8 Best Hiking Trails in Seattle
Where to make the best of the Pacific Northwest’s most popular pastime
The state of Washington offers some of the country’s most breathtaking landscapes, making it a great place for hiking. The area surrounding Seattle is no exception. From urban parks to isolated trails a short trip outside the city, Seattle has a way of making you feel immersed in the wilderness despite being one of the largest metropolitan centers in the country. Forests filled with giant moss-covered trees, sweeping views of the Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains, and rocky beaches are among the natural spectacles you’ll encounter within the city limits and beyond when hiking in the area. Consider this your guide to the best classic Seattle trails for every skill level.
As Seattle’s largest public park, Discovery Park is a 534-acre green space in the city’s Magnolia neighborhood that offers over 11 miles of hiking trails that pass through meadows and forests and present waterfront views and easy access for hikers of all abilities. The most popular route is the 2.8-mile long Loop Trail that takes you through woods and clearings and leads only 140 feet in elevation up to the park’s highpoint, a bluff overlooking the beach and Puget Sound.
A unique feature of the park is its birdwatching opportunities year-round. In the winter, lucky hikers may be able to see rare arctic snowy owls, and in the summer or fall, there’s a high chance of spotting red-tail or Cooper's hawks. You should also keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles, whose flight paths are sometimes visible from the trail as they hunt for fish in the shallow waters near the shore. On the limits of an urban jungle, an amenity like Discovery Park is a rare treat in a city like Seattle and is a can’t-miss on days when you want to escape it all and take advantage of the nature-filled asset at your fingertips.
Washington Park Arboretum
Across town to the east is Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle’s second urban gem with miles of trails, groves of maple, magnolia and oak trees and the park’s famous Azalea Way, a three-mile trail lined by enormous flowering bushes that explode with color in the springtime. This 230-acre space is jointly managed by the University of Washington and the City of Seattle and offers plenty of quiet spots to picnic, relax or just lose yourself in the inviting atmosphere, as well as a playfield to enjoy soccer, frisbee or other group activities. The Arboretum is also home to a Japanese Garden in the southwest corner.
Filled with gorgeous collections of flora that have flowered over the years, a creek that runs the length of the park, and well-maintained paths, Washington Arboretum Park is an ideal destination in Seattle to take long, leisurely walks with the family or dogs year-round. Despite being in the heart of the city, visitors to the Arboretum feel tucked away in a pocket of wilderness, surrounded by natural beauty and greenery no matter the season.
Two hours outside the city, you’ll find Ebey’s Landing, a 5.2-mile loop trail within a national historic reserve on Washington’s stunning Whidbey Island. From the trailhead, you’ll embark along the bluff, one of the state’s best beach hikes that not only offers stunning views of the snow-capped Olympic Mountains but also offers a peek into Washington history. Established in 1978 after a land-use fight between those who wanted to develop the land and those who wanted to preserve it, Ebey’s Landing feels paused in a previous time as you peer across the valley filled with historic farmland and restored 1850s homes, some of which are still maintained and lived in by descendants of the original homesteaders.
Locals love this hike because it is all view and combines all the best features of the Pacific Northwestern landscape—rocky beaches, Puget Sound, the Olympics, and an occasional ferry—in one place. Ebey’s Landing is also located in the area’s rain shadow, meaning the weather here is often milder than elsewhere in the region, and when it’s raining elsewhere, it may be dry here. As a relatively flat hike, Ebey’s Landing is doable for every member of the family, and its location makes for a perfect day trip to explore the charming coastal towns on Whidbey Island before or after your exercise.
Coal Creek Falls
Family-friendly, well-maintained and culminating in a picturesque 28-foot waterfall, Coal Creek Falls in the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildlife Park is a lovely hike less than thirty minutes from Seattle’s city center. Along the trail, you’ll see remnants of the region’s rich coal mining history that was extremely active for one hundred years from 1863 to 1963, including deep holes dug to prevent cave-ins. There is also evidence of the logging that took place in the area, with remarkably large stumps left behind throughout the forest.
