Go Lowland Hiking | Top 10 Spring Hikes

By the time spring rolls around we are glad to see the snow melt. Though the snowy high country is sublime our hearts begin to yearn for that first long trill of a Varied Thrush, the pink flash of a salmonberry blossom, the blinding white blossoms of trilliums and at higher elevations, flowery constellations of yellow glacier lilies and white avalanche lilies.

Spring is bi-polar. Summer one minute, winter the next. Trails may be snow-free but are often muddy. Wear boots and gaiters and dress accordingly. Get an up-to-date weather forecast, check with the park before you go to make sure the trail you want to explore is open.

Be prepared for the unexpected any time of the year and enjoy our bountiful park.

Our Top 10 Spring Hikes are:

  1. Melmont Ghost Town – Easy | Carbon River Area
  2. Packwood Lake – Easy | Packwood Area
  3. Rainforest Nature Loop Trail – Easy | Carbon River Area
  4. Lower Eastside Trail – Moderate | Ohanapecosh Area
  5. Laughingwater Creek Trail – Strenuous | Ohanapecosh Area
  6. Greenwater Lakes – Easy | Chinook Pass Area
  7. Trail of the Shadows – Easy | Longmire Area
  8. Rampart Ridge – Moderate | Longmire Area
  9. Boundary Trail – Moderate | Carbon River Area
  10. Palisades Trail – Easy | Chinook Pass Area

1)  Melmont Ghost Town – Easy | Carbon River Area
History buffs will enjoy this hike following an abandoned railroad grade that once ran between Fairfax and Carbonado. The town dates back to the early 1900s and included a train depot, hotel and cottages used by coal miners. By the 1920s the mines had closed; a forest fire destroyed most of the town. More details about this hike

2)  Packwood Lake – Easy | Packwood Area
Agnes Island, Packwood Lake - Karen SykesAlthough the grocery store and resort at Packwood Lake are now long gone, the lake is a beautiful destination with an island, views, a historic guard station at the lakeshore plus the hiking is easy. In spring, the trail is lush with evergreens, moss and early-season wildflowers including beargrass. Though also popular with mountain bikers, ATVs and fishermen the lake is large enough for solitude. You can make a loop by hiking the Pipeline Trail back to the trailhead (the route used by wheeled vehicles, a more scenic route than you might anticipate). More details about this hike

3) Rainforest Nature Loop Trail – Easy | Carbon River Area
Old puncheon, skunk cabbage Rain Forest Nature Trail Carbon KSThe Carbon River Entrance of the park is open year-round and most of the day-hikes in the area are forested and lush with thick mosses, lichen and a thriving understory. An easy hike for hikers of all ages is the Rainforest Nature Trail, a short trail that loops through floating lanterns of skunk cabbage on ancient puncheon.  The trail skirts boggy areas on boardwalks and foot bridges; even when it’s not actively raining this is a wet place.  A connection to The Boundary Trail is present for hikers wanting more of a workout. More details about this hike

4) Lower Eastside Trail – Moderate | Ohanapecosh Area
A good bridge spans Ohanapecosh Falls KS EastsideThe Ohanapecosh Campground opens in spring; hike as far as stamina and conditions allow. Allow this trail, gape at impressive waterfalls formed by melting snow, cross gurgling tributaries on pretty bridges and look for a variety of ferns and early spring wildflowers  including stream violets, salmonberry, flowering red currant, Indian plum and vanilla leaf. This fairy-tale trail is a living museum of moss and lichen everywhere you look. More details about this hike

5) Laughingwater Creek Trail – Strenuous | Ohanapecosh Area
Getting in shape for those long, summer hikes? This trail is quiet and ideal for hikers seeking solitude as well as a conditioning hike. This steep trail not only provides a workout, but it’s guaranteed to enchant you with views of shaggy-barked Alaska cedars, spring wildflowers, ferns, small grassy meadows interspersed with ponds and just about the time you’re tuckered out — voila! A historic guard station and Three Lakes. More details about this hike

