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Winter Rambles: 14 Hikes Along Washington's Rivers

Get to know some of Washington's most scenic waterways by following these hikes alongside rivers. You'll discover a world of gurgling cascades, frosty fungi, winter wildlife and much-needed fresh air.

Washington hiking isn't all lofty summits and alpine wonders.

Rivers are the lifeblood of Washington's ecology, and the lowest elevation river valleys provide hidden havens of winter wonders. So when deep snows bury the high country, find your winter escape alongside one of Washington's scenic waterways. Below are just a few ideas to get you out the door. Try one and you'll discover a world of gurgling cascades, frosty fungi, winter wildlife and some much-needed fresh air.

You may still encounter some snow on these low-elevation hikes, so be prepared for all conditions, including ice on the trail or bridges. In addition to packing the Ten Essentials, you may want to bring a trekking pole and some sort of extra traction device for your boots. Be sure to give yourself permission to turn around early if the weather turns ugly or if you don't feel comfortable with the conditions. And make sure to call the forest or park for trail conditions and check the weather report.

Riverside State Park

Location: Eastern Washington -- Spokane Area
Mileage: varies
Elevation Gain: varies

A view of the raging Spokane River from the Bowl and Pitcher trail in Riverside State Park. Photo by Holly Weiler.

There are several factors that make Riverside State Park an ideal spot to work into your winter hiking or trail running routine. For one, it's right outside Spokane, so you can work in an outing before or after work or school. It also boasts variety. Like many State Parks with trails, you have a variety to choose from, so you can go for a mile or five.

Looking for training hike or run? Take a tip from local running coach and WTA staffer, Holly Weiler: "Trail 25 is an excellent long route in the park: follow the whole loop to cover twenty-five miles!"

Plan your visit to Riverside State Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

Crab Creek Wildlife Area

Location: Central Washington -- Tri-Cities
Mileage: 2.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 40 feet

A frosty afternoon at Frog Lake in the Crab Creek Wildlife Area. Photo by Kim Hull.

Broad, rolling sand dunes, emerald-green lakes, a wide, gurgling blue creek, and towering mountains await you in the 17,000 acres of the Crab Creek Wildlife Area. The longest creek in Washington, this area is home to a variety of protected wildlife, and in winter, a respite from the snowy slopes west of the Cascades.

> Plan your visit to Crab Creek Wildlife Area using WTA's Hiking Guide

Tieton River Nature Trail

Location: Central Washington -- Yakima
Mileage: 6.75 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 300 feet

A dusting of white over the Tieton River Nature Trail. Photo (c) David Hagen.

The Tieton River Nature Trail is an easy hike along the Tieton River in the Tieton River Canyon. The trail follows the south side of the river from the Oak Creek Wildlife Area Visitor Center to FS Rd 512 with two access points from Hwy 12 along the way: a suspension bridge at the Quonset hut 1.3 miles west of the Visitor Center and a footbridge at the west end of a large pullout 3 miles from the Visitor Center.

> Plan your visit to Tieton River Nature Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

Centennial Trail

Location: Eastern Washington -- Spokane Area
Mileage: 27 miles in WA, 37 total (complete mileage; multiple access points and options)
Elevation Gain: 600 feet

The Spokane River surrounded by a blanket of snow. Photo by California Girl.

Spokane’s Centennial Trail started as a pedestrian- and bike-friendly route along the Spokane River, coinciding with the Washington State Centennial celebration, hence the name. Now, users can follow the Spokane River from Riverside State Park west of Spokane all the way to the Idaho border.

> Plan your visit to Centennial Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

Klickitat Rail Trail

Location: South Cascades -- Columbia River Gorge
Mileage: 31 miles (complete mileage; multiple access points and options)
Elevation Gain: 350 feet

A January view across the river from the Klickitat Rail Trail. Photo by SeanMBertsch.

The Klickitat Trail runs 31 miles, with multiple access points placed in unique areas, from grass plains and the rugged Swale Canyon along the Wild and Scenic Klickitat River, to oak-filled valleys dropping down to Lyle and the Klickitat’s mouth at the Columbia River. Bring your sense of adventure on this former railroad, as you’ll cross old railroad trestles, encounter some very large cows, and stumble across a strange mixture of artifacts, from discarded equipment and railroad spikes to bleached white animal skulls.

> Plan your visit to Klickitat Rail Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

Pratt River Connector

Location: Snoqualmie Pass -- North Bend Area
Mileage: 6.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 100 feet

Middle Fork Snoqualmie. Photo by The Warder..jpegThe  Snoqualmie River in early March with just a dusting of snow. Photo by trip reporter The Warder.

An easy ramble gives hikers plenty to like — a fast-moving river, tall trees, and views of nearby peaks — all within a short drive from Seattle. Take extra care on icy or snow-covered sections of the trail near the river.

> Plan your visit to Pratt River Connector using WTA's Hiking Guide

Upper Dungeness River to Camp Handy

Location: Olympic Peninsula -- Hood Canal
Mileage: 6.8 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1165 feet

Upper Dungeness River view in April. Photo by Kaitie213.

