Our Top 7 Favorite PNW Hikes

Woman and child hiking.

The Pacific Northwest is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. Whether you’re visiting Oregon, Washington, or Idaho, there’s no lack of natural wonders to explore. We’ve been roaming this region for decades, and we still haven’t run out of beautiful landscapes to enjoy. Rocky coasts, magnificent waterfalls, virgin forests, crystal clear meadows and snow-capped mountains (volcanos!)- really we could go on, but you get the idea. 

The land of Cascadia has a rich cultural history and some of the largest wilderness areas in the USA, no matter what you’re in the mood for you’re guaranteed to find recreational satisfaction. If you’re looking for ways to experience the pacific northwest climate and lifestyle like a local, then look no further. We’ve gathered a list of our favorite PNW hikes, so you can get a taste of everything this wonderland has to offer.

Health Benefits of Hiking

Hiking isn’t just a fun weekend activity, it’s been proven to be therapeutic. Study after study has shown increased time in nature reduces anxiety, calms stress, and can even be an antidote for depression. It’s necessary for humans to spend time outside among plants and wildlife. Researchers at Stanford University found people who took a 90 minute walk in nature were less likely to ruminate on negative thoughts than those who took a 90 minute walk in urban settings. This may be explained by the emotional response to smells, since the limbic system is triggered by the redolence of the natural world. 

The mental health benefits of hiking regularly are easily felt by those who dare to headout on the trail, but so are the physical benefits. Regardless of age, hiking can improve cardiovascular fitness; build strength, particularly in the core and legs; and improve balance. Whether somebody is just starting out on their fitness journey, or they are experienced backpackers, the vast number of trails and parks to choose from makes hiking accessible for almost everybody. Exercise in the great outdoors offers something unique that can’t be replicated on a treadmill. One meta-study shows that being surrounded by plants is correlated with beneficial outcomes for a wide range of health issues, including cardiovascular health, cancer-related symptoms, and respiratory illnesses.

Finally, when it comes to stimulating creativity and improving problem-solving skills, clearing the head from daily distractions and mental chatter does wonders. While researchers aren’t totally sure why this is, it’s believed that the free association state of creative thinking is more easily achieved during a hike. Regardless, all of the data suggests that to calm the mind and improve well-being – it’s time to take a hike, literally!

Hiking as a Lifestyle

One of the beauties of hiking as a hobby is that it requires very little to get started. Sure, who wouldn’t love a fully-outfitted backpacking set for a long weekend trip? But really, all that’s needed for a great day trip is a pair of hiking boots, sun protection, bug repellant, a reusable water bottle, and some snacks to stay fueled for the trek. Except for the boots, all of these items are likely to be laying around the house already, and in a pinch, a pair of athletic shoes will work just fine.

After hiking has become a habit and any personal preferences have become clear, both in terms of hikes preferred and equipment needed, it may make sense to invest in better boots, a fancy hydration system, or backpacking gear for longer trips. But don’t let perfection become the enemy of the good and derail what could otherwise be a fantastic experience. At the end of the day, a pair of shoes and the spirit of adventure are all that’s needed to start exploring the great outdoors.

Hiking Etiquette

It should go without saying (but it bears repeating), take care to leave every trail as if a human were never there. Protect the plants and wildlife by sticking to designated trails. Always research beforehand to learn about any specific park rules and regulations. Limit single-use plastic where possible, and under no circumstances ever consider leaving trash behind.

Now without further ado, here are some of the best hikes in the Pacific Northwest. Whether it’s a quick day trip, a weekend adventure, or a bucket list item for the next visit to one of these states, we’re sure there’s something here for you:

Top 7 PNW Hikes

1. Trail of the Ten Falls, Oregon // Silver Falls State Park

  • Distance from Portland: 55 miles
  • Total miles: 7.8 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 1300 feet

This trail is located in one of the most popular parks in Oregon and considered the “crown jewel” of the state park system. Known for its beautiful waterfalls, this loop is the most often recommended. You can view nearly every waterfall, hence the name, Ten Falls, all while working your way through a picturesque forest. Any of these waterfalls would be worth a trip on their own to explore, but this hike is unparalleled in its ability to see all of the falls in a single loop. The trail itself is well-maintained (mostly paved) and good for almost any age or skill level, and the park contains many campsites optimal for weekend visits.

2. Ramona Falls Trail, Oregon // Mount Hood Wilderness

  • Distance from Portland: 52 miles
  • Total miles: 7.1
  • Elevation Gain: 1035 feet

This trail will treat you to waterfalls, wildflowers, and the ever-beautiful Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest and most iconic summit. The glacier of Mount Hood feeds the downhill rivers that form the Ramona Falls, one of the most stunning waterfalls in Oregon, and the lush volcanic landscape grows some of the best wildflower fields in the state. There is a river crossing with no bridge before making it to the falls, so be sure to check conditions ahead of time and plan to get a little wet. The river is constantly changing the landscape, and forest rangers must closely monitor the trail to reroute it as needed. The result is a changing trail that keeps visitors coming back for more.

