The Pacific Northwest is brimming with famous national parks and treasures that top the bucket-list of brave explorers across the globe. While the popular attractions should definitely rank high on your to-do list, the area also boasts plenty of hidden gems that are off the beaten path, but no less enjoyable than their famous neighbors. In fact, their lower crowds and undisturbed wilderness make them even better!
If you’re planning your Pacific Northwest vacation, be sure to include some of these lesser-known landscapes in your itinerary.
Hoh Rain Forest Loop, Olympic National Park
You might not immediately think ‘Washington’ when you think ‘rainforest’, but the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park says you should. This temperate jungle has everything you’d expect for a magical rainforest adventure: giant conifer trees, vibrant plants and flora overlapping in splendid color, along with plentiful wildlife.
The Hoh Rain Forest Loop Trail is a short, family-friendly stroll through three popular trails in the Hoh Rain Forest. You’ll begin on The Mini Trail, a short-paved loop that gives a nice introduction to the forest and provides access to several other trailheads for deeper exploration. When you reach the junction, head right to access the Spruce Nature Trail, an easy 1.2-mile loop that takes you through lush old-growth forest and along the Hoh River before winding back to the Mini Trail. When you return, take the opposite loop for the .8-mile Hall of Mosses Trail, where you can explore the towering trees draped in thick sheets of dense, vibrant moss before returning to The Mini Trail and the parking lot.
Capitol Reef National Park
Overshadowed by the nearby Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden gem in southern Utah that should be high on your itinerary. This natural treasure features amazing geological wonders like the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline where a wrinkle in the earth almost 100 miles long has formed deep canyons and interesting formations across the surface.
Hiking, canyoneering, and rock climbing are popular ways to explore the diverse landscapes of the park. Head to the small town of Fruita inside the park to stroll through vibrant fruit orchards (and grab a fresh snack of their abundant limbs), view the ancient petroglyphs left by the native Fremont people nearly 1,000 years ago, and hike to the Capitol Dome to see the amazing rock formation that looks just like the U.S. Capitol.
This 5.5-mile loop in the Mount Rainier National Park takes you through the best scenes in Paradise, the park’s southern hub. Your journey will take you through subalpine meadows brimming with wildflowers and along the majestic Nisqually glacier before climbing to Panorama Point. Here, you’re treated to stunning views of Paradise Valley all the way to Mount Hood. The second leg of your journey will treat you to such icons as the Stevens-Van Trump Memorial and the impressive cascade of Myrtle Falls before winding back to the trailhead.
The trail can be completed in either direction from the trailhead behind the Jackson Visitor Center. A clockwise direction quickly offers impressive views and lots of ancillary trails to explore, while a counter-clockwise loop has a slower elevation gain and a more tranquil beginning.
Maple Pass Loop (Wenatchee, WA)
A few miles south of Maple Falls, this classic loop is the epitome of a perfect Washington hike. Its diverse landscape changes with the seasons, boasting vibrant ridges coated with colorful wildflowers in the summer, tranquil lakes framed by golden larches and resplendent foliage in the fall, and of course, plenty of stunning views of the snow-topped Cascade peaks.
The 6.5-mile loop can be hiked in either direction. Both ways will bring you to the same sights: serene Lake Anne in her dramatic talus field, and Heather Pass, the starting point for several auxiliary trails that wind into the Cascades. But the crowning jewel is Maple Pass, a 7,000-foot high-point that offers unmatched views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains in all directions.
The Crescent Beach Hike, Cannon Beach
This short, but moderate, hike leads to the ultimate reward: a hidden beach featuring a small waterfall, teeming tide pools, and intricate caves to explore (when the tide is low). Though the wildly popular Cannon Beach isn’t far away and is easier to access, the journey to Crescent Beach from Ecola Point is well worth the effort for its picturesque seclusion.
The trail begins at a clearly marked trailhead just off Ecola Point. You’ll meander through dense forests of spruce and alder trees, across lush gullies and trickling streams, and along towering cliffs that offer stunning views of the coastline and beaches below. After traversing a series of switchbacks in and out of the forest, you’ll follow the sign to Crescent Beach and begin a harrowing descent toward the shore. Shed your shoes and explore the beach, but don’t lose them – you’ll need them for the trek back!
Note: The Crescent Beach Trail is often muddy and has some seriously staggering switchbacks, making it a challenging trek suited to experienced hikers.
Mount Grant Preserve, San Juan Islands
The Mount Grant Preserve may be San Juan’s best-kept secret. This 250 acres of protected landscape offers nearly 5 miles of hiking trails through native forest, vibrant meadows, and sky-high ridges. If you trek all the way to the ridgetop summit, you’ll be rewarded with a striking view of three of Washington’s five volcanoes in the distance: Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and Glacier Peak.
The preserve is still under construction, and visitors are strongly encouraged to stick to the designated trails to protect the fragile ecosystem. Each trailhead can be accessed from the parking lot at West Valley Road.