6) Greenwater Lakes – Easy | Chinook Pass Area
HPIM1206 - purchased - MJGreenwater Lakes can be reached year-round, though spring might be its best time of year. It’s only three gorgeous miles to the first of the lakes with 475 feet gain. The forested trail is guaranteed to dazzle with a view of a waterfall before you even get to the Greenwater River which is crossed on a sturdy bridge. Here are the first views of the aptly-named lake which is indeed very green. The trail is family friendly with options to extend your hike to Lost or Echo Lake. Spacious campsites are available, ideal for a beginner’s backpack. More details about this hike

7) Trail of the Shadows – Easy | Longmire Area
A view of Mt Rainier from Trail of the ShadowsThe trail starts across from the National Park Inn. Hike counterclockwise, read the interpretive signs and peek into a historic cabin built by the Longmire family. The trail dips in and out of the forest at times skirting a meadow taken over by beavers. Stop at Rusty Springs also known as “Iron Mike”. Many decades ago visitors came to bask in the springs seeking relief for various ailments. As you continue hiking note the old-growth trees and a spur that leads to more hot springs. In spring see skunk cabbage along the trail; pretty footbridges invite contemplation. More details about this hike

8) Rampart Ridge – Moderate | Longmire Area
The Rampart Ridge Trail climbs steeply to an overlook providing views of the Nisqually River, the National Park Inn and nearby peaks. Keep an eye out for deer and other wildlife. Notice the various mosses and lichen clinging to the trees. Opportunities abound for enjoying the forest community. If the snow has melted you can complete the Rampart Ridge loop by continuing and turning right onto the Wonderland Trail that descends to Longmire or retrace your route back to the Trail of the Shadows, where the trail begins. Be prepared for snow patches through June. More details about this hike

9) Boundary Trail – Moderate | Carbon River Area
boundaryTrail_3This is a forested hike leading to a waterfall on a historic trail that once circumnavigated the park. This hike starts on the Rain Forest Nature Trail to a designated junction with the Boundary Trail. Continue to the waterfall and/or continue climbing as far as desire/experience allow. The old-growth trees will compel you to stop and take a second look at ancient Douglas firs and Western red cedars some of which are approaching record-growth statistics.  See more skunk cabbage on this nature trail than perhaps anywhere else inside the park. More details about this hike

10) Palisades Trail – Easy | Chinook Pass Area
HPIM1652 - Palisades Trail - Mary JanosikWhen it still feels, like winter the Palisades often feels like spring. Look for delicate Calypso orchids; enjoy the scent of vanilla leaf, and view the groundcover — a thick carpet of salal, Oregon grape, ferns, moss and lichen. Lower Dalles Falls puts on a spectacular display from snow-melt and a spur leads to its base. Climb switchbacks and a stairway to a promontory overlooking the White River Valley, Sun Top Mountain and foothills. Explore more overlooks further along the trail; all with views. More details about this hike

About The Author

Karen Sykes

Karen (1943-2014) was a Washington native, born in Shelton and lived in Washington most of her life. She started to hike in 1979 and joined The Mountaineers the following year. By the 1980s she was leading hikes for the Seattle branch of The Mountaineers. Around the same time, she began writing articles for Signpost Magazine (Pack and Paddle) and contributed to so many hiking reports that her name became familiar to other hikers. She was contacted by The Seattle Post Intelligencer to write the "Hike of the Week" which turned into years of writing this weekly column, until The Seattle Post Intelligencer stopped their printing presses in 2009. Two of Karen's books have been published by Mountaineer Books - Hidden Hikes (out of print) and Best Wildflower Hikes with Al Kruckeberg and Craig Romano. Karen was as passionate about photography as she was about hiking and both The Seattle Times and The Seattle Post Intelligencer have published her photographs.