, either now or in the summer, when conditions improve. The My Backpack feature on the WTA website helps you keep track of trails you want to visit. After creating an account, it’s easy to save trails to My Backpack from the Hiking Guide entry by clicking the “Save Hike to My Backpack” button. Anytime you log in to My Backpack, you’ll be able to access information about the trails you’ve saved.

If you need more personal help, the knowledgeable staff at ranger stations are happy to help you prepare for a trip.


You can count on rainy spring days in the Northwest. Don’t let the rain keep you inside. If you do, you’ll be missing out on a unique outdoor experience and your days on the trail will be limited. With the appropriate gear, you can safely and comfortably hike in the rain.

If you're well-prepared for the weather—and willing to be a little creative,—rainy spring hikes can be a lot of fun. Photo by Jennifer Johnson.

Any time you go hiking, it is important to carry the 10 Essentials with you. One of the essentials, extra clothing, is particularly important when hiking during the spring months. To stay comfortable, layering is vital.

  • Base layer: A wool or synthetic base layer worn directly next to the skin wicks moisture away from your body.
  • Insulation: This middle layer helps your body retain heat and is typically made from fleece or natural fibers, such as wool or down.
  • Shell: The outermost layer protects you from the elements.  Look for a rain jacket that is waterproof yet breathable. Rain pants or a rain wrap that can be slipped on over your regular hiking pants will keep you even drier.
  • Footwear: Wearing waterproof boots will keep your feet dry even when the trail isn’t.

Prepare your mind

It’s hard to have a good time when you’re uncomfortable, so gearing up properly for a romp in the rain is essential. Enjoying yourself in less-than-ideal weather requires more than just the right outerwear, though. It also requires a change in your mindset.

  • Accept the wet weather. Even with the best rain gear, you’re going to get a little wet, and that’s okay. It’s part of the Northwest hiking experience. Keep dry clothes in the car to change into after the hike.
  • Stay positive. The sky may not be bright, but your outlook can be. Instead of thinking, “I wish this rain would stop,” notice how pretty the ferns look when covered in rain.
  • Enjoy the peace and quiet. Trails that are typically crowded on a clear day will see significantly less use on a rainy day.

Lush green moss is one of the perks of spring hiking. Photo by Lucy Cridland.


    One of the perks of hiking through the spring is that when summer arrives, your body will be in tip-top condition. Instead of huffing and puffing up the path, you’ll be cruising at a steady clip because you will have prepared your lungs and muscles.

    One of the perks of hiking through the spring is that when summer arrives, your body will be in tip-top condition.

    Just like with any fitness regimen, building up your strength and endurance takes time. You may be familiar with the “10 percent rule” that is commonly referenced among runners and other fitness enthusiasts. The 10 percent rule simply states that the intensity, duration or distance of your exercise should not increase by more than 10 percent each week in order to avoid injury. If you hiked 5 miles last weekend, add on an additional 0.5 mile the next week. If your last hike had 1,000 feet of elevation gain, aim for a gain of 1,100 feet on your next outing. Increasing your hiking volume in a slow, steady and safe manner will ensure you are ready for harder hikes in a few months.

    Planning and preparation are always worth the effort. Use the change in the seasons as an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a summer of outdoor explorations. When the balmy days of summer arrive, you’ll be thankful you did.

    This article originally appeared in the Mar+Apr 2017 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.