I was looking for a good uphill hike with big views when I called an Olympic National Forest office last week.
“What’s hikeable?” I asked Peggy Dressler, who works in the Hood Canal area.
“Pretty much everything,” she said.
“Everything?” I said. “Even Mount Ellinor?”
“Yes,” she said. “Everything. I probably shouldn’t say it’s unprecedented, but I haven’t seen anything like it.”
The next morning, a buddy and I were standing atop Mount Ellinor, 5,920 feet above sea level. And we got there taking precisely five steps on snow.
And we weren’t alone. We saw 10 other people on top and many others on the trail. None were in shorts, but several wore short-sleeve shirts.
This hike typically isn’t snow-free until July, but this year’s especially weak winter means summer conditions (or at least late spring conditions) arrived early.
While that’s not exactly good news for people who love skiing, snowshoeing and other winter sports, it’s a great opportunity for those who love to get into shape by hiking higher-elevation trails.
Here are a few that are ready to go:
This peak in the Olympics, west of Hoodsport, is one of the most popular hikes on the Olympic Peninsula.
Signs at the trailhead offer tips for glissading, but you won’t need them (although there is a rapidly melting patch of snow below the summit).
Once you clear the trees, you’ll take in one of the most stunning views in the state. Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams rise above the Hood Canal and Lake Cushman. The higher you go, the better the views.
Soon you can see Mount Baker and Glacier Peak. Once you reach the saddle below Mount Ellinor, the Olympics come into the picture.
Set your phone on panorama mode and you still can’t squeeze it all in.
The 6,280-foot summit of Mount Townsend offers views of the Olympics, Cascades, Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Like Ellinor, it lures scores of hikers each year, but the snow usually isn’t gone from the upper reaches of the broad peak until June.
Dressler says you still might encounter some snow up top, but it is quickly melting.
High Rock near Ashford is another classic trail that typically melts out in June.
It’s a short hike with big rewards. A fire lookout perched on a cliff provides in-your-face views of Mount Rainier. According to several reports there is still some snow on the trail in areas, but not enough to keep hikers from the 5,685-foot high point.
RAMPART RIDGE LOOP
Mount Rainier National Park got a dusting of fresh snow at Paradise last weekend, but there are still trails free of snow.
Staffers at the Longmire Wilderness Information Center say Eagle Peak is snow-free to the tree line.
The Rampart Ridge Loop near Longmire is usually a lovely snowshoe trip this time of year. Right now there’s no snow so standard hiking boots will do.
STATE ROUTE 410 CORRIDOR
Julie Okita of Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest says “just about everything is bare to about 4,000 feet” between Enumclaw and Mount Rainier National Park along state Route 410.
This means numerous popular trails such as Greenwater Lake, Skookum Flats and Snoquera Falls are ready for hikers. In fact, they’re already getting plenty of visitors, Okita said.
Interstate 90 CORRIDOR
The peaks around North Bend and Snoqualmie Pass have long been a good place to find a good workout hill in the winter and early spring.
Mount Si, Rattlesnake Ledge and Mailbox Peak draw hikers who want to rack up vertical while they train for bigger adventures. Many winters you’ll find snow up top.
Not this year. The peaks, like the ski resort just down Interstate 90, haven’t seen substantial snow most of the winter.
At the ranger station in North Bend, visitors are told, generally speaking, the hikes west of Exit 47 on Interstate 90 are snow-free.
There are exceptions. The upper slopes of 5,166-foot McClellan Butte (the trailhead is located near Exit 42) still has enough snow to create potentially tricky travel. So check with the ranger station before heading out.