10 Best Backpacking Trips in Washington

An Epic list + Ultimate Guide from a Washington Local.

Looking to add some fantastic backpacking adventures to your list for next summer in Washington State? If yes, then read on. I’ve compiled a selection of in my opinion, the best backpacking trips in Washington that have stood out over the last 10 years.

All of these backpacking trips can be done as overnighters but could easily be made into multi day trips. And they all have that extra something special, I promise!

A few things to consider before heading out hiking.

Before setting out on any hiking adventure, it’s essential to pack the right things to be prepared for all situations. Firstly, make sure you’re equipped with the necessary tools to navigate safely through the wilderness. Consider utilizing mapping apps such as AllTrails or GaiaGPS but don’t forget the reliability of a physical map as a backup just in case. Electronics can run out of power as we all know.

Always let someone know about your hiking itinerary, including expected return times. Additionally, always carry the Ten Essentials, independent of the length or intensity of your hike. These items can be lifesaving in unexpected situations. You always want to plan for what you hope doesn’t happen! And of course, these items contribute to a smoother outdoor experience.

What are the 10 essentials?

The Ten Essentials are a collection of items to help you prepare for a diverse set of emergency situations as well as basic needs. These essentials can vary slightly depending on factors like location, season, and individual needs, but they generally include:

  1. Navigation: Map, compass, GPS device, or smartphone with a reliable mapping app like AllTrails.
  2. Hydration: Sufficient water and a method for water purification or filtration.
  3. Nutrition: High-energy snacks or meals to sustain you throughout the hike.
  4. Protection: Clothing appropriate for the weather conditions, including layers, hat, gloves, and rain gear.
  5. Illumination: Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries for navigating in low light conditions.
  6. First Aid Kit: Basic supplies for treating minor injuries and managing medical emergencies.
  7. Fire: Waterproof matches, lighter, or other fire-starting tools for warmth, cooking, and signaling for help.
  8. Shelter: Emergency shelter such as a lightweight tent, bivy sack, or space blanket.
  9. Multi-tool or Knife: For gear repairs, food preparation, and other tasks.
  10. Sun Protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing to prevent sunburn and sun-related illnesses.

Carrying these essentials can significantly enhance safety during outdoor adventures, whether it’s a short day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip! I typically don’t hit the trail without them.

When setting out on a hike, please practice the principles of Leave No Trace (LNT). With many of Washington State’s trails attracting substantial foot traffic, it’s important to minimize our environmental impact.

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles (LNT)

  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of others

Okay, now for the ultimate list of backpacking trips in Washington…

10 Best Backpacking Trips in Washington

1. Wing Lake

If you time this hike just right in the fall, it is second to none. It is truly THAT spectacular. The line up of yellow golden larches at the end of the lake (that almost resembles an infinity pool) at the East puts on a show.

The hike to Wing Lake begins on the Maple Pass Loop Trail, a VERY popular and scenic route in the North Cascades. Start by following the trail counter clockwise from the Rainy Pass trailhead. The trail gradually ascends through lush forest, offering occasional views.

After about 2miles, you’ll reach the junction with the trail leaving from Maple Pass on your right. Its pretty easy to spot. From here, the fun of this trail begins and the views become increasingly spectacular, with panoramic vistas of the North Cascades.

You will soon cross a large boulder field. Stick to the tree line, there is a small trail that I found easier to navigate than the big boulders. (Especially with a larger pack) After passing the first lake, Lewis Lake, which is gorgeous and worth a look, you face an uphill climb. This section weaves through the most beautiful grove of larches. And it you are hiking in the fall, they will help distract you from the elevation gain! The final stretch to Wing Lake is challenging but rewarding, as the pristine alpine lake comes into view. When Wing Lake reveals itself, it is truly breathtaking. One to add to your list for sure!

Camping Tips:

Make sure to walk around to the far side of the lake as the view from there is the best. There are many epic campsites all along the lake. I found the further you get towards the back of the lake, the better the views! And you will experience why Wing Lake is a great backpacking trip!