Roughly 2.5 miles out and back, the Coal Creek Falls trail is a relatively easy hike great for families and nature lovers who want to spend a morning or afternoon surrounded by peaceful forest and the calming sound of running water. After just over a mile of mostly flat trail, you’ll reach the star of the show—the waterfall. Powered by runoff, the most water flows in the rainier months, although it is often dry intermittently throughout the summer. From the trailhead, you’ll encounter a number of junctions, so it’s recommended you take a map out on the trail with you. These junctions also enable you to explore some of the many different routes that run through Cougar Mountain Park.
Rattlesnake Ledge is a well-loved steep, yet simple trail that promises panoramic views of Rattlesnake Lake, the Cascades, Mount Si, and Snoqualmie Pass from the summit. Upon arrival, you’ll set eyes on the challenge ahead—Rattlesnake Ledge’s rock face along Rattlesnake Lake. While it may be difficult to grasp how you’ll climb over 1,100 feet to reach what’s in front of you, the trail map will reveal the well-engineered switchbacks to get you there with less effort than you’d think.
During the ascent, you’ll be enveloped by lush fir trees, ferns, and large moss-covered boulders, and there are a number of spots to pause, look down on Rattlesnake Lake and appreciate your progress. At 1.9 miles, you’ll reach the exposed lower ledge, a rocky cliff overlooking the magical forest and lake below. On crowded days, you can hike a few more minutes up the trail to the middle or upper ledges for better views and more privacy. Those looking for a lengthier hike can continue another 2.4 miles to East Peak. This trail follows an old, wide logging road and on clear days, hikers are rewarded by a glorious view of Mount Rainier.
Poo Poo Point
Despite what some might gather from its moniker, Poo Poo Point is a popular 7.2-mile out-and-back trail offering sweeping views across Issaquah and Lake Sammamish toward Bellevue's downtown. The myth stands that the area was named for the sound of steam train whistles heard throughout the Tiger Mountains, which has been replaced by the audible “oohs” and “aahs” you’ll hear from hikers upon reaching the summit.
The hike begins in an open field and progresses more than 1,500 feet up the mountain along rocky slopes, through mixed deciduous and coniferous forests, and across a number of small creeks to reach the Point. The clearing at the top is a popular paragliding launch spot, making the summit a great spot to pause for a snack, drink water and enjoy the view as paragliders step off the ledge and sail over the treetops. There is a shorter but steeper trail to reach the Point, Chirco Trail at 1.9 miles each way, that gets you there in a shorter distance across the same elevation.
If you’ve seen the opening credits for the original Twin Peaks, you already know Mount Si. As perhaps the most classic Seattle-area hike, this 8-mile climb is known as the unofficial local favorite and is a very popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts year-round. But don’t let the popularity fool you. Mount Si is a challenge, gaining 3,150 feet in elevation over four, mile-long switchbacks that will get your heart rate up and have you feeling it in your legs the next morning.
As you trek higher and higher among boulders, forest, and rocky hillsides, the burn in your legs is met with sweeter and sweeter views and at mile 4, it’s all made worth the effort by the reward at the top, one of the best mountain vistas in the region. On a clear day, you can admire Mount Rainier standing strong to the south and surrounded by dozens of other Cascade peaks. Whether you are training to tackle the highest Mount Rainier trail or just looking for a spring, summer or fall workout, Mount Si is a perfect choice.
Mailbox Peak Summit
Named for the iconic mailbox planted on its peak by an ambitious hiker in the 1960s, and still standing today, Mailbox Peak Summit is an ambitious day hike and a notch tougher than its neighbor, Mount Si. For years the trail to the top was legendarily steep, rocky, and borderline treacherous, giving rise to hiker injuries, rescues, and erosion that prompted the Washington Trails Association to create a new route to get hikers to the top. While the new trail is much safer, it is still a steep and challenging ascent that begins with bridges and creek crossings and leads to switchbacks that don’t let up until you reach the triumphant summit. The final half mile will test even experienced hikers, with nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain across a very short distance, so be prepared to use your last spike of energy here.
The peak is positioned at the end of a long ridgeline, which means unobstructed views of Mount Rainier and the Middle Fork Valley lie below. At the mailbox, you’ll find evidence of the many hikers who have come before you, with stickers, notes and other knick-knacks adorning the inside and outside of the trail’s namesake landmark. Before you take off back down the mountain, be sure to leave your mark!
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