Hike Across Washington Through Books
Ideas for trails to add to your hiking to-do list can come from a number of different places — why not books?
Many authors (and filmmakers) have drawn inspiration from Washington’s many interesting and beautiful locations, and used them as settings or backdrops for their stories. These books run the gamut of genres, so no matter your preference, you should be able to find a title to suit your fancy.
Save these hikes to your My Backpack hikes list, and write up a trip report once you’ve visited them. And if you’re hoping to combine a love of hiking and reading, consider starting up your own outdoor book club.
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail
Location: Central Washington > Wenatchee
Length: 10.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 600 feet
The early part of the century was a time of busyness, and pride. “Wenatchee, Washington,” the box labels read. “Apple capital of the world.”
The novel’s titular orchardist, Talmadge, moves to the Central Cascades with his family as a child and — after experiencing much tragedy since then — now lives a quiet life in the apple orchards where he grew up. His life takes a sharp turn when he comes across two scared girls in town, who end up following him back to his home.
Wenatchee, known even outside of the novel as the apple capital of the world, has an urban trail named after its reputation. With multiple places to access the waterfront trail, it’s a great place to find a quiet walk for yourself without even leaving the city.
> Plan your hike on the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail using WTA’s Hiking Guide
Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu
City Hall to Pike Place
Location: Puget Sound and Islands > Seattle-Tacoma Area
Length: 2.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 150 feet
"How are you? Moving to Seattle is a big change." ... "There's so much to show you when you come. Pike Place Market is like the morning market except huge! You won't believe it."
Even though she doesn't want to, young Cici's parents move her family from Taiwan to Seattle. It's a difficult transition, and Cici misses her grandmother, who stays in Taiwan. Cici struggles with feeling like an outsider at her new school and trying to handle the culture shift — all while navigating being a twelve-year-old. But she finds comfort and joy in cooking, and learns of a cooking contest with a cash grand prize that could pay for an expensive plane ticket for her grandmother to visit Seattle.When Cici's grandmother asks her how Seattle is over a video call, Cici talks about life in the city, but as she talks about her new home, she realizes how much she wants her grandmother to be able to see all the sights for herself.
You can check out downtown Seattle and Pike Place Market — and see some local public art and landmarks on the way — on an urban hike from City Hall to Pike Place Market.
> Plan your hike from City Hall to Pike Place using WTA's Hiking Guide
The Cold Millions by Jess Walter
Fisk State Park
Location: Eastern Washington > Spokane Area/Coeur d’Alene
Length: 1.2 miles of trails
Elevation gain: varies
A full day’s ride from anywhere, isolated between mountain ranges on the stair-step deck of waterfalls, it took Rye’s breath away the first time he railed in: basalt cliffs jutting like teeth from pine-covered hills, train bridges latticing the valley, and in the center that big river, which carved a steep, tree-lined canyon that led from the silver mines and forested mountains of Idaho to rich Washington farmland.
In real-life 1909, free speech fights broke out in Spokane, where workers attempted to fight for labor rights and against often unfair employment practices during a recession. This historical fiction novel follows two brothers, Rye and Gig, through this tumultuous period of time; the story includes some real people as characters, like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a leader of the Industrial Workers of the World.
With evergreen-covered cliffs that brush right up against the Spokane River, the trails around Fisk State Park could very well take your breath away — the same way the Spokane area did for Rye.
> Plan your visit to Fisk State Park using WTA’s Hiking Guide
The Genesis of Shannara series by Terry Brooks
Location: Southwest Washington > Columbia River Gorge - WA
Length: 1.0 mile, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 0 feet
They walked on into the second week, coming down off the slopes of the northernmost peaks in the Cintra Mountain chain and within clear sight of the river that separated the states of Oregon and Washington. Humans called it the Columbia, Elves the Redonnelin Deep.
This fantasy trilogy starts in the remains of a post-apocalyptic Seattle, now ravaged by monsters. In the second book, “The Elves of Cintra,” three of the main characters fall asleep — one of whom has been prophesied to save the human race — and awaken next to the Columbia River Gorge, where they encounter a group of survivors that hesitantly begin to follow him.
Take a short stroll at the St. Cloud day-use area, right up next to the Columbia River Gorge. You likely won’t find monsters but could find many different bird species in the wetlands and apples in the orchard.
> Plan your visit to St. Cloud using WTA’s Hiking Guide
The Sea of Winter by Christine Day
Location: Olympic Peninsula > Pacific Coast
Length: 1.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 200 feet
At the bottom of the trail, the boardwalk splits in a few different directions. There are multiple viewpoints from the top of this sea cliff. The crash and roar of the water has been muted to a mumble at this distance, the waves are so far below. The winds whistle and shift all around us. The fog has rolled even farther back, a clouded gray wall miles off the shore. There are still tendrils of mist threaded through the evergreens that rise along the surrounding bluffs.
Christine Day, a member of the Upper Skagit Tribe, has written novels telling the stories of young Native American girls and their experiences understanding their heritage. In this novel, young Maisie loves ballet, but she injures herself trying a new ballet move, and she struggles to accept that she can't do ballet anymore. In the midst of it all, she and her family take a road trip to the Makah Tribe's lands where her mother came from. In a memorable scene, Maisie and her family visit Cape Flattery, where she trips on a root, causing both physical and mental pain as she realizes she may have undone a lot of her physical therapy progress.
Cape Flattery is the furthest northwest you can travel in the lower 48, and is managed by the Makah Tribe. Make sure to get a permit from the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay and watch your step as you take this trail to the cape, where you'll find beautiful views of the ocean and rocky cliffs, just as Maisie did at the overlook.
> Plan your visit to Cape Flattery using WTA's Hiking Guide
My Old Man and the Mountain: A Memoir by Leif Whittaker
Location: Mount Rainier Area > Chinook Pass - Highway 410
Length: 2.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 300 feet
There’s Mount Rainier, a mound of ice and rock thrusting into a hazy sky, thousands of feet higher than its neighbors. I’d like to stop and admire the view, but I’ll have a better view from the top so I might as well keep churning.
Leif Whittaker was born into a climbing family. Jim Whittaker, his father, became the first American to summit Mount Everest in 1963. Dianne Roberts, his mother, was also an incredibly experienced climber and photographer, known for having climbed 26,000 feet of K2 without supplemented oxygen. It's no surprise that Leif followed in his parents' footsteps — he began his hiking and climbing adventures in Washington, and eventually submitted Everest himself. In this memoir, he tells his story. On a day hike up Mount Townsend, Leif admired the view of Mount Rainier in the distance and looked forward to seeing the view at the top.
You won't need to climb much to take in the view of Mount Rainier on the Rainier View trail. This family-friendly hike also offers wildlife sightings, wildflowers in the right seasons and views of many other Cascade peaks.
> Plan your hike at Rainier View using WTA’s Hiking Guide
Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve
Cap Sante Park
Location: Puget Sound and Islands > Bellingham area
Length: 3.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 490 feet
My house sits in North Seattle, a short bus ride or a long walk from school, on a hill where we could see the Olympic Mountains and the Puget Sound if all the pine trees and other houses weren't in the way. By the time I get home that day, gray clouds and rain have swept away the sunny afternoon.
High school on its own can be hard enough. In this young adult novel, teenage Dean has to contend with even more — figuring out whether or not to come out as transgender. He's a talented actor who aspires to be accepted into NYU's acting school. After being cast as Romeo in a school production of Shakespeare's well-known story and getting to experience being viewed as a boy — if only on the stage — he begins to really consider coming out, even though he is nervous about how others will react.
Though Dean eventually hopes to study in New York, his first acting experiences take place in northern Seattle. Cap Sante Park is just a little further north in Anacortes, which — appropriately enough given the novel — houses an abandoned amphitheater that once was actually used for shows. At the park, you'll get different views from those at Dean's house, but beautiful ones all the same — of Padilla and Fidalgo bays, Mount Baker and Mount Rainier on a clear day and the nearby San Juan Islands.
> Plan your visit to Cap Sante Park using WTA's Hiking Guide
Pandemic Triptych by Cindy Williams Gutiérrez
Methow Community Trail
Location: North Cascades > Methow/Sawtooth
Length: 18.0 miles, one-way
Elevation gain: 1,215 feet (Winthrop to Mazama)
Light filters through the greening willow
The white fuzz of caterpillar-shaped pods of a neighboring tree
Across filigreed blades of grass
And the crush of it
The sound lace makes when clutched by a hand
Or wind through aspen and spruce
(transcribed from a reading of "Pandemic Tryptic" from the "The Nature of Isolation" video series)
In 2020, the Spring Creek Project at Oregon State University compiled a collection of art that shared the experiences of artists of all sorts of media with nature during the pandemic called "The Nature of Isolation." The idea for this poem in the collection came from a willow tree on a property in the Methow Valley that poet Cindy Williams Gutiérrez and her husband own. In this tryptic (a work with three parts), she describes her property, some activities she did during the pandemic, the pandemic itself and being outside.