Pro Tip:

The sunrise here is absolutely amazing! Definitely worth rolling out of your tent at that unreasonably early time. If you do pry yourself from your sleeping bag, make sure to hike up a little towards Black Peak, at the far end of the lake. It is THE BEST vantage point for sunrise.

Wing Lake Practical Trail Info:

  • Location: North Cascades National Park
  • Distance: 9 miles (Varies if you add Black Peak)
  • Elevation: 2,100 ft
  • Difficulty Rating: Hard
  • Parking Pass: NW Forest Pass
  • Trail Guide: Wing Lake

2. Gothic Basin + Foggy Lake

Gothic Basin offers incredibly dramatic alpine scenery. A rocky landscape with expansive views and towering peaks all around Foggy Lake. And in the summer months, the basin is filled with wildflowers.

The trail to Gothic Basin can be rugged and challenging, especially in the upper sections but well worth the climb.

Located off the Mountain Loop Highway, starting at Barlow Pass, the trail initially follows the old Monte Cristo road for about 1 mile before reaching the Weden Creek Trailhead. From there, the trail ascends steeply through dense forest. About halfway up, the forest gives way to more open terrain, offering those stunning views of the surrounding peaks its know for.

As you continue, the trail becomes rockier and a bit more challenging. There are lots of rocks. I mean lots. But once you reach the basin, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views as it shows off why its one of the best backpacking trips in Washington!

But don’t stop there. Head up to Foggy Lake, take a dip, or just pitch your tent and stare at the views. The lake it bordered by Del Campo and Gothic Peak. And if you have energy left, or the time on your trip I recommend watching the sunset from Gothic Peak. It doesn’t disappoint.

Camping Tips:

Like Wing Lake, head to the far end of Foggy Lake and there is the sweetest little campsite that straddles the lake and a small tarn. Meanwhile, getting there might feel like you have gone too far but I promise it will reveal itself. Its the perfect spot for some solitude on a trail that has become increasingly popular. And its a great view across the lake.

Gothic Basin + Foggy Lake Practical Trail Info:

  • Location: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
  • Distance: 9.3 miles
  • Elevation: 3,139ft
  • Difficulty Rating: Hard
  • Parking Pass: NW Forest Pass
  • Trail Guide: Gothic Basin + Foggy Lake

3. Ptarmigan Ridge + Goat Lake

Ptarmigan Ridge is a very popular day hike at the base of Mt.Baker, one of Washington’s many volcanoes. And it is for good reason, it offers sweeping views and dreamy vistas. BUT if spend the night, well, the entire experience is elevated.

The hike begins at Artist Point, offering immediate panoramic views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. Yes please, on views starting from the parking lot! Start by following the well-maintained trail towards Table Mountain.

After about 2 miles, you’ll reach the junction for Chain Lakes. (another great backpacking trip especially with kids) Continue straight to stay on the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail. The trail becomes more rugged as it winds along the ridge, and the views become even more spectacular, with close-up views of Mount Baker’s glaciers and the North Cascades.

As you approach the end of the trail, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of Coleman Glacier and all the surrounding peaks. Its as if you can reach out and touch Mt.Baker. It feels THAT close. On this final stretch are many great spots along the way to set up your tent.

But wait, what about Goat Lake?

The trail down to Goat Lake sits at around 4 miles of the main trail. You can see it before you get there. Indeed, its well worth a visit. Or better yet, an epic place to spend the night. Take a dip. Watch the sunset.

Pro Tip:

Goat Lake IMO is the place to set up your tent for the night. Since the sunset behind Mt.Baker behind the lake is a real treat, its a spot you wont want to miss. Another key point, there are several campsites up on the saddle between Goat Lake and Mt.Shuksan. From these spots you can see Mt.Baker in one direction and Mt.Shuksan in the other.

Ptarmigan Ridge + Goat Lake Practical Trail Info:

  • Location: Mt.Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
  • Distance: 11.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,480 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking Pass: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Trail Guide: Ptarmigan Ridge Trail
Goat Rocks Wilderness - Old Snowy Mountain - Best Backpacking Trips in Washington

4. Goat Rocks Wilderness – Old Snowy Via Snowgrass Flats

When you ask a PCT hiker of their favorite part of Washington, you often hear the Goat Rocks Wilderness! And for good reason, its truly special with incredible views of three volcanos, wildflowers, expansive meadows and lots of peaks.

in this region, there are so many overnights that you could do but I found hiking up to Old Snowy with a side trip along the knifes edge to be one of the best. It falls in my ‘favorite category’ and deserving of a spot on the best backpacking trips in Washington!