The Olympic Peninsula is a treasure trove of river valleys, and the Upper Dungeness River trail is an easy stroll along a roaring river and among towering trees. It's great for all ages (as long as the trail is snow and ice free), and the shelter at Camp Handy is a welcome and dry lunch destination on rainy days.

The trail parallels the river during most of the journey, always within earshot and often in view. The forest canopy is magnificent, with old growth Douglas-fir more than 200 feet high and hundreds of years old. The forest floor is no slouch either, with green moss carpeting and an array of fascinating fungi. The trail crosses the river at 2.6 miles and a junction at 3.2 miles takes you right to the Camp Handy shelter. This is a great turn-around spot for a winter's day.

> Plan your visit to Upper Dungeness River using WTA's Hiking Guide

    Hoh River Trail to Five Mile Island

    Location: Olympic Peninsula -- Pacific Coast
    Mileage: 10.6 miles, roundtrip
    Elevation Gain: 300 feet

    A waterfall crossing on the Hoh River trail. Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis.

    A classic in any season, but come in winter and you'll find that the hordes of tourists, hikers and climbers who use this trail in the summer dwindle to just a trickle.

    You can't escape a sense of magic at the Hoh. The huge trees, the cascading moss, the birds and Roosevelt elk, the Olympic Mountains rising above and the broad river valley extending up and downstream all add up to make this a hike that must be done at least once in a lifetime. The trail is easy, too, with minimal elevation gain, excellent tread and an open understory.

    Hike as far as you'd like -- there are great spots to stop all along the way. Five Mile Island offers a sunny lunch spot with views of Bogachiel Peak. If it is raining, and you want a sheltered location, you can press on another half mile to the Happy Four Shelter.

    > Plan your visit to Hoh River Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

      Lower South Fork Skokomish River

      Location: Olympic Peninsula -- Hood Canal
      Mileage: 8.5 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 800 feet

      Some 'hairy' looking rocks along the Lower Fork of the Skokomish River Trail. Photo by Nutmeg.

      The river is impressive, but the ancient forest is really the star of the show along the Lower South Fork Skokomish River. Mossy maples, mushrooms and some amazing new bridges to keep your feet dry, this is a wonderful hike rain or shine.

      The river is usually in view, but not always reachable. That's probably a good thing, because flooding in 2007 took out a section of trail that strayed too close to the water near Camp Comfort. WTA crews have spent a good amount of time working on a reroute here.

      > Plan your visit to Lower South Fork Skokomish River using WTA's Hiking Guide

      Suiattle River Trail

      Location: North Cascades -- Mountain Loop Highway
       13.8 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 900 feet

      The PCT bridge over the Suiattle is a great spot for morning coffee. Photo by Brenanf.

      Depending on the snow conditions, this long, easygoing trail along the Suiattle River, recently reopened to hikers, can make a terrific winter walk in early or mild winters. The lack of elevation gain means you can stroll for miles in relative ease, taking in the lofty green wonder of this old growth forest.

      > Plan your visit to Suiattle River Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

      Thunder Creek

      Location: North Cascades National Park
       12 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 1300 feet

      A winter view of the approach to the Thunder Creek trailhead. Photo by David Cole.

      Even after snows close the North Cascade Highway, Thunder Creek's trailhead at the Colonial Creek Campground remains open. Hike as far as you like on this flat, quiet trail, which guides you along lakes and creeks while offering glimpses of the surrounding mountains through gaps in the forest's thick canopy.

      > Plan your visit to Thunder Creek using WTA's Hiking Guide

      Boulder River Trail

      Location: North Cascades -- Mountain Loop Highway
      Mileage: 8.6 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 700 feet

      The Boulder River trail offers massive trees and fabulous waterfalls accessible all year round. Photo by geezerhiker.

      Towering old-growth trees in an unspoiled river valley with exquisite waterfalls — this is the subtle beauty of Boulder River. It's truly one of the best winter hikes if you're looking for an easy but rewarding day. Just a bit over a mile up the trail are two glorious waterfalls. This is where most people stop, but the path continues another four miles before disappearing at a ford of the Boulder River, where you'll turn around and go back.

      > Plan your visit to Boulder River Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

      Old Sauk River Trail

      Location: North Cascades - Mountain Loop Highway
      Mileage: 6 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 150 feet

      A rare sunny day in the winter. Photo by Kristinleclair.

      One of the classic river walks along a Wild & Scenic River, this lowland hike meanders alongside the river under old growth forest and everything that comes with it -- moss carpeting, intriguing fungi, the nearby sound of the river. This is a fantastic hike for the whole family, but keep hold of younger kids hands alongside white water views.

      > Plan your visit to Old Sauk River Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide

      Beaver Lake Trail

      Location: North Cascades -- Mountain Loop Highway
      Mileage: 4.2 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 100 feet

      The mighty Sauk River in winter. Photo by George & Sally.

      This often-overlooked trail just off the Mountain Loop Highway offers a slightly different view of the Sauk. Situated between the might of the Sauk and White Chuck rivers and the grove of ancient Western Red Cedars, this easy-going winter ramble makes for a great spot to gain some perspective on the power of Washington's waterways.

      > Plan your visit to Beaver Lake Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide