One of the best rewards after a long hike into the backcountry is relaxing in camp and gazing into a velvety night sky jam-packed with stars.
The Milky Way splashed across the sky is an incredible sight, and amateur and professional photographers alike love to capture scenes of the night sky that only a light-pollution-free area can offer.
There are plenty of backcountry camps all over Washington where campers can enjoy the solitude and majesty of a starry night sky. We've collected just a few hikes that are gorgeous during the day, so your trip to camp is as scenic and beautiful as your evening stargazing time.
Remember that stargazing can be fun, but any time you're walking around in the dark, there are some special considerations.
- Step carefully. It may seem obvious, but scope your stargazing spot with safety in mind.
- Save your eyes (and your companions) from light blindness by using the red setting on your headlamp or flashlight. If you don't have a red light, simply tape some red saran wrap over the light.
- Bundle up! Dress warmly and sip some hot tea, cocoa, or broth to stay warm as night falls.
- Heading out in the winter? Check out our tips for exploring the winter nighttime sky.
- Before heading out for an overnight, review the backpacking basics.
- Check trip reports and contact a ranger before heading out for an overnight. Some of the trails below may have snow on them well into summer, and you may need a permit to stay overnight at some of these camps.
- Check (and recheck) weather conditions to find cloud-free skies.
Location: Stevens Pass -- East
Length: 10.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2700 feet
Schaefer Lake is a great day hike destination, but it's just long enough and has just enough elevation gain that you may want to reward yourself with an overnight in this scenic lake basin. And the peaks all around you are sure to block out any light pollution, making it truly dark for the late-night stargazing.
Location: Stevens Pass -- West
Length: 13.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2700 feet
Tiny Fortune Ponds provides a nice location as a reward for a steep hike to it. Passing through an old burn, the area around the lake is clear enough that if it's a nice night without clouds, you'll likely get pretty prime star viewing once darkness falls.
Crow Lake Way
Location: Chinook Pass - Hwy 410
Length: 12.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3340 feet
Crow Lake Way is a great Mount Rainier option for those who wans to find solitude and views. The 2017 Norse Peak Fire burned most of this trail, which means there is minimal tree canopy to block your views of the surrounding peaks or the nighttime sky (but it also means it can get a bit hot in the midday sun!)
South Puyallup to Klapatche
Length: 18.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 5000 feet
This section of the Wonderland Trail is a great overnight option for stargazing. Klapatche Park is a high-elevation campsite with minimal tree cover and an incredible view of Mount Rainier to serve as a background for your nighttime photography. Make sure you snag a backcountry permit for this one ahead of time!
Location: North Bend Area
Length: 20.2 miles, roundtrip
Kaleetan Lake is an easily accessible route off of I-90 that takes hikers into the popular Alpine Lakes Wilderness. After a forested approach and after passing by a few other lakes, you'll land at Kaleetan Lake. Kaleetan Peak stands directly at the opposite end of the lake, a view worth the price of admission, paid in sweat and sore feet.
Location: Salmon La Sac/Teanaway
Length: 25.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 5200 feet
Starting from the Waptus River Trail, Spade Lake can be reached via a steep, uphill climb through old-growth. It's is a lovely, lonesome lake nestled in a rocky cirque high on Mount Daniel. Because it's a hefty hike to access, it's once of the more remote lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
Location: Mount St. Helen's
Length: 28.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 6,000 feet
The Loowit Trail has plenty of wide open camps to take in the night sky. Plus, it's far enough away from most major cities that campers will be truly stunned by the skies overhead. If you're not up for a 28 mile hike, try the eight-mile Plains of Abraham Loop. Just know that camping is not permitted between the South Fork of the Toutle River and Windy Pass.
Stagman Ridge - The Bumper
Location: Mount Adams Area
Length: 12.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1900 feet
Campsites in Horseshoe Meadow will give overnighters comfortable accommodations for stargazing. During the day, the hike into camp offers excellent insight into a wide variety of Washington ecosystems, from a forest recovering from wildfire to austere alpine splendor, to views of Mount Adams.
Location: Southwest Washington -- Lewis River Region
Mileage: 5.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 500 feet
The site of a former fire lookout, Observation Peak offers extensive views of the South Cascades and the Goat Rocks for a relatively short hike. But it's important to note that there are a couple of different approaches to the summit -- most people start from the Trapper Creek Trailhead.
South Coast Wilderness Trail
Location: Pacific Coast
Length: 17.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 250 feet
What better place to see the stars from an unobstructed campground than along the coast? The South Coast Wilderness Trail will keep you busy for three days of coastal trekking. At night, backpackers can enjoy not only stunning sunsets, but a night horizon full of stars.
Location: Northern Coast
Length: 8.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
Start high and head low to little Moose Lake. Camping here requires reservations, as with so many locations in Olympic National Park, but it's well worth it, for the stunning scenery during the day and quiet and peace at night.
Sun Lakes - Dry Falls State Park
Location: Grand Coulee
Length: 6.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 350 feet
The trails at Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park are great for slightly more advanced backcountry hiking. Camp at the frontcountry campsite, then head back into the park when the stars come out. Just be sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp, and consider doing a scouting hike in the daylight so your first trip in isn't at night.
Location: Umatilla National Forest
Length: 5.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2500 feet
Hike the Panjab Trail to its end and revel in the destination -- a beautiful, wide-open alpine meadow full of wildflowers. Once you arrive, look for a camp at Indian Corral and settle in, the light show will begin as soon as the sun has its curtain call.
Location: Kettle Range
Length: 16.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2000 feet
With miles of roaming in rolling, remote parkland, the Thirteenmile Trail is a great choice for new and seasoned backpackers alike. Hike in two miles or eight miles -- anywhere along the generous ridgeline makes for great overnight camping and stargazing.
Copper Ridge Loop
Location: Mount Baker Area
Length: 34.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 8600 feet
Challenge yourself on this long backpacking loop that includes a multitude of locations for prime stargazing. Be flexible for this trip, since North Cascades National Park requires campsite reservations, and they're largely walk-up reservations only.
Length: 9.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2460 feet
A gorgeous destination in and of itself or a gateway to further days of wandering, Twisp Pass is a stunning place to be for sunset and the star show afterwards. Head here and you're sure to get one heck of a view on a clear night