Explore the Methow Valley on the Methow Community Trail. This multi-use long trail follows the Methow River, and is great in both summer as a hike or bike ride and in the winter as a snowshoe or cross-country ski trip. With plenty of access points and off-shoot trails, this trail is a great option for a choose-your-own-adventure hike.
> Plan your hike on the Methow Community Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide
West of Here by Jonathan Evison
Location: Olympic Peninsula > Hood Canal
Length: 9.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 2,880 feet
When viewed from Elliott Bay on a clear day, the leeward side of the Olympics presented another dramatic facade: a sheer wall of basalt inclining suddenly and precipitously from the banks of Hood Canal, stretching some hundred miles along the western horizon, so steep in places that snow would not stick to the face of them.
Set in the fictional town of Port Bonita on the Olympic Peninsula in Hood Canal, the novel is split between the past and the present, where Ethan from the past had a goal to create a hydropower dam on the Elwha River to help the budding town grow, and one of his later descendants works to tear it down to save the damaged surrounding environment in the present.
Although the hike itself is quite steep, as Hood Canal was described in the book, snow definitely does stick to the Elbo Creek trail; in fact, this is a great snowshoe trail. It's also a great hike when there isn't snow on the ground — you'll find wildflowers in the spring and summer. And if you're willing to continue further beyond the trail, you can take in views of Hood Canal and Mount Rainier.
> Plan your visit to Elbo Creek using WTA’s Hiking Guide
East of the Mountains by David Guterson
Palouse to Cascades Trail - Lake Keechelus
Location: Snoqualmie Region > Snoqualmie Pass
Length: 4.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 200 feet
They were passing Keechelus Lake now. Its waters sat low at this time of year; the basin lay full of weathered stumps. On the far side, off to the south, the big hills were furrowed and deeply eroded, smooth, contoured, treeless. The land, already, was more arid than it had been. The rain had slowed considerably and had spent itself, as it always did, against the green mountains to the west.
Ben, a terminally-ill retired surgeon, travels across Washington in this novel — from Seattle to eastern Washington orchard country, where he grew up. Just before reaching Snoqualmie Pass, Ben totals his car in the rain. A family finds him soon after the crash and helps him travel further east. His trip east from the pass onward changes dramatically, as he has to find new, more creative ways of transport like hitchhiking and walking.
Spend some time with a view of Lake Keechelus similar to how Ben saw it after the family finds him sitting in the rain, albeit on the other side, on a short stint on the Palouse to Cascades Trail.
> Plan your hike on the Palouse to Cascades Trail - Lake Keechelus using WTA’s Hiking Guide
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
Quinault National Recreation Trails
Location: Olympic Peninsula > Pacific Coast
Length: 4.25 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 350 feet
Late that afternoon, Sidda turned onto the dirt road that led to May’s cabin. It was an old white clapboard from the thirties set up off Lake Quinault, on the edge of the rain forest. From its deck, Sidda could see almost the entire lake. To her right she could see the lush growth of the Quinault River’s floodplain as it disappeared into rugged, snow-laced Olympic peaks.
This novel follows a mother and her daughter through a slice of their fast-paced New York life, when they make the national news for an unfortunate reason, damaging their relationship. Daughter Sidda decides to head to a cabin on Lake Quinault on the Olympic Peninsula to take time to reflect on her relationship with her mother and future going forward.
If you’re looking for a beautiful and peaceful place to do some reflecting on your own, head to the Quinault National Recreation Trails. Walk through the thick green rainforest, with many options within the network to allow you to decide the length of your hike.
