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Easygoing Hikes to Watch for Spring

We've come out the other end of the season's dark tunnel into the brighter light of not-quite-spring. It's a curious time of year when the high country is still locked deep under snow. But, there are parts of Washington already waking up to the new season. And if tromping through snow drifts isn't your jam, then these lower elevation trails are perfect for hiking in late winter.

We've turned the corner on winter, coming through the season's dark tunnel into the brighter light of not-quite-spring. It's that curious time of year when the high country is still locked deep under snow, but the lowland is already waking up to the new season. If tromping through snow drifts isn't your jam, then these lower elevation trails are perfect for hiking in late winter.

No, spring has not officially sprung. But it's close. And below are a few ideas of trails to watch the season change before your eyes. Look for trees budding out, wildlife perking up and the very first wildflowers of springgrass widows, buttercups, desert parsley, gold starscoming into bloom.

Worst case scenario: you're a week or two early, but at least you got out there in the bracing wind, rain or sunshine for a hike.

Olympic Peninsula

Lake Aldwell Overlook Trail

Location: Northern Coast
Mileage: 1.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 50 feet

lake aldwell overlook trail_bob and barb.jpeg
Coltsfoot at the Lake Aldwell Trail. Photo by Bob and Barb. 

Floods may have made much of the Elwha River Valley inaccessible, but the Lake Aldwell Overlook Trail offers a short little jaunt to see a section of this mighty, now free-flowing river. You can also learn a bit about the history of the area, as well as some of the biodiversity it has to offer, thanks to a telescope and some laminated information pamphlets at one of the overlooks. 

> Plan your trip to the Lake Aldwell Overlook Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

Southwest Washington

Columbia Hills state Park - Crawford Oaks

Location: Columbia River Gorge
Mileage: 4.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: minimal

Photo by nicolekristek.

A number of hikes around Columbia Hills make this area a reliable early spring destination. Follow this trail through rock benches, groves of oak trees and fields of flowers. Bitter cherry bushes, fiddle neck, showy phlox, puccoon, prairie stars are some of the flowers you may see throughout the year, as well as balsamroot and lupine. But all the gorgeous flowers come with a prices be sure to check for ticks!

> Plan your trip to Columbia Hills State Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

Whipple Creek park

Location: Vancouver Area
Mileage: 3.1 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 110 feet

Whipple Creek Park. Photos by Ryan Ojerio and Roundkittens.png
A side-by-side photo of a bright white trillium blooming on the forest floor to the left and a downward sloping trail winding through bright green ferns and mossy tree trunks to the right. Photos by trip reporters Ryan Ojerio (left) and Roundkittens (right).

Get the deep-forest experience without the deep-forest drive. Whipple Creek Park is a 300-acre green oasis in the midst of farmlands to the west of the Clark County Fairgrounds. This hike loops through colossal Douglas fir trees and waist-high sword ferns to provide a primordial experience where you are dwarfed by nature.

> Plan your trip to Whipple Creek Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

Central Washington

snow mountain ranch

Location: Yakima
Mileage: 9.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1140 feet

Cushion Plox blooming in mid-March. Photo by Bob and Barb.

Snow Mountain Ranch offers a variety of year-round walks on 9.2 miles of trails. Along the way, the views expand with every step, and much of the trail is lined with wildflowers: grass widows and desert-parsleys early in the season followed by balsamroot, lupine, phlox and fields of big-headed clover. Once on the summit, kick back, bask in the sun and enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. When it’s time to return, descend the way you came or make it a loop by descending on the east leg of the Cowiche Mountain Trail.

> Plan your trip to Snow Mountain Ranch using WTA's Hiking Guide

Frenchman Coulee

Location: Potholes Region
Mileage: 4.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 200 feet

Echo Basin. Photo by ejain..png
A side-by-side photo with sand dunes and rock cliff faces of Echo Basin to the left and and a close-up of two yellow blooms on the right. Photo by trip reporter ejain.

The Vantage area is a popular destination for rock climbers, but the fascinating rock formations and early-season blooms of the Gorge can still be enjoyed with both feet planted firmly on the ground. In spring, a waterfall may being flowing down the tall wall. Flowers festoon the area near the water, though a variety of blossoms accompany you the entire Mileage of the trail, and keep you company on your way to the waterfall and back.

> Plan your trip to Frenchman Coulee using WTA's Hiking Guide

Eastern Washington

Fishtrap Lake - North

Location: Spokane/Coeur D'Alene
Mileage: 4  miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 126 feet

Fishtrap Lake. Photos by California Girl and Holly Weiler..png
Photos by trip reporter California Girl (left) and Holly Weiler (right).

Though it's likely not completely snow-free quite yet, keep your eye on trip reports for flowers at Fishtrap. Early buttercups show their faces as the snow melts away, and bitterroot keep the ground gorgeous well into summer. WTA has worked here to improve the trail system. So if you want to join us, keep an eye on our trail maintenance schedule, and return with WTA around May. 

> Plan your trip to Fishtrap Lake using WTA's Hiking Guide

Puget Sound and Islands

Deception Pass State Park - Goose Rock

Location: Whidbey Island
Mileage: 4.3 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 484 feet

Red flowering currant and great views await you at Deception Pass in late winter. Photo by Taryn_M

Hike along an open, grassy area on a rocky hillside, in spring look for the pink flowers of wild currant. Look out at Cornet Bay and on a sunny day, Mount Baker in the distance. All along this section notice the contorted branches and peeling red bark of the native madrone trees. These will have clusters of flowers in the spring, and red-orange berries in the fall. Some of these trees are quite old, with huge trunks and grey bark at the base. 

> Plan your trip to Deception Pass State Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

Carkeek park

Location: Seattle Area
Mileage: 3.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 800 feet

The floral delights of late winter. Photos by Quantum Guru (left) and Muledeer (right).

This urban park located in northwest Seattle includes forests, streams, beaches and meadows. Check the meadows and forest floor for early season flowers making an appearance. During the winter months when the deciduous leaves have been shed, visitors can enjoy the added benefit of views from Puget Sound all the way to the Olympic Mountains. 

Looking for more Seattle parks to spot early season flower? Try the Washington Park Arboretum, Cowen and Ravenna Parks or Seward Park.

> Plan your trip to Carkeek Park using WTA's Hiking Guide