Great Places for Strolls, Walks and Hikes Near You
You don’t have to go far to find stunning scenic strolls through nature in the Pacific Northwest. There are numerous world-class urban hikes within or near our cities and towns. Read on to learn some of our favorites in Washington and Idaho.
Natural wonders dot the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, beckoning visitors and locals toward incredible adventures. The towering peaks in North Cascades and Mount Rainier National Parks, as well as the mountains, beaches and rainforest in Olympic National Park draw millions of visitors each year and are gorgeous outdoor destinations.
However, strolls through spectacular nature do not have to be limited to a few times a year in remote locations. In our cities and towns, community trails, urban hikes and local parks await. On these urban trails, find towering trees, hidden lakes, spectacular waterfalls, rocky beaches with mountain views, dense forests laden with moss and ferns, and slices of solitude and serenity.
The majority of the population of the Pacific Northwest is found around Puget Sound, but that doesn’t mean this area lacks serene parks of incredible beauty. Few trails are more picturesque than Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls in the state capital of Olympia. The crushed gravel loop trail crosses the Deschutes River twice, offering breathtaking views of waterfalls, and salmon can be spotted returning to spawn in the late summer and fall.
In Tacoma, you can’t go wrong along the paved, dirt and gravel paths of Point Defiance. This incredible city park has it all, from sweeping views of mountains, blooming flowers, dense forests and gorgeous shoreline. Along the water is an incredible spot to see whales, seals, sea lions and bald eagles. Head to Dune Peninsula for even more incredible views.
In Seattle, three trails are getaways from the stress and bustle of the city. The Lake Washington Boulevard Trail is a gem, with its mountain views and wildlife, and the chance to see boats on the water. After 3 miles, this trail connects with Seward Park, which is another fantastic spot to walk paved, gravel and dirt trails. The lakeside path is your best bet at Seward Park, with its rich ecosystem and glimpses of Mount Rainier.
Discovery Park is well worth the visit. Offering spectacular views of the Cascade and the Olympic Mountain ranges, this open space offers tranquility to those who wander the dirt trails and paved/gravel paths.
Up north, the city of Bellingham has roughly 80 miles of urban trails, the majority of which are gravel and accessible. Along the South Bay Trail, you’ll eventually leave the city and walk along a boardwalk alongside the Salish Sea before reaching the delightfully eclectic community of Fairhaven. Meanwhile, the gravel and dirt Whatcom Creek Trail leads through the forest with views of the waterfall. No urban hiking experience in Bellingham is complete without a walk around scenic Lake Padden, where lake views, fantastic forests and an escape from the stresses of the day are found on the gravel path.
As the fourth most-populated city in Washington and just across the Columbia River from Portland, Vancouver is no stranger to stunning urban and accessible trails. The Vancouver Lake Park Trail is a good place to start. This paved path follows the water toward a forest before transitioning to an easy and flat dirt/wood chip trail that is great for beginners to hike in nature. With minimal elevation gain, this trail affords great views of the lake, with occasional wildlife and wildflower sightings.
For a less-frequented trail, the paved Salmon Creek Greenway offers wonderful views of Mount Hood next to marshes and wooded areas. The Waterfront Renaissance Trail is a can’t-miss walk. From the trail, the views over the water are incredible with Mount Hood towering behind the Interstate bridge. From this paved trail, you can cross the Vancouver Land Bridge and into the Historic Reserve where Fort Vancouver is located.
The Tri-Cities, Wenatchee and Yakima
East of the Cascades, the accessible urban trails continue under sunny skies. The Apple Capital Loop trail in Wenatchee is a paved path that showcases the beauty of town established along the Columbia River.
Just outside of downtown Yakima, the Cowiche Canyon Trail was once part of the Burlington Northern Railroad used to transport the region’s apple crops. Now a gravel trail, the path offers an insight into the geology, culture and scenery of the area. Brandon Fralic, one of the authors of Urban Trails Washington, describes the Cowiche as one of his favorite trails in the state.
Out in the Tri-Cities, the Riverfront Trail is a paved path that connects the three cities, showcasing the towns, landscape and waterways of the region. The whole trail is 20 miles in length, but for the maximum reward, cross one of the bridges over the Columbia River.
The Inland Empire and North Idaho
If you are in Spokane or Coeur d’Alene, a handful of urban trails offer the perfect excuse for a day out in nature. Guidebook author Rich Landers recommends starting at Riverside State Park. The park has 55 miles of trails to wander, including ADA accessible sections. Expect pine forests, fantastic river views and plenty of picnic and rest spots to soak in the experience. Plus, check out the paved Centennial Trail, which follows the Spokane River and finishes at Higgins Point, east of Coeur d’Alene.
The highlight of urban hiking in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is found near the Coeur d’Alene resort. At the resort, a floating boardwalk extends into Lake Coeur d’Alene, giving over a half mile of walking on the water. The views here are exquisite, both of the lake and the rugged landscape surrounding the shimmering water. The rugged, dirt trails at nearby Tubbs Hill make for a bit more of a secluded walk, offering even greater views of North Idaho.
–Written by Douglas Scott
–Top photo is of the Apple Capital Recreation Loop trail, Wenatchee. By Gene Bisbee/Flickr