> Plan your hike on the Quinault National Recreation Trails using WTA’s Hiking Guide
Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac
Location: North Cascades > North Cascades Highway - Highway 20
Length: 3.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 600 feet
Bonus hike: Desolation Peak
Length: 9.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 4,400 feet
Those afternoons, those lazy afternoons, when I used to sit, or lie down, on Desolation Peak, sometimes on the alpine grass, hundreds of miles of snowcovered rock all around, looming Mount Hozomeen on my north, vast snowy Jack to the south, the encharmed picture of the lake below to the west and the snowy hump of Mt. Baker beyond, and to the east the rilled and ridged monstrosities humping to the Cascade Ridge…
Kerouac tells his own story through fictional characters in this book. Jack — both the fictional Duluoz and real Kerouac — works a solitary life as a fire lookout at Desolation Peak on the east side of Ross Lake one summer. Much of the story was taken from Kerouac's personal journal entries when he actually worked that job. The rest of the book follows Duluoz through his transition back into civilization and his travels south.
It’s not easy to get to Desolation Peak (and unfortunately, you'll likely have to wait until summer to try), but it's certainly a worthwhile effort if you try to get there, and you can check out the fire lookout Kerouac actually stayed in. If you want something a little easier to get to, Diablo Lake — right next door — is home to many great trails like Sourdough Creek. Take in peek-a-boo views of snow-capped mountains like the ones both Jacks were surrounded by, including beautiful views of Diablo Lake and of Pyramid Peak across the North Cascades Highway.
> Plan your visit to Desolation Peak using WTA's Hiking Guide
> Plan your visit to Sourdough Creek using WTA’s Hiking Guide
Violets of March by Sarah Jio
Gazzam Lake Nature Preserve
Location: Puget Sound and Islands > Seattle-Tacoma Area
Length: 6.8 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 500 feet
Bainbridge Island could never hide its glory, even under the cover of darkness. I watched from the window as the ferry loomed into Eagle Harbor, passing the island’s pebble-covered shores and shake-shingled homes that clung courageously to the hillside.
After years of success as a bestselling author in a happy home, Emily hits a low point and takes off to visit Bainbridge Island, where she grew up. While staying at her great aunt’s house, Emily finds a mysterious diary, while starting to heal from the pain she was suffering before she came to the island.
Find some peace for yourself by taking a trip to Bainbridge Island. Once you dock at Eagle Harbor as Emily did, take a walk around Gazzam Lake Nature Preserve, where you’ll wander through forest all the way to the pebble-covered beach.
> Plan your visit to the Gazzam Lake Nature Preserve using WTA’s Hiking Guide
The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch
Burfoot County Park
Location: Olympia Peninsula > Olympia
Length: 3.0 miles of trails
Elevation gain: varies
There was no wind, no voices, nothing but the occasional whir of wings, the squirts of clams and the faint hiss of retreating water draining through gravel. Mostly there were odors — the fishy composting reek of living, dead and dying kelp, sea lettuce, clams, crabs, sand dollars and starfish.
In the fictitious Skookumchuck Bay near Olympia, this novel tells the story of 13-year-old Miles, who falls in love with the Puget Sound and learning about it, but soon needs to contend with the difficulties of ending up in the news and local fame after finding a washed-up giant squid on the beach.
You probably won’t find a giant squid or fame, but you might find other wildlife —and those characteristic marine smells — on the 1100-foot beach on Budd Inlet at Burfoot County Park like Miles found at the beach.
> Plan your visit to Burfoot County Park using WTA’s Hiking Guide
The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen
Location: North Cascades > Mountain Loop Highway
Length: 27.0 miles, one-way
Elevation gain: 1,305 feet
To the east were the jagged peaks of the Cascades, close enough to be seen on a clear day but far enough to disappear when the clouds were low and thick. On those days, the town seemed to be cut off from the rest of the earth. Miles to the west was the open sea, the confluence of Puget Sound to the south, the Strait of Georgia to the north, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the west, the point where all three combined and wrapped their cold embrace around the San Juan Islands.
Commonwealth, a fictitious town located somewhere between 50 and 100 northeast of Seattle, shelters from the rest of the world during the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak to prevent their community from getting exposed. Unfortunately, all does not stay well in Commonwealth, and the town begins to collapse from the inside out.
Although the exact location of Commonwealth is unknown — even to the townspeople, as only town founder Charles Worthy really knew where it was — Darrington sits little over 50 miles northeast of Seattle. Find solitude on the long Whitehorse Trail, which spans from Arlington to Darrington. With multiple entry points, the trail is easy to access from Highway 530 and provides beautiful views of the nearby Mountain Loop Highway peaks.
> Plan your hike on the Whitehorse Trail using WTA’s Hiking Guide