3. South Sister Climber Trail #36, Oregon // Three Sisters Wilderness

  • Distance from Portland: 200 miles
  • Total miles: 12.2 
  • Elevation Gain: 4,898 feet

A popular hike for beginners, this is the tallest summit you can climb in Oregon without technical gear. Not for the faint of heart, this trail is a difficult one that leads to the summit of South Sister, one of the Three Sisters of the Central Cascade Range. Located within both the Deschutes National Forest and Willamette National Forest, this area is a bountiful terrain containing lakes, forests, waterfalls, glaciers, and other astounding natural wonders. The first two miles are fairly easy, but after reaching the ridgeline the elevation gain is steep. Upon reaching the final summit, the view will have been worth the effort. The landscape is unforgettable, and the ability to see nearly every mountain peak makes for one of the best views in Oregon.

4. Painted Canyon Trail, Oregon // Owyhee Canyonlands

  • Distance from Portland: 400 miles
  • Total miles: 9 
  • Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet

Straddled between the border of Oregon and Idaho, this trail is a great example of one of the last wildernesses in the United States. Not only is it naturally beautiful, but it is an important sacred and cultural site for the Northern Paiute, Bannock, and Shoshone tribes. While the Pacific Northwest is known for its forests, waterfalls, and pristine lakes, this trail offers something different with beautiful canyon views. It’s not the Grand Canyon, but the similar geology is reminiscent of the desert landscape in Utah. Three hundred foot red rock walls and some of the tallest sage brush around make this hike like no other in the area. A lack of visitors makes for a quiet and serene experience, and lucky hikers may even encounter some wildlife. 

5. Hoh River Trail, Washington // Olympic National Park

  • Distance from Portland: 320 miles
  • Total miles: 32.8 
  • Elevation Gain: 5,114 feet

This easy trail will take you through an incredibly lush green landscape, filled with ferns, moss, and even families of elk. The Hoh Rain Forest receives an average of 12 to 14 feet of rain a year, making it one of the few remaining temperate rainforests in the United States. Home to the Hoh Tribe, the native people dip for smelts on the beaches and still use smokehouses for preserving food for future use. The tidelands are abundant with razor clams, butter clams, crab, and perch fishing. Aside from its rich cultural history, it’s an incredibly popular trail, for good reason. This is an out-and-back, so the hike is only as long as anybody wants it to be. Hikers who can manage the distance of the entire trail will find magnificent glacier meadows waiting for them, but even if it’s just a three-mile hike there are plenty of beautiful trees, waterfalls, and foliage.

6. Skyline Trail, Washington // Mount Rainier National Park

  • Distance from Portland: 160 miles
  • Total miles: 5.9
  • Elevation Gain: 1,500

Home to the Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island, Muckleshoot, Yakama, and Cowlitz tribes, there is a rich history surrounding this region. Panoramic subalpine views, glacial snowfields that last the better part of a year, and wildflower meadows, this Washington hike is one that won’t be forgotten. Located in Paradise, this trail starts at over 5,400 feet in elevation. The added elevation makes this hike more difficult than it might seem on the surface, but the incredible views are worth the effort. The trail is wide enough to accommodate summertime crowds, and there isn’t anything that can block the majestic view of Mount Rainier, herself. The snow levels last late into the year here (often through July), so be sure to check current conditions before planning your trip. Whether it’s waterfalls, mountaintops, or snowfields and flowers, there is plenty for the eye to delight on. 

7. Sawtooth Lake, Idaho // Sawtooth National Recreation Area

  • Distance from Portland: 534 miles
  • Total miles: 9.4
  • Elevation Gain: 1873 feet

Babbling creeks, stunning granite deposits, conifer forests and wildflower meadows? Yes, we are talking about one of the best hikes in Idaho: the Sawtooth trail. This out and back trail follows a running creek through a forest, with waterfalls along the way, until finally reaching a peaceful and serene meadow. Don’t be fooled and turn around though, this meadow is only a preview of what’s to come. From there, continue climbing until the trail arrives at Sawtooth Lake. This impressive lake is filled with crystal clear water, surrounded by granite mountain slopes, and features a dramatic view of the Sawtooth cliffs.

Between Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, there’s no lack of things to do. We may be biased, but we truly believe that the Pacific Northwest has it all. Packed with waterfalls, dense wildlife, snow-capped mountains and even a rainforest or two, it’s an unparalleled outdoor wonderland. So, no matter what kind of adventure you’re looking for, you can’t go wrong with any of these trails. Each offers a unique slice of PNW heaven and a different flavor of paradise. Don’t be afraid to use these suggestions as a starting point, since it could take a lifetime to truly experience the vast wilderness of Cascadia inside and out. Whatever you do, don’t stop exploring.

And now, let the adventure begin!

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