Washington’s 10 Best Last-Minute Backpacking Destinations

Waited until the last minute to plan your weekend? Check out these 10 procrastinator getaways in Washington state.

The northwest boasts some of the country’s finest backcountry camping, along well-maintained trails, past gleaming alpine lakes, through thick forests, and underneath soaring peaks with unparalleled views. Many of these environments are fragile and vulnerable to overuse, and so they’ve been protected with permitting systems to limit foot traffic and preserve their natural ecosystems. There’s no doubt that permits are important where applicable, but they can also be a burden for indecisive, procrastinating parties.

If that sounds like you, then you need to read this list of Washington’s best backpacking trips that don’t require pre-planning. Many of these destinations still fly under the radar, so you can enjoy the solitude of the backcountry without any limitations.

1) Spider Gap to Buck Creek Pass Loop

Photo: Nick Lake

What: Hands down, this was the most rewarding backpacking trip I have experienced in Washington. Mountain passes, lakes, snow, perfectly preserved single-track trail, and stupid beautiful views of Glacier Peak await. Tack on a summit of Fortress Mountain to add some spice to this outrageously awesome trip.

Where: Glacier Peak Wilderness, central to northwest Washington

Stats:

  • 41 miles

  • 7900 feet elevation gain

  • 3-5 days

2) Circumnavigate Mt. St. Helens via the Loowit Trail

Photo: Isaac Desautels

What: I’m a big fan of looped trails that let you experience and entire circuit with little overlap, which is exactly what the Loowit does. This adventure varies between 28 and 36 miles depending on the trailhead you choose, and though camping is sparse, it’s free and unsupervised. For the extra ambitious, you could always turn this adventure into a 50k ultra run.

Where: Mt. St. Helens, southwest Washington

Stats:

  • 32 miles

  • 6000 feet elevation gain

  • 2-3 days

3) Lake of the Angels

Photo: Greg Balkin

What: In one of the most popular backpacking regions of the state, it’s difficult (and frankly, near impossible) to find a last-minute permit up for grabs anywhere in the Olympics. Luckily, this trail flies under the radar as a strenuous, steep, and deep destination that’s worth the effort to get to. Choose this adventure for an easy overnighter, or tack on Upper Lena Lake for a full weekend.

Where: Olympic National Forest, western Washington

Stats:

  • 8 miles

  • 3400 feet elevation gain

  • 1-2 days

4) Skyline Divide

Photo: Derek Cook

What: Get up close and personal with Mt. Baker on this 6000-foot high ridgeline that skirts the northern flank of Washington’s 3rd-highest peak. Be careful, this trail is only free of snow during a short summer window, so during the winter and shoulder seasons you’ll need to plan accordingly. This is another easy one-nighter option, about a 3-hour drive from Seattle.

Where: North Cascades, northwestern Washington

Stats:

  • 9 miles

  • 2500 feet elevation gain

  • 1-2 days

5) Horseshoe Basin

Photo: Thadd Zehnder

What: One of the most remote wilderness areas in the lower 48, the Pasayten Wilderness is home to impressive peaks, arctic tundra, and dangerous wildlife. This trail skirts along the Canadian border and rewards those who make the deep drive out here. No reservations required, simply pick up a free permit at the trailhead to fill out before you head in.

Where: Pasayten Wilderness, north-central Washington

Stats:

  • 20 miles

  • 3500 feet elevation gain

  • 2-3 days

6) Pratt Lake

Photo: Laura Howard

What: Experience one of the Seattle area’s most popular hike sans-crowds by backpacking in and camping out for the night. Extend your weekend with a trip to lower Tushcohatchie Lake, Melakwa Lake, or Kaleetan Lake.

Where: Snoqualmie Pass, western Washington

Stats:

  • 11 miles

  • 2300 feet elevation gain

  • 1-2 days

7) Kayak Camp on Stuart Island

Photo: Michael Gabbert

What: Here’s an alluring option for water-savvy adventurers. Stuart Island is only accessible by boat and features two main pay-on-site campgrounds (with plenty of mooring options). Even though space is limited, the island doesn’t require permits for campers, making it a unique overnight destination in one of the state’s most visited regions. Once there, you’ll experience jjagged coastal cliffsides, lush hiking trails, and frequent orca sightings.

Where: San Juan Islands, northwestern Washington

Stats:

  • 15-16 mile paddle from Friday Harbor, or 7-10 mile paddle from Roche Harbor

  • 2-3 days

8) Goat Lake

Photo: Felix Madrid

What: Mt. Rainier has a notoriously competitive permitting system, which is why it’s important to know about its less-frequented neighbor, the Goat Rocks Wilderness. According to the Forest Service, “much of the 120-mile trail system stays on the ridges at or above timberline,” which means you’re in for some epic views, high-alpine ecosystems, and bitter temps.

Where: Goat Rocks Wilderness, southwestern Washington

Stats:

  • 10.5+ miles

  • 1400 feet elevation gain

  • 1-3 days

9) Salmo-Priest Loop

Photo: Nienna Komorebi

What: We’ve been partial to the western half of the state so far in this list, but Colville National Forest deserves a spot on any Washingtonian’s adventure list. Spring and early summer are this trail’s recommended travel time for wildflower vistas. Plus, it’s a complete loop, which guarantees something new with each step.

Where: Colville National Forest, northeastern Washington

Stats:

  • 19 miles

  • 3400 feet elevation gain

  • 2-4 days

10) Chelan Lakeshore Trail

Photo: Nathan Wall

What: This point-to-point trail begins with a ferry ride and ends in the tiny town of Stehekin, accessible only by foot, boat, or plane. Explore the shores of the country’s third-deepest lake without bothering with overnight permits - though you should book your ferry tickets in advance, as these will sell out in the summer and leave you stranded lakeside (not the worst case scenario, in my opinion).

Where: North Cascades, central Washington

Stats:

  • 17 miles

  • 4000 feet elevation gain

  • 2-3 days

Cover photo: Derek Cook

Published: October 5, 2017

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Rachel DavidsonExplorer

Seattle

Mountain climbing, trail running, and writing all about it. New to Seattle! Hit me up to show me around or go on an adventure.