Best Places for Early Spring Weather and Outdoor Activities
The days are growing longer, and warmer temperatures are on the horizon. Spring fever is starting to creep into our lives. When the first buds sprout on the deciduous trees, and the sunny rays burst through the seemingly impenetrable gray clouds, a rekindled energy washes over the region.
Despite the better weather, spring also brings in rainstorms around the state, leaving many searching for a place to escape in the sun. Breaks in the clouds bring sunny days, giving us all a chance to hit the road and bask in the warm beams.
The Olympic Rain Shadow
It may seem counterintuitive to head to the notoriously wet Olympic Peninsula for sun. Thanks to the Olympic rain shadow, storms and moisture rolling in from the coast are blocked by the mountains, creating a sphere of minimal rain and better weather on the northeast peninsula and San Juan Islands.
One of the best spots to enjoy the Olympic rain shadow is the town of Sequim. Those hoping to make the most of a rain shadow day should explore the Olympic Discovery Trail. The Sequim segment is paved, giving accessible biking and walking to all. North of town, hiking along Dungeness Spit lets you breathe in the salty air while wandering the sandy beach. Head to Slab Camp Creek, south of Sequim, for a walk in the woods. On the Slab Camp Creek and Gray Wolf River Trail, the sunlight will dance through the trees as you find solitude in the wilderness.
The San Juan Islands benefit from the rain shadow, making them another time-tested gem to get out of the rain. One classic spring adventure is to bike Lopez Island. The island is large enough to ride either a short distance or an all-day outing, letting you maximize your exploration. Hikers can enjoy the trails on the southern side of San Juan Island National Historic Park. Walking around South Beach gives you a glimpse of the rain shadow effects of the Olympic Mountains in the distance, while also allowing for incredible views on the trail to Grandma’s Cove.
South Central Washington
In South Central Washington, three areas can give you blue skies and fantastic outdoor adventures. The trails and paths near White Salmon start to pop with wildflowers as the sun rays heat the region in April and May. A hidden gem of a hike north of White Salmon is the Weldon Wagon Trail. A 5-mile round trip with moderate elevation gain, this trail is known by locals for its sweeping views and great spring wildflowers. The wildflower wonderland continues along the trails found at the Catherine Creek trailhead.
One of the gems is the Catherine Creek West Loop Hike, a 3.4-mile loop where blooming flowers bring color to the landscape from March through May. Across the Columbia River near the town of Mosier, Oregon, the Twin Tunnels Trail is an excellent place for bikers to ride through tunnels and emerge to bask in the sun while enjoying river views.
The trails around Goldendale are reliably sunny in the spring and also teeming with wildflowers. Right along the Columbia River, Maryhill State Park is a nice place to wander along the water, fish, swim, or just sit and enjoy the sun. Be sure to check out the Stonehenge Memorial, dedicated to the lives lost in World War I, a mile away.
Wanting a biking or hiking adventure? The Klickitat Trail is an unpaved rail trail that runs for 31 miles, giving great views and the chance to wander in the warmth. On the Oregon side of the Columbia, the Deschutes River hike is another multi-use trail for bikers and hikers hoping for a great day in the spring weather. The trail is over 22 miles in length, but any distance traveled will be enjoyable.
Farther up the Columbia River, you’ll find plenty of spring sun adventures around the Tri-Cities. Your best bet for outdoor exploration is found around Richland. The Rattlesnake Slope Wildlife Area offers 5 miles round trip of hiking with moderate elevation gain, where wildflowers and wildlife are common sights in the spring months.
The Chamna Natural Preserve is another great destination. The preserve has 11 miles of trails that wind along various terrain, from shrub-steppe, riparian, and wetland habitat, all within a stone’s throw of the Yakima River. South of town, the Badger Mountain Loop is a jewel of a trek to enjoy the warmth of the sun. With no shade, this 3.3-mile loop starts to see wildflowers blooming in March.
Central and North Central Washington
With most of the rain and clouds blocked by the Cascades mountains, a handful of locations in Central and North Central Washington make for the perfect sunny-day destination. Right off of Interstate 90, a half-dozen trails help sun seekers make the most of clear skies and warm temperatures around Vantage.
A classic place to start is at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest Interpretive Trails. At Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, you’ll find a total of 3 miles of trails showing off the Columbia River, petrified wood and petroglyphs. Off Vantage Highway, the hiking at the Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area gives you wildflowers to wander near in the spring as you follow boot paths and old roads through the shrub-steppe. On the east side of the Columbia River, Frenchman Coulee is a fantastic spot to enjoy the sun in relative solitude.
In the spring, wildflowers bloom along this stunning, 4-mile round-trip trail that leads to a seasonal waterfall. Nearby, the Gorge Amphitheater Trail and the Ancient Lakes Trail let you take in the wondrous geology of the region while wandering in the sun. Those looking for a biking adventure under the blue sky should check out the 13-mile stretch from Beverly to Smyrna of the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail.
West of Yakima, the trails at Snow Mountain Ranch offer incredible sunny-day experiences. A 9.2-mile round-trip trail offers views of Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, wildflowers and elk in the lower lands. In the Yakima River Canyon, Umtanum Creek Canyon is a seasonally open wildflower wonderland, giving amazing views and a chance to see bighorn sheep while on the 6.5-mile round-trip trail.
Sun lovers can find a slice of natural beauty in North Central Washington. Near Chelan, those hoping for an easy day can walk or ride their bikes around town with ease. Paddlers and boaters also can get right out on the water here.
More adventurous folks have their choice of a few trails that allow for early wildflower sightings and a full day in the sun. Echo Ridge is a classic spring adventure, giving sweeping views of Lake Chelan under the blue sky. Wildflowers bring color to the slopes in the late spring, making this a great stop. The Chelan Lakeshore Trail is a bit more of an adventure, requiring a ferry to the trailhead at Prince Creek and then a ferry ride back from the remote town of Stehekin. Why go through this effort? This trail is remote and wild, which makes it the perfect early-season backpacking adventure.
A drive to Wenatchee gives even more opportunities to enjoy the spring sun. The Saddle Rock trailhead leads hikers to a geologic wonder surrounded by spring wildflowers. The 2-mile round-trip trail also gives a fantastic view of Wenatchee. Also accessible from town is the 3.8-mile Balsamroot Trail, where you can enjoy the great bloom of the namesake flowers along the trail.
Mountain bikers looking for an enjoyable ride should head to the Lightning Trail just west of town. Part of a larger trail system, the Lightning Trail is known for great views and more wildflowers. The Apple Capital Loop Trail is another great option, giving bikers and walkers a chance to soak up the sun along the Columbia River, from Wenatchee’s Hydro Park up to Lincoln Rock State Park, a total distance of 22 miles.
Winthrop and the Methow Valley are fantastic options to find a sunny-day trek. Just outside of Winthrop, the short and steep Patterson Mountain Trail is a perfect spring hike. The spring sun brings with it a bloom of wildflowers in every direction, letting you bask in the smells and sights of the sun-drenched wonderland.
In addition, near Winthrop, the 5-mile round-trip Lewis Butte Trail is another sunny-day gem, giving minimal shade and maximum views. Finally, the Methow Wildlife Area is a great place to bike on dirt roads or wander the area’s trails, highlighted by wildflowers and new blooms growing from the nurturing rays of the spring sun.
–Written by Douglas Scott, last updated in October 2022