You may have already started in on grand plans for the year ahead, but if you're still putting together a wish list of adventures and outdoor aspirations, perhaps we can help you kickstart your year. We've matched seven adventure goals with hikes and trails throughout Washington.
Washington has such a wonderful variety of ecosystems that give recreationists so many options when it comes to going outside. Winter can be a great time to head to explore a different part of the state or try out a new activity.
Beach Bum Camping, Complete with Yurt
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.
The park also has several miles of maintained trails. One of the best excursions in March is the Dune Forest Loop, a three-mile hike through sand dunes, shoreline and pine that captures the unique ecosystem of the area.
Where to stay: Ensure you'll sleep dry with one of the 14 yurts or 3 cabins at Cape Disappointment. This state park has a great campground which is lightly this time of year (but always full in the summer). Grayland Beach State Park also offers yurts and camping, but is further north.
Be More Humble
Beaver Lake Trail
Location: North Cascades - Mountain Loop Highway
Round Trip: 4.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 100 feet
If one of your New Year's goals is to learn to be more humble, there is no better cure than a trip into nature. Stand at the foot of a giant Olympic cedar or at the roots of Mount Shuksan, and you can't help but be a little humbled. Our pick for winter is an often-overlooked trail just off the Mountain Loop Highway. Between the might of the Sauk and White Chuck rivers and the grove of ancient Western Red Cedars, this easy-going winter ramble makes for a great spot to gain some perspective.
Take Up Birding
Take your new birding book out for a spin or download the Washington birding app and begin to learn the names of the hoots and hollers you hear high in the trees on your hikes. Winter is one of the best times to take up birding, and there is perhaps no better place to start than the Skagit Valley in January and February, when eagles, snowy owls and trumpeter swans all turn out.
At Padilla Bay, you'll be treated to shore birds and views of the islands, and when the clouds cooperate, Mount Baker. Explore up to 4.8 miles of this wildlife treasure. If you have kiddos in tow, try to work in a stop at the nearby Breazeale Interpretive Center.
Other options around the state include Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge west of Spokane. Down south, the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge provides wintering habitat for the dusky subspecies of the Canada Goose as well as eagles, hawks, a variety of ducks, hawks, hooded mergansers, and great egrets. And, we have even more great suggestions for bird watching hikes in Washington.
Try Trail Running
Thinking of taking up trail running this year? Running on trails is not just for the super-fit. For most of us, trail running is just another way to have fun, move on trail, and experience the natural landscape. Whether you’re sprinkling in some running on a regular hike, or challenging yourself to run long distances on trail, we have some spots to try picking up the pace.
You can check out this our recommendations of 15 possible places to get started. See what we suggest for where to go and how to get started. Favorite locations among the WTA staff are Discovery Park, Bridle Trails State Park, Mount Spokane, and even city parks! Just be sure to stretch before and after.
Train for a Long Trail
Klickitat Rail Trail
Location: Columbia Gorge
Distance: 31 miles (complete mileage; multiple access points and options)
Hop aboard for remote terrain and open air. At a healthy clip or a slow meander, this rail trail is fun at any speed! The Klickitat Trail runs 31 miles, with multiple access points placed in unique areas, from grass plains and the rugged Swale Canyon along the Wild and Scenic Klickitat River, to oak-filled valleys dropping down to Lyle and the Klickitat’s mouth at the Columbia River. Bring your sense of adventure, as you’ll cross old railroad trestles, encounter some very large cows, and stumble across a strange mixture of artifacts, from discarded equipment and railroad spikes to bleached white animal skulls.
Practice the Art of Slow Hiking
Thru-hiking the PCT in 54 days. Running the Wonderland Trail in 24 hours. Speed records get a lot of attention these days, but they're not for everyone. Enter the art of slow hiking.
If you're looking to embrace or hone a different style, you need look no farther than your own city parks or close-to-town favorites. Hit a nearby trail and plan to go a mile. Or less! See how slowly you can go. Stop to close your eyes and listen.
Why are parks and nearby trails the best for these kinds of excursions? Because you didn't spend that long getting to these trails, you won't feel compelled to push on, go higher, go farther or seek out a classic destination like a lake or view.
Slow hiking strategies: Pack an over-the-top picnic. Get down on your belly and snap photos of any ol' fern, mushroom or bit of interesting bark that catches your eye. If you have toddlers who are inclined to doddle, ask them to lead and set the pace. If you are leash-training a dog for trail, pack tons of treats and wear out your pup's brain as you shape his better behavior.
Hut-to-Hut Skiing and Snowshoeing
When the snow conditions improve (and COVID is no longer affecting whether these are open), you can take advantage of two groomed trail systems that offer overnight hut accommodations for beginning and experienced cross-country skiers. Weekends fill very quickly at both of these hut systems, but if you can swing a weekday, you will likely be able to find openings throughout the winter. Even if you can't score a reservation, the Mount Rainier huts are worth a day trip for experienced snowshoers.
Methow Valley huts
In the Methow Valley — Washington's Nordic skiing haven — each of the five Rendevous Huts (two of which are dog-friendly) can fit up to eight people on a shared or whole hut basis.
Depending upon your hut and where you start your journey, the huts are from four to nine miles on groomed trails from the trailhead. If your food and gear are too heavy, they'll even haul it for you.
Mount Rainier huts and a yurt
Near Mount Rainier National Park, the Mount Tahoma Trails Association grooms 50 miles of trails and operates three huts and a yurt. Staying overnight in one of the huts is a fabulous way to truly experience the wintry Cascades. During the day, anyone can warm up inside the huts, and at night they can be reserved.
BONUS: Alpine High Camp
Reserve a cabin this winter in the Alpine Lakes High Camp in the Central Cascades. Snowshoe, ski, sled or just watch the weather in these cozy cabins perched on the edge of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.