Some hikes around Washington are super well-known and well-trodden. These are the Lake 22s, Rattlesnake Ledges, Talapus Lakes, and Snow Lakes of the region. They’re popular for a reason–I’ve done several of them, and Snow Lake and Lake 22 remain a couple of my favorite hikes thus far, even with the crowding. But there’s also something to be said for finding a trail that is a bit under the radar, and that’s exactly how Mount Washington felt. A little treasure waiting to be discovered.
Mount Washington Trail Review
- Hiked: mid-January
- Distance from Seattle: 40 minutes
- Accessibility: Supremely easy. Trailhead is right off the highway; there’s only a very short dirt/gravel road from highway 90.
- Length: 8.5 miles round trip (but I clocked in more around 9)
- Difficulty: 7/10
- Crowds: 9/10
- Trail views: 7/10
- Water features: 5/10
- Overall: 7.5/10
When we arrived at the trailhead shortly before 9 am on a holiday, the parking lot was about 1/2 full. The bathroom was fully stocked with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and it was actually a “free day”–usually you need a Discover Pass to park here, but as it was a holiday, it was free.
Finding the trail was a little bit tricky. I’m glad I had taken screenshots of the Washington Trails Association trail description to follow it as we hiked, because there are no signs for Mount Washington until more than halfway up the mountain! While I did have cellphone service for the first part of the trail here, it’s always a good idea to have screenshots because oftentimes you lose cell service before you arrive at the trailhead.
The trail begins right at the parking lot a hundred feet or so from the restroom, and climbs up a small dirt path until reaching a gravel road. You’ll turn right at the gravel road, and walk along it for a few minutes. Follow the signs for Twin Falls until you reach this trail heading up the mountain to your left.
The trail climbs almost immediately from the start; to climb 3,250 feet in just over 4 miles requires a steady climb! The majority of the trail is quite rocky as you wind through the forested portion (maybe about 2/3 of the trail or so). There are several stream crossings as well, which is always fun!
I did not particularly enjoy how rocky it was; it’s not the easiest on your feet/ankles. It also wasn’t the most beautiful and interesting trail along the way. Nonetheless, the rockiness wasn’t so terrible that I wouldn’t recommend going. You get peeks of the mountains as you climb when there are breaks in the forest, but in general it’s a fairly dense forested hike until you’re close to the top.
The trail got a lot nicer when we hit the ice and snow. Armed with microspikes, it was easier to navigate the icy terrain than it was to climb through the rocky portions. I can’t comment on if the trail continues to be rocky where the snow/ice is in the summertime…I’ll have to return then and update y’all!
As you wind up through the ice and snow, the trail narrows and there are quite a few brambles/branches to navigate. Be sure to be careful when passing others on the trail; if you step off the trail, your foot can sink quite a bit into the snow. Also, you start to get into more sunshine during the final 1/3 of the trail, so be sure to put on sunblock again here.
By the last bit of the trail, I was feeling it in my quads and in general was getting tired. It probably didn’t help that I had done a 10 mile hike 2 days before and also had run 3 miles the evening beforehand. Note to future self: don’t go on a run the evening before a big hike.
The last portion of the trail cuts up through the forest until you reach an opening, at which point Mount Rainier is visible on the lefthand side, provided the clouds are cooperating. While we were enjoying this area right near the peak, Rainier came in and out of view many times with the movement of the clouds. So when you see an opening, take your pictures quickly!
By the time we arrived at the top at 11:45 am, we had passed about 4 hiking groups on their way down, and there were a couple groups there that had arrived before us. There isn’t a ton of space near the top, but it was definitely sufficient for picnicking.
We stayed near the peak for about an hour and 15 minutes. The actual peak is tiny and quite frigid with the wind factor, but amazing for mountain views.
There were many more groups hanging out at the top by the time we started our descent. So be sure to arrive at the trailhead early-ish to have the best chance of avoiding other hikers. Even with increased people sightings on our way down, it still did not feel like a “crowded” hike by any means. I also thought it was entertaining to hear Mount Washington referred to as a “good conditioning hike”–I thought it was nice and challenging as a stand-alone! It made me wonder for what hike some people use Mt. Washington as training.
We headed down the mountain after taking in some final views of Rainier. It took us 2 hours to descend and we were thrilled to see the car after a challenging hike!
Here’s some key gear that I used on this hike!*
Gore-tex hiking boots: An absolute must for this hike and many others in Washington. These Vasque boots are the ones I have; they’re not available right now and I’m not sure if/when they will be available again, but these look like the updated version. I’ve stomped through so many streams in these without ever getting wet! They also have a Vibram sole and great ankle support. Every time I think about how I did all my hiking in running shoes for years as a late teen through my mid-twenties, I cringe and wonder why it took me so long to return to a trusty hiking boot.
Microspikes: While we did see a handful of hikers without spikes (and in running shoes, no less!) I would not have felt comfortable, particularly on the way down, without spikes. I have both these Kahtoola spikes and these SpringK spikes and both worked fantastically well (my brother in law used one pair!) We only have used them each once, so time will tell with regards to durability, but I can confirm excellent functionality of both.
A merino wool base layer: Hiking in winter temperatures is no joke. It can be hard to feel comfortable while working up a sweat in cold weather. I recently bought a Smartwool 250 top and I am completely obsessed with it. It keeps me warm while hiking, but wicks away sweat better than any other item I’ve owned. These can be expensive (I only have one that I rewear and rewear…) but it’s a worthy investment for winter hiking.
Until next time, Mount Washington!
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2 replies on “Mount Washington in the Winter”
I just noticed how very different the tree line is in Washington. The crown is more open, like the trees are rushing to put on height and forget to fill in the branches. Also, it seems like every tree is so singular, less a forest then a stand of rugged individuals! Love the views. Can’t wait to make this hike this summer. By the way, why weren’t there more pictures of your studdly hiking buddy? Loved the pictures of you airborne. Nice job. California John
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Haha funny comments about the trees–some of them are pretty sparse! The views were outrageous, even with all the clouds. In a way the clouds made it even more magical and mysterious. I’m curious to see what they look like without clouds. Summer will be an excellent time to hike this one!
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