The trail that starts from the Snowgrass Flats Trailhead and gradually ascends through old-growth forests is about 4.5 miles. When you reach Snowgrass Flats, you will find a beautiful alpine meadow with wildflowers and stunning views of the surrounding peaks.

From Snowgrass Flats, the trail continues to climb steeply. You’ll pass through rocky terrain and alpine meadows, eventually reaching the summit of Old Snowy Mountain. The final section involves some scrambling over some loose rock but nothing too bad.

I would also recommend a side trip along the knifes edge, the views are OOTW! If you are looking to make this a multi day trip I would add Goat Lake, Hawkeye Point (sleep up around the point over Goat Lake as it is quieter), and Cispus Pass. All of these are just stunning! Honestly, all of these spots should all have a spot on the best backpacking trips in Washington!

Campsite Tips:

I set up my tent below Old Snowy on a ridge that had views of Helens, Adams and Rainier. Along the ridge , there are already established campsites and rock walls for wind protection. And 100 ft away, a glacial lake for water. Lastly, the sunrise and sunset from this location is just incredible.

Old Snowy via Snowgrass Flats Practical Trail Info:

  • Location: Goat Rocks Wildernes
  • Mileage: 13.6 (plus the side detour to the Knifes Edge)
  • Elevation Gain: 3,850 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Parking Pass: NW Forest Pass
  • Trail Guide: Old Snowy Via Snowgrass Flats

5. Gem Lake via Snow Lake

This lake is a true gem. And it is just as pretty as its very popular neighbor Snow Lake. As a result, you will see significantly less people here. In addition to the gorgeous lake, incredible Alpine setting and beautiful lake reflections, one of the best things about this hike is how close it is to Seattle! It is probably my most favorite (and the most beautiful) hike you can do with only traveling an hour outside of the city of Seattle.

Your journey starts at the Snow Lake Trailhead and with a steady climb through dense forest, offering occasional views of the surrounding mountains. At approximately 3 miles in, you’ll reach the shore of Snow Lake. Although popular, maybe the most visited lake in Washington, it is jaw dropping and a great place to take a dip or eat a bite. Did you know Snow Lake is one of the clearest lakes in Washington?

From Snow Lake, the trail continues along the northern shore, gradually ascending toward the ridge that separates Snow Lake from Gem Lake. This section of the trail involves a bit of rock hopping and if the season is right, berry picking. Eventually, you’ll crest the ridge and be rewarded with the first glimpse of Gem Lake. Its quite breathtaking.

The lake is also crystal clear and could be great to take a dip. Cold plunge anyone, its cold. (brrr)

Looking for a side excursion? Set up your tent and check out Wright Mountain to the North. You will be rewarded with incredible views.

Campsite Tips:

A cluster of campsites exist near the lake when you first arrive but the best sites, in my opinion are past this on the East side of the lake. Especially because they almost all offer lakeviews. Who can say no to a lake view? Subsequently, they offer much easier lake access. In addition, the lake also has the most incredible sunrise and sunsets and you are better positioned.

Gem Lake Practical Trail Info:

  • Location: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
  • Mileage: 11 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,670 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Parking Pass: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Trail Guide: Gem Lake via Snow Lake
High Divide Seven Lakes Basin - Mount Olympus

6. High Divide Seven Lakes Basin

Is High Divide Seven Lakes Basin already on your list? There is a high chance it is, because it is pretty well known as a stunner of a hike in the Olympic National Park! The views of Mt.Olympus from above Heart Lake and the amount of wildlife on this hike were hands down the highlights. We saw so many black bears nibbling on berries. But dont worry, they really want nothing to do with you. Give them space and NEVER feed them and it will be okay!

