Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail doesn’t mean you have to take off five to six months from life to hike the 2,652 miles from Mexico to Canada. There are plenty of ways to enjoy hiking the PCT without having to quit your job. Hikers can enjoy this popular, scenic trail by doing a day hike, overnight/weekend backpacking trip or a section hike. Those who live in and around the Seattle area are lucky to have three of the best PCT day hikes within one to two hours of them. These day hikes will lead adventurers to plenty of gorgeous views, breathtaking ridges and refreshing lakes, all located along the PCT.
Hike #1: Kendall Katwalk
Location: Snoqualmie Region – Snoqualmie Pass
Length: 12 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2600 ft.
Highest Point: 5400 ft.
In less than an hour from Seattle, the trailhead for Kendall Katwalk resides just off of Exit 52 – “West Summit” east on I-90. A Northwest Forest Pass is required when parking your car at the trailhead.
You get a little bit of all of the PNW’s hiking best with Kendall Katwalk. As you make your way through this popular hike through the beginning of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, you’ll travel through old growth forests, see plenty of wildflowers (when in season) and be wowed with incredible mountain views on a clear day. If you extend your day hike another mile past the Katwalk, you’ll come across two lakes: Gravel Lake and Ridge Lake, which make excellent lunch spots and are easy places to filter water should you need any.
The thing I love the most about this hike is that the scenery constantly changes as you make your way towards the Katwalk. From the trailhead, you’ll walk through a nice, shady forest. About two miles into the hike, the trail opens up to a talus field. A little bit further, the trail starts to climb again and goes back into a shady forest. From here, the trail changes into an old-growth forest with campsites sprinkled throughout the area. The trail eventually opens up again to an exposed steep hillside with plenty of rocks. Be sure to watch your step. When the switchbacks start on the hillside, the rocks will turn into countless wildflowers (when in season).
If the aroma of the wildflowers doesn’t seduce you then the incredible mountain views will. On a clear day, you can see Mount Rainier waving in the distance. Continue on up and over until you arrive at the Katwalk where you will be greeted with views of both sides of the pass, right below Kendall Peak. For the lake lunch spot, continue on the trail a mile past the Katwalk where you’ll travel over more rocks and another talus field until you arrive at two lakes, Ridge Lake will be on your right and Gravel Lake will be on your left.
Late Fall, Winter and Spring conditions can make this trail challenging with new and lingering snow so be sure to check the trip reports for current trail conditions on the WTA website. https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/kendall-katwalk
Hike #2: Lake Valhalla
Location: Central Cascades – Stevens Pass
Length: 10 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1500 ft.
Highest Point: 5050 ft.
In less than two hours east from Seattle, the trailhead for Lake Valhalla resides right off of Hwy 2, on the south side of the pass from the Stevens Pass Ski Resort. There are actually two trailheads for this trail. The first is the Smithbrook trailhead which is located 2.5 miles up Forest Service Road 6700 with the turnoff for the road being 3.5 miles east of Stevens Pass. The
second trailhead is the official PCT trailhead heading northbound, which is directly across the street from Stevens Pass in the parking lot, behind the power station. When I do this day hike, I like to start from the official PCT trailhead since I want to hike as much of the PCT as I can while I’m out there and it’s a slightly longer hike then starting from Smithbrook. A Northwest Forest Pass is required when parking your car at the trailhead.
Not only is the end destination a lake, which makes a refreshing reward on a hot summer day, but you’ll also pass over rivers and see waterfalls along your way. The hike to Lake Valhalla from Stevens Pass starts off along an old rail bed and is fairly flat for the first mile or so. Eventually the trail pops into a covered forest area and then opens up into a couple of meadow areas.
During the summer months, this area of the trail is littered with wild berries. Give yourself a little extra time to pick a few. They’re delicious. If you’re doing this hike in August and September, you’ll see plenty of PCT thru-hikers making their way towards the Canadian border. Back on the trail, the trail climbs up and over to the basin where Lake Valhalla sits. You’ll pass through a couple of established campsites on your way down to the lake. Bring plenty of snacks and enjoy the warm summer day at the lake with a sandy beach to lounge on.
During the winter, Lake Valhalla can be accessible by snowshoe. Be sure to check the trip reports for current trail conditions on the WTA website along with the Lake Valhalla Snowshoe WTA page for more details. The route and access point for snowshoeing will be different than the hiking route.
Hike #3: Josephine Lake
Location: Central Cascades – Stevens Pass
Length: 10.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1800 ft.
Highest Point: 5150 ft.
In less than two hours east from Seattle, the trailhead for Josephine Lake resides right off of Hwy 2, on the south side of the pass at the Stevens Pass Ski Resort. The trailhead can be accessed from the parking lot just east of the ski area. A Northwest Forest Pass is required when parking your car at the trailhead.
I love spending time during the winter up at Stevens Pass. When I first discovered the Josephine Lake day hike, I fell more in love with Stevens Pass because it meant I could now enjoy my favorite wintertime place during the summer months as well. This is a great hike to do when its
warm and sunny out because the brisk lake provides a refreshing reward at the end along with plenty of incredible views along the way.
The trail to Josephine Lake starts on the front side of the Stevens Pass Ski Resort where hikers head south along the PCT. The trail starts off by going through a forested area and along a series of switchbacks underneath the Tye Mill ski lift as it climbs up to 1,000 feet within the first two miles of the hike. At the end of the climb, the trail reaches the top of the backside of the
resort. From here, the trail descends on the other side of the pass where you’ll see numerous wildflowers, talus fields and travel underneath powerlines. Along the way, the trail passes by Lake Susan Jane. Be sure to keep going. This isn’t your final destination. The trail then climbs up and over a small pass and eventually comes to a junction for Icicle Creek Trail 1551. To reach Josephine Lake, get off the PCT, make a left and take the Icicle Creek Trail 1551 down the trail for a mile. Here you’ll be greeted with a gorgeous and cold alpine lake along with several established campsites and plenty of great lunch spots along the water’s shore. If you’re doing
this day hike in August and September, you will more than likely run into quite a few PCT thru- hikers making their way towards the Canadian border.
One thought on “The 3 Best Pacific Crest Trail Day Hikes Close to Seattle”
Isn’t the Pacific Northwest gorgeous! Living in Vancouver I feel so lucky to have so many wonderful hiking opportunities close by. Time to start making that summer list 😀