Vistas leave us breathless and reverent, feeling serene as we perch above a rippling coastline or stand eye-level with mountaintops. In Washington, we have our pick of mesmerizing views, though it’s arguably the Olympics and Cascades that make our vistas special.
Washington’s fickle weather can make vista-hunting tricky. Weather and aviation websites, such as The National Weather Service and Air Sports Net, offer a way to identify the best times for views. For example, if I see the cloud base forecast for the airport closest to my hike is above 12,000 feet from 8:00 a.m.–11:00 a.m., I know I’ll have a decent chance at a Mount Rainier view. I adjust my hike time to get to the vista within that window.
Here are my favorite hikes near Seattle for spectacular vistas:
Buckhorn Mountain (Southwest Peak)
13 miles roundtrip, 4,400 feet elevation gain, Hood Canal Ranger District-Quilcene
Located northeast of Marmot Pass, Buckhorn Mountain is a test of endurance and mental fortitude after an already blustery hike to Marmot Pass. The views, however, are worth it: a skyline of Olympic peaks stretch along the horizon, with the five major volcanoes in Washington State visible on a clear day. Proceed carefully on the short scramble to the peak.
Crystal Mountain Resort
Mileage and elevation gain vary; see the resort’s hiking trail map for more information.
Located on the northeastern side of Mount Rainier off Highway 410, Crystal Mountain Resort is a fantastic place to soak in mountain and wildflower views. Take a summertime gondola ride (dogs allowed) to the summit, where you can walk the ridge line, hike back down, or have a picnic lunch.
5.2 miles roundtrip, 300 feet elevation gain, Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve
Southwest of Coupeville on Whidbey Island, Ebey’s Landing boasts a sprawling vista of Admiralty Inlet, a breezy, walkable stretch of beach, and views of Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and the Olympics from the trail. Less than three miles away, the town of Coupeville is a worthwhile side trip for a bite to eat or window shopping
7.3 miles roundtrip, 2700 feet elevation gain, Cle Elum Ranger District
About 30 miles north of Cle Elum is a rewarding hike on a cobbled trail to a sharp-edged panorama of slate-gray Mount Stuart and the Stuart Range. Pick up Iron Peak Trail 1399 from Forest Road 9737, heading east. Reach a saddle after 3.0 miles, then turn right (south) to follow an unsigned boot path to the summit.
10.5 miles roundtrip, 3,000 feet elevation gain, Cle Elum Ranger District
Commonly accessed via the Rachel Lake Trailhead, Lila Lake is an exquisite alpine lake surrounded by meadows and tucked among peaks of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Visit in fall to bypass the summer crowds and enjoy the dusky red, orange, and yellow vegetation encircling the lake.
Silver Forest Trail
2.0 miles roundtrip, 250 feet elevation gain, Mount Rainier National Park-White River Ranger Station
In the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park is a short, family-friendly hike near the Sunrise Visitor Center to show-stopping views of Mount Rainier and Emmons Glacier. Pick up a trail map and check out informative exhibits at Sunrise Visitor Center.
Summit Lake Peak
6.2 miles roundtrip, 1500 feet elevation gain, Snoqualmie Ranger District-Enumclaw
North of Mount Rainier is a rewarding two-for-one adventure, combining a visit to cool, sparkling, Summit Lake with a dead-on view of Mount Rainier from Summit Lake Peak. If you’ve already explored Summit Lake, head to nearby Bearhead Mountain for a slightly steeper but comparably gratifying hike.