One of the biggest challenges of this hike is to secure overnight permits. Equally important, is to ensure that they are spaced out well enough to have somewhat even mileage on each day. You can reserve permits on Recreation.gov. My husband and I took 3 days and 2 nights to complete the loop, but it could easily be done in 2 days or as possibly a long day hike. Another key point is whether to hike this clockwise or counter-clockwise. Overall, I think it depends on what campgrounds you secure with your permit. All things considered, I would recommend counter clockwise for immediate scenic views and an easier descent. You want to take care of those knees.

The trail starts in the lush temperate rainforest of the Sol Duc Valley. You’ll follow the Sol Duc River, passing several waterfalls, including the impressive Sol Duc Falls. A true PNW favorite.

Points of interest along this trail:

There are so many on this trip that a seperate section seemed only appropriate. Deer Lake, Lunch Lake and Heart Lake, and Seven Lakes Basin, a collection of picturesque alpine lakes. In addition, the High Divide Ridge, offering panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains including Mt.Olympus. Lastly, lets not forget the wildlife, the area is home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears – you are almost guaranteed to see them, marmots, and mountain goats.

This one is a quintessential hike in the Olympic National Park.

Campsite Tips:

There are several campsite locations along the loop to book but I found Lunch Lake and Heart Lake to take the cake! You have to book the specific campsite and stay at these designated sites.

High Divide Seven Lakes Basin Practical Trail Info:

  • Location: Olympic National Forest
  • Mileage: 19.1
  • Elevation Gain: 5,387 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Parking Pass: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Trail Guide: High Divide Seven Lakes Basin
Thunder Mountain Lake_Best Backpacking Trip in Washington

7. Thunder Mountain via Tunnel Creek Trail

Thunder mountain is one of those hikes that makes you feel you have arrived in a newly discovered oasis. Just when you are wondering “where is this place?”, you turn the corner and see a beautiful blue lake nestled amongst the mountains. This hike in unusual because at times there isn’t really an official trail. You can feel as if you have lost the trail and are scrambling over rocks or climbing over and around small trees. You haven’t lost the trail, it is just not as clearly marked as the rest of the trail. In contrast a vast majority follows along the heavily trafficked PCT.

If you partake on this hike you will adventure through some of Washington’s most beautiful and remote wilderness areas. The trail begins at the Tunnel Creek Trailhead, starting with a steady ascent through dense forest. It might feel a little relentless but keep going, it gets better.

Eventually you arrive at Hope Lake continuing on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) heading north. This section involves some steep and rocky terrain, but it boasts breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks. Like jaw dropping. After approximately 3.5 miles on the PCT, you’ll reach the junction for the Thunder Lakes. Follow the trail to the Thunder Lakes, which are nestled in a high alpine basin surrounded by rugged cliffs and meadows. It will surely steal your heart.

With this trail being in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness it is a highly sensitive and fragile environment. Please do your best to respect the area and be mindful to stay on the trail and try not to step or sleep on plants.

Campsite Tips:

You have many options here, on the lake, above the lake, its really hard to go wrong. I stayed down by the lake but if I could do it again I would sit up a little bit hight to enjoy the sunset just a little longer.

Thunder Mountain Practical Trail Info:

  • Location: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
  • Mileage: 12.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,940 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Parking Pass: NW Forest Pass
  • Trail Guide: Thunder Mountain

8. Cascade Pass / Sahale Arm Glacier

This is the kind of hike that stays on your favorite hikes list forever, in essence, you won’t ever regret choosing this one. The hike to and over Cascade Pass has scenery for miles and loads of fall color. (If it’s that time of year) Blackbear sightings are frequent in the alpine meadows. I came around the corner and was greeted by a black bear 14 ft in front of me. It was incredible.

You start the hike with a series of switchbacks (I think 23 in fact). It really gets your heart going. But you soon come to Cascade Pass and this view puts on a show. Climbing again, you get to a series of meadows. Once you leave the meadows which have scenery for miles and this is where you see bears. And mountains. Plus more mountains.

Next, you head up to the glacier this hike becomes a bit steep as you climb. It’s hard to imagine the views getting better but they do. Some of the best views in all of North Cascades National Park. Hands down.

The magic doesn’t stop there. The campsites at Sahale Arm are out of this world. Each site feel like its own little world, sitting up top a small mountain with a “driveway” like path and your own personal rock wall for wind protection and a bot of privacy. And your neighbors are often mountain goats!

Add this one to your list, it is an epic backpacking trip in Washington!

Pro Tip:

Cascade Pass / Sahale Arm Glacier Practical Trail Info:

  • Location: North Cascades National Park
  • Mileage: 12.1
  • Elevation Gain: 5,029 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Parking Pass: America the Beautiful
  • Trail Guide: Cascade Pass

9.Robin + Tuck Lakes

If there is a destination that really make you work for it, this is it. Getting to Robin Lakes with a pack is no easy feat. It is at times a haul that makes you grab onto whatever you can find to hoist yourself up the next rock. But that is part of the fun and the reward. You gotta love Type II fun. Always.

The sunrises and sunsets up at Robin Lakes are unbeatable. And the views of Mt.Daniel just as epic. Remind yourself of this when the going gets tough. It helps.

The good thing with this one is that there is Tuck Lake down below Robin Lakes. And if you think the climb is too much, set up camp at Tuck, go for a swim, (the lake is amazing) then day hike up to Robin. Leave the pack and all the heavy stuff behind. Its an option lots of people take.

If you do make it up to Robin and are craving more, hike up Granite Mountain. Its a fun small scramble that has large views all over the cascades including Mt.Rainier. Its worth every step.

Pro Tip:

If you hike up to Granite Mountain, don’t take the same trail down. There is an AWESOME boot path the heads around the East side of the lake which has stunning views of Mt.Daniels. And in the fall it’s ALL RED! And a pretty easy and more mellow way down.

Tuck and Robin Lakes Practical Trail Info:

  • Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness
  • Mileage: 12.7
  • Elevation Gain: 3,389 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Parking Pass: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Trail Guide: Tuck and Robin Lakes
Rampart Lakes_Alpine Lakes Wilderness_Best Backpacking Trips in Washington

10.Rampart Lakes + Alta Mountain

The layout of the Rampart Lakes is something special, providing intimate campsites, mountain vistas, epic sunrises and lots of opportunities to swim. Its a great place to set up a tent and spend a few days.

The adventure begins at the Rachel Lake Trailhead. The first part of the trail is relatively gentle, winding through lush forests and alongside creeks. After a few miles, the trail becomes steeper and more rugged as it approaches Rachel Lake. This is a PERFECT spot to take a break, jump in and cool off. The turquoise water of Rachel Lake are nothing short of stunning.

Continuing past Rachel Lake, the trail leads to Rampart Ridge. At this point, the views become more expansive. Once you reach Rampart Lakes, you’ll be greeted by a series of small, interconnected lakes nestled in a high alpine basin. The crystal-clear waters and surrounding wildflowers are just magic.

After you set up your tent, you can make a an afternoon out of a hike to Alta Mountain. From Rampart Lakes, follow the unmarked but well-worn path that ascends steeply towards the summit. The climb is demanding, but the panoramic views from the top are INCREDIBLE. From the summit of Alta Mountain, you’ll enjoy 360-degree vistas of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and highlights include views of Mount Rainier, Mount Stuart, and the Central Cascades.

Pro Tip:

If you have the time, add Lila Lakes to your itinerary making it more of a multi day backpacking trip. Lila Lake is just a pretty as the Rampart Lakes so you cant go wrong!

Rampart Lakes Practical Trail Info:

  • Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness
  • Mileage: 12
  • Elevation Gain: 3,800 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Parking Pass: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Trail Guide: Rampart Lakes and Alta Mountain

The 10 best backpacking trips in Washington, in conclusion.

In truth this list could be 5x longer as options in Washington are endless. I always say there is no such think as an ugly hike in the state of Washington. However, start with these 10 of the best backpacking trips in Washington and go from there. You wont be disappointed with any of them and they are all doable for both seasoned and less seasoned backpackers alike.

I would love to hear if you have ever done any of these hikes and what you thought of them! For more mountain adventures follow along with me on Instagram @thetrekkingmama. Happy trails and happy hiking!


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