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A late summer hike through the Spade Lake Trail. Photo by Michael Stjernholm.

Step It Up: Take Your Hiking to the Next Level

The gloomy days of winter and the wettest days of spring are behind us. The glorious height of the Northwest summer is nearly here. With long days, clear skies and wildflowers galore, the perks of hitting the trail during the peak of Washington’s hiking season are too numerous to list | by Lindsay Leffelman

Since you have spent the spring gearing up and conditioning your body, you are ready to take the next step in your hiking journey as we reach the pinnacle of summer—longer trails and more adventure!

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A backpacker near High Pass in the North Cascades. Photo by Kevin Mack.

Take longer hikes

Through the spring, you likely endured slopping through mud, discovering how waterproof your rain gear really is and perfecting your layering system. All that hard work and effort will soon be rewarded, though, as you frolic on trails through alpine meadows and explore the depths of lush river valleys. With the prep work you’ve done, you’ll be able to tackle longer, higher-elevation trails.

A search of WTA’s online hiking guide or a flip through a guidebook will provide you with more than enough trail options. However, there are some special considerations to keep in mind when preparing for extended day hikes.

First and foremost, consider mileage and elevation gain when selecting a trail. A short hike with a lot of elevation gain will feel every bit as taxing as a long hike with moderate elevation gain. In early summer, start with short and steep hikes or long and mellow hikes, and then gradually merge the two together as summer wears on. Before you know it, you’ll be conquering the quintessential summertime hikes on your wish list.

The perks of hitting the trail during the peak of Washington’s hiking season are too numerous to list.

By now you know and have been carrying the Ten Essentials in your pack on every outing. As longer days allow you to spend more time on trail, several of those essentials take on a new level of importance. Take some time to reconsider your needs when it comes to the following three essential items.



Warm temperatures, increased sun exposure and intensified physical exertion are to be expected when hiking in the summer months, and all can lead to dehydration. Be prepared with an adequate water supply (or a water purification system if the trail has plenty of water sources) every time you venture out. Plan on carrying at least one liter of water for each hour of hiking.



The longer you are hiking, the more calories you need to consume to keep your energy up. A general rule of thumb is to ingest about 120 calories per mile hiked, plus 50 calories per 1,000 feet of elevation gained. Of course, needs varies from person to person, and it’s always better to carry too much food than not enough, but this formula is a starting point.


Sun protection

At higher elevations, the sun’s rays are more intense, and many sub-alpine and alpine regions have few trees for shade, so sunscreen, sunglasses and hats are a must for summer hikes. Keeping these things in mind will help ensure that your elongated hiking experiences are pleasant ones all season long.

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Dusting off after a four hour trek to the top of the Paradise Skyline Trail. Photo by Jeremy Melson.

Take More Adventurous Trips

Rather than just hiking longer distances, you may yearn for more adventure than a simple out-and-back hike can provide. With a solid set of spring hikes under your belt, you may be feeling confident enough to take on a hiking trip with more solitude, more navigational challenges or more rugged terrain.

A true wilderness experience that takes you far away from the throngs of hikers at places like Mount Si or Wallace Falls begins with planning. Here are a few tips to help you find a quieter trail:

  • Check guidebooks and online trail descriptions for information about a trail’s usage level, and avoid trails that typically see “heavy” usage.
  • Hike midweek or on overcast, rainy days if you can. Predictably, trails see less traffic on those days.
  • Call the ranger station in the area you would like to visit. The staff may be able to help you identify local trails that see less frequent use.

If you’re looking for a greater sense of adventure, consider linking several trails together to create your own one-of-a-kind loop. To do this, begin exploring maps and looking for trails that intersect, keeping in mind that a short walk on a forest road can help you join trails together. Remember that a loop doesn’t have to be circular; a perfectly delightful loop can take on many different shapes. Developing your own route is also a great opportunity to practice your map-reading skills as you determine the mileage and elevation gain of your proposed course, and you’ll feel like a truly accomplished explorer when you embark on a path of your own creation. 

As you explore deeper in the backcountry, you’ll leave behind the creature comforts of popular frontcountry destinations.

As you explore deeper in the backcountry, you’ll leave behind the creature comforts of popular frontcountry destinations, like detailed signage, sturdy bridges at every stream crossing and gently graded terrain. Trails will become steeper and rougher, so it is important that you are comfortable with those added challenges. Fewer signs at trail junctions also means you need to be comfortable with basic navigation skills. A map and compass are part of the Ten Essentials, but those tools will only be an asset if you know how to use them. The Mountaineers and REI both offer courses in navigation skills, and quality books have been published on the topic as well.

Adding an extra dose of adventure to your summertime hikes certainly doesn’t have to equate to an off -trail bushwhacking expedition; with some careful planning, there are plenty of other ways to spice up your hikes during the long days of summer.

Remember the basics

Although you are extending the range of your hiking pursuits and gaining confidence with backcountry recreation, it is still important to remember the hiking basics that keep you safe and happy on trail. Always leave a trip itinerary with someone you trust. Check trail conditions, and make sure your pack is stocked with all Ten Essentials every time you head out, no matter the duration of your trek. While on trail, practice the principles of Leave No Trace and be courteous to those with whom you are sharing the wilderness.

When you complete your trip, be sure to post a trip report to help other hikers plan their next summertime adventure. 

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Summer is a great time to find some warm days on the Washington coast. Photo by Brandon Winchell.
This article originally appeared in the May+June 2017 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.