Training for a trek? These hikes offer great workouts—with a view!

Mountaineering 1 Pilchuck

Mount Pilchuck is one of many strenuous hikes in or adjacent to state parks that can be used to train for climbs, treks and expeditions.

March 31, 2017

Training season: Hike to climb

Mountaineers are not made overnight


Most train three to six months for a big climb, trek or scramble—a labor of love and grit for many. But the gym and the “old standby” hikes can become a yawn by mid-season.  

Seattleites tire of Mount Si and Mailbox Peak, South Sounders get bored with Mount Rose and Southwest Washingtonians exhaust the steep and nearby Columbia Gorge trails. East siders crave snow-free hikes by April. and trekkers and climbers bound for international adventures may be looking for late-season hikes to keep them in shape. Here are a few state park (or adjacent) hikes that will satisfy a tough training schedule, while offering views to keep these jaunts interesting.


Getting started:

Moran hikers

                        Training often starts on a moderate, sun-dappled forest trail, like this one at Moran State Park.

The hike: Sauk Mountain

Where: North Cascades Hwy 20, Northwestern Washington, adjacent to Rockport State Park
Length and elevation gain: Distance and elevation gain: 4.2 miles round trip, 1,200 feet of vertical gain, trailhead to summit
Difficulty rating: Moderate
When to go: Late spring, summer, fall

This hike offers North Cascades vistas, including a peek at Glacier Peak when the weather cooperates. But the skies don’t have to be clear to experience Sauk’s spring wildflower show. For a longer day of hiking, or a cool-down stroll, try the flatter trails through the rare old growth stands of adjacent Rockport State Park.

The hike:

Wallace Falls State Park

Where: Stevens Pass Hwy 2, Western Washington
Length and elevation gain: 5.6 miles round trip, 1,300 feet elevation gain
Difficulty rating: Moderate
When to go: Year-round

Wallace Falls is the quintessential Western Washington hike. Fairy tale forests and streams keep hikers cool, even on the steeper uphill sections, where the spray of the falls makes itself felt. The views onto the Skykomish River Valley cannot be beat. 

More challenging: 

Mountaineering 3 Dalles Mountain Ranch
                                  Fields of yellow arrowleaf balsamroot make The Dalles Mountain Ranch a stunning spring hike.

The hike: Dalles Mountain Ranch, Columbia Hills State Park

Where: Columbia River Gorge, Hwy 14, South Central Washington
Length and elevation gain: 8 miles round trip, 2,475 feet elevation gain
Difficulty rating: More strenuous
When to go: Spring, fall
Pro tip: Bring bug spray; check for ticks, too

This hike begins a moderate grade, past remains of a mid-1800s homestead ranch, through meadows of yellow arrowleaf balsamroot and Indian paintbrush in spring. Take in the view of Mount Hood on the way up and Mount Adams from the top. Up for more exploration? Weave in and around basalt cliff formations on the 1.6 mile Horsethief Butte section of Columbia Hills State Park. Out for an extended stay? Don’t miss nearby Goldendale Observatory State Park, Maryhill Museum and Stonehenge.

Strenuous to climb-ready:

Mountaineering 4 Dirty Face

                            Parkgoers enjoy a soak at Lake Wenatchee State Park, with Dirtyface Lookout in the background.

The hike: Dirty Harry’s Peak, Olallie State Park

Where: I-90 Snoqualmie Pass, Exit 38, Western Washington
Length and elevation gain: 8.2 miles round trip, 3,368 feet of elevation gain
Difficulty rating: Strenuous
When to go: Spring, summer, fall
Pro tip: Bring GPS with track, or map/compass/altimeter, or both.

The Snoqualmie Valley and Mount Rainier views are unrivaled from this summit on a clear day. Because the trail can be confusing above Dirty Harry’s Balcony, navigation equipment will help. For a cool-down, hike the trails at Olallie State Park or get in another 900 feet of elevation gain by heading up Cedar Butte past the Boxley Blowout, a massive flood/landslide that buried the downstream town of Edgewick in 1918, and left a giant crater in its wake.  

The hike: Mount Pilchuck State Park

Where: North Cascades Mountain Hwy Loop, Northwestern Washington
Length and elevation gain: 5.4 miles round trip, 2,300 feet of elevation gain
Difficulty rating: Strenuous
When to go: Summer, fall

The rocky hike/scramble through fields of white shale rock to Mount Pilchuck’s historic lookout tower offers 360 degree views of the North and South Cascades and the Olympic mountains. Nearby Mount Dickerman, with 3,950 feet of gain in 8.2 miles round trip, makes this a long and advanced day with a total 6,250 feet of elevation gain. These two gorgeous hikes can be done together when the days are long—a week or so before the big summer climb.

The hike: Dirtyface Lookout

Where: Stevens Pass Hwy 2, Central Washington adjacent to Lake Wenatchee State Park
Length and elevation gain: 9 miles round trip, 3,950 feet of elevation gain
Difficulty rating: Very strenuous
When to go: Spring, summer, fall

Ever wanted to look down upon Lake Wenatchee from the Cascades foothills above? Hike up Dirtyface Lookout, preferably in spring, when the wildflowers are out. Enjoy craggy mountain views to the east, then descend to Lake Wenatchee State Park, an excellent place to soak tired feet and have a generous post-hiking barbecue. And the charming Bavarian town of Leavenworth is 20 minutes away.

The hike: Three Peak Loop, Mount Spokane State Park

Where: Hwy 206, Eastern Washington, near the Idaho border
Length and elevation gain: 14 miles round trip, 2,858 feet of cumulative gain
Difficulty rating: Strenuous
When to go: Late spring to late fall, ski or snowshoe in winter season
Pro tip: Bring hard-shell clothing for high winds.

Mount Spokane State Park
boasts miles of trails in the Selkirk Mountains, meeting most trekkers’ needs when prepping for winter or spring expeditions. One hike, the Three Peak Loop, stands out. This traverse across the summits of Kit Carson, Day Mountain and Mount Spokane makes for an interesting day with navigation challenges, the Vista House and panoramic views of the landscapes below. Looking for more to do in the area? Riverside State Park, Spokane-Centennial Trail State Park, and the bustling city of Spokane are only 35 miles away.

The hike: Cold Springs Trail, Moran State Park

Where: Orcas Island, San Juan Islands
Length and elevation gain: 8.6 miles round trip, 2058 feet of gain
Difficulty rating: Strenuous
When to go: Year-round
Pro-tip: Bring rain gear.

Moran State Park offers several steep trails, but Cold Springs is a particular calf-burner with a big reward. The trail ratchets up from Cascade Lake to the top of Mount Constitution, with its historic stone lookout tower and birds-eye view of the San Juan archipelago. During a multi-day stay, the
Mount Pickett and Mount Constitution loops offer around 1,500 feet of gain at a gentler grade and a longer distance. Too tired from hiking to grill your own burgers? Orcas Island also has many restaurants and shops not far from Moran.

The Basics
Mountaineering 5 Moran

               Moran’s Cold Springs Trail leads to the top of Mount Constitution with grand views of the San Juan Islands.

Experienced hikers and climbers have tales of being lost or injured, forgetting a critical item, meeting an unruly dog or helping strangers who hadn’t brought proper gear. In addition to physical fitness, serious hiking requires preparation, attention to safety, politeness and stewardship. The Washington Trails Association provides excellent resources, including trail descriptions, driving directions, maps and recent trip reports. The 10 Essentials and trail manners are critical, so please read more about safety and hiking etiquette before putting your boots on the trail.  

Have you already started spring training for a special climb, trek or expedition?
We’d love to see! Please share your story and pictures of where and how you train here