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Hiking in Circles: 10 Winter Lowland Loops

Washington's grand loops may be buried under feet of snow this time year, but there are dozens of of lovely lowland loops, nature trails and routes through parks to explore all year long.

Whether you're looking to walk around a lake, take some new hikers for a stroll or find the perfect training route, everyone loves a loop. When you never have to return from the way you came, every step forward feels like an adventure.

Most of the grand Washington loops are buried under feet of snow this time year. But there are tons of lowland loops, nature trails and routes through parks to explore all year long. So while you plot your big summertime loop adventures, you can explore some of these lower-elevation loops.

Bundle up, pack a picnic, review our winter safety tips and go in circles!

Dune Forest Loop - Leadbetter Point State Park

Location: Southwest Washington -- Long Beach Area
Mileage: 2.9 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 60 feet

Dune Forest Loop. Photo by Jon Stier..jpeg
View from Bay Loop Trail near the Dune Forest Loop. Photo by Beircheart.

Hike, play on the beach and spot wildlife at Leadbetter Point State Park. Located on the northern end of the Long Beach Peninsula, this spot is a bird-watcher's paradise, especially in the spring and fall when more than 200 species of migrating birds fly over. This is the best place to access the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge for bird-watching and photography. One of the best excursions in winter is the Dune Forest Loop, a three-mile hike through sand dunes, shoreline and pine that captures the unique ecosystem of the area.

> Plan your visit to Dune Forest Loop using WTA's Hiking Guide

Lower Lake Trail - Battle Ground State Park

Location: Southwest Washington -- Lewis River Region
Mileage: 1.0 mile, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 120 feet

Lower Lake by rosemarylp.jpeg
Photo by rosemarylp.

This little lake was once a small volcano that blew it's top and formed a small crater. Now, the 280-acre park around the crater offers hiking, riding, fishing and camping. One of the most interesting trails is the Lower Lake Trail, which encircles the geologic wonder. 

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

Catherine Creek - Tracey Hill Loop

Location: Southwest Washington -- Columbia River Gorge
Mileage: 6.1 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1715 feet

Catherin Creek. Photo by That Todd.jpeg
A large stretch of grassy green meadow is laid out in front with a single snowy peak rising out from the rolling hills in the background. Photo by trip reporter That Todd.

This long, looping hike offers a nice ramble in the backcountry of Catherine Creek. While it follows some well-established trail, sections of it are in considerable disrepair. Be prepared for all types of trail conditions, from easy-to-follow tread, to route-finding through overgrown areas. A note of caution: icy conditions and the sometimes steep trail can make this more challenging in winter.

> Plan your visit to Catherine Creek-Tracey Hill Loop using WTA's Hiking Guide

Hog Canyon Lake

Location: Eastern Washington -- Spokane Area
3.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 900 feet

Hog Lake. Photo by Karen Soenke.jpg
Hog Lake in the winter. Photo by Karen Soenke.

In late winter and spring, Hog Lake is thriving with songbirds, waterfowl and wildflowers. Even better, it's not thriving with swarms of mosquitoes. Hike the 1.3 mile loop above the lake, through stands of ponderosa pine, and then drop down a steep trail to the lake itself. Bring a fishing pole along and spend a quiet afternoon gazing out on the reflective lake.

> Plan your visit to Hog Canyon Lake using WTA's Hiking Guide

Potholes State Park - Frenchman Hills Trail Loop

Location: Central Washington -- Potholes Region
3.0 miles of trail
Elevation Gain: minimal

Frenchman Hills Trail Loop. Photo by Aug17.jpeg
A rushing river runs across the photo with green grasses running along the banks and a mix of yellow and brown grasses covering the remaining countryside. Some larger shrubs and trees are seen in the distance. Photo by trip reporter Aug17.

Potholes State Park is a popular spot for picnickers and boaters, but there are also 3 miles of trail to explore. The way is flat, and the views of the river make for a nice, peaceful stroll.

> Plan your visit to Frenchman Hills Trail Loop using WTA's Hiking Guide

Bridle Trails State Park

Location: Puget Sound and Islands -- Seattle-Tacoma Area
Mileage: 3.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 450 feet

Bridle Trails State Park. Photo by Kris & Rena.jpeg
A wide dirt trail leads slightly uphill in the middle of the photo, surrounded on both sides by tall evergreens and low green shrubbery. Photo by trip reporter Kris & Renna.

Nestled amid a quiet neighborhood of horse ranches and single-family homes, this 482-acre park has served largely as an equestrian recreation area since the 1950s. The winding, forested trails have also proven to be popular with other trail users, namely hikers, trail runners and dog walkers. Routes wind through a sea of second-growth trees standing at attention under which lush ferns carpet the forest floor.

> Plan your visit to Bridal Trails State Park using WTA's Hiking Guide

Phantom Lake Loop

Location: Puget Sound and Islands -- Seattle-Tacoma Area
Mileage: 3.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 130 feet

Phantom Lake by superstar325.jpeg
View across Phantom Lake from east shore. Photo by superstar325.

Hike all the way around the Phantom Lake area, nestled in between Bellevue's Weowna Park and the main section of Lake Hills Greenbelt Park. Much of the shore is taken up by homes, but you can enjoy expansive views across the lake from both the western end and eastern end. And much of the hiking path is bordered by trees that give the illusion of a more rural setting.

> Plan your visit to Phantom Lake Loop using WTA's Hiking Guide

Mountain Lake in Moran State Park

Location: Puget Sound and Islands -- San Juan Islands
Mileage: 3.9 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 50 feet

Mountain Lake by LizzyRN.jpeg
A foggy day overlooking Mountain Lake. Photo by LizzyRN.

Whether you're visiting Orcas specifically to explore the islands' trails or just looking for a place to stretch your legs while you're there, this 4-mile loop around Mountain Lake in Moran State Park is a great place to start. It sparkles on a sunny day, but is almost more delightful shrouded in a foggy mist.

In winter and spring, the trails can be a little muddy, but WTA's been doing some early season work there, and you'll find most of the trail tread easy underfoot.

Plan your visit to Mountain Lake using WTA's Hiking Guide

Boulder-Garden Loop

Location: Snoqualmie Region -- North Bend Area
: 2.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain:
800 feet

Boulder Garden. Photo by thenomadicastist.jpeg
The trail winds by giant boulders. Photo by thenomadicartist.

Sitting at the foot of Mount Si, this loop winds through a forest littered with giant, moss-covered boulders. While it may only be 2.5 miles long, this loop gains 800 feet, which is challenge enough for plenty of hikers. Better yet, it often escapes the snow-cover of Mount Si's higher elevation.

> Plan your visit to Boulder Garden Loop using WTA's Hiking Guide

Old Sauk Trail - ADA Loop

Location: North Cascades -- Mountain Loop Highway
Mileage: 6.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 150 feet

Old Sauk Trail by Jon Lee.jpeg
Take a stroll on the Old Sauk for towering trees, dripping mosses and a mighty river. Photo by Jon Lee.

The Old Sauk Trail has trailhead that provides barrier-free access to a viewpoint of the Sauk River via a mile-long loop trail. This gentle trail makes it easy to slow down and enjoy the stately stands of Douglas-fir and cedar as well as to spy eagles, or perhaps an occasional coyote.

> Plan your trip to Old Sauk Trail ADA Loop using WTA's Hiking Guide