As a fair-weather hiker who avoids rainy walks like I shun liver and okra at dinnertime, I marvel that countless Washingtonians choose to hike in the rain. Many will tell you they enjoy it.
Lauren Braden’s “52 Ways to Nature: Washington,” published by Seattle’s Mountaineers Books in May, devotes an entire chapter to the pursuit. What’s the appeal? Unlike the pull of the high country during sunny weather, Braden says the rainy season is the time to go low and make new discoveries.
River valleys, she writes, “are at their most glorious when pelted with rain and shrouded in mist.” Water dripping from trees can create a mystical vibe and crowds are typically thinner. How about that?
So where do these puckish, duckish people go to walk in the rain? We asked five local outdoors experts and came back with 11 suggestions to help you take a hike this fall and winter.
1. Nancy Temkin is co-chair of the Foothills (Eastside) Hiking and Backpacking Committee for The Mountaineers (see st.news/foothills). Temkin says she leads a few hikes per week year-round, and even on drizzly days, at least a handful of people show up eager to step out despite the rain.
Waterfall hikes are really nice when it’s raining, Temkin says, mentioning Twin Falls close to North Bend (also one of Braden’s top picks) and Wallace Falls near Gold Bar as prime rainy day destinations.
“They’re just gushing when it rains,” Temkin said.
If the clouds are hanging low in valleys, one interesting option could be a hike up to Dirty Harry’s Balcony off Interstate 90 at exit 38.
“On those days, you can climb above the clouds and look down on them hovering below you,” Temkin said. “It’s really very peaceful.”
Temkin suggests urban hikers start at Volunteer Park and walk down to Lake Union (take the stairs at Howe or Blaine streets, or take East Prospect Street at the park’s southwest end — or start at the lake) and, on the lake’s west side, ascend the Galer Street Stairs to Queen Anne. It’s a treat during the holiday season.
“Residents do a great job of decorating, and the cranes often are lit up,” Temkin said. “Don’t be scared off from enjoying it because of a little rain.”
2. Paul Winterstein is executive director of the Issaquah Alps Trails Club, which hosts a few public hikes each month.
“Just about anywhere in the Alps is good on rainy days,” Winterstein said. “Rainy days allow the forest and landscape to be the objective, and the Alps offer plenty of choices.”
He offers two picks: On Tiger Mountain, from the High Point Trailhead (I-90, exit 20), take the Swamp Trail to the Ruth Kees Big Tree Trail and a very large Douglas fir.
“The signage says the tree is about 400 years old, but more contemporary estimates say that it may be as old as 1,000,” Winterstein said.
Continue to the Wetlands Trail (and “watch the rain fall on Round Lake,” the Issaquah rainy day hiker said), then combine the Bus, Nook, Talus Rock and West Tiger trails back to the trailhead for 4.7 miles.
Or try the Margaret’s Way Trail on Squak Mountain’s west side, a 6.5-mile route that starts off State Route 900.
“The low clouds on rainy days often hang in the trees here and elsewhere on Squak,” Winterstein said.
3. Washington guidebook author Tami Asars finished a 124-day southbound hike on the Appalachian Trail this month, completing hiking’s Triple Crown along with past thru-hikes of the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails.
She likewise recommends river valley and waterfall hikes, and in particular votes for short, beginner-friendly Oxbow Loop Trail (about 2 miles) in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley near North Bend, where she lives.
“It has pretty cedars and lots of mossy stuff, which looks cool when it’s raining,” Asars said. “Very typical Northwest.”
During her Appalachian journey, she was pounded by downpours caused by Hurricane Ian (in Virginia) and Hurricane Nicole (in Georgia). It reminded her that hiking in light rain can be charming, but slogging through pounding rain is best avoided by day hikers.
“It was really cold, and that was a double whammy,” Asars said.
“It reminded me of the beauty of day hiking versus backpacking in rain,” she added. “On a day hike, you can turn back when the rain gets too hard.”
4. Stacey Lissit chairs the Seattle Hiking Committee for The Mountaineers. She also endorses Wallace Falls as a wet-weather destination, as well as Heybrook Ridge near Index (where “it’s always raining,” she joked) and hikes on the mountains near Issaquah (Cougar, Squak and Tiger).
Lissit also suggests Bullitt Fireplace Trail, a forested 2-mile walk on the north side of Squak.
“On a rainy day, you get a lot of payoff there for a fairly short drive,” Lissit said.
Her keys to a successful rainy day hike: a dry bag to protect your phone, earbuds or other electronics and paperwork; good rain gear and layers for insulation; and, crucially, a good attitude and good company.
“You can have great conversations even if it’s raining,” Lissit said. “You’re enjoying the company of people while you’re walking and you don’t think about the weather. And when you run out of things to say, there’s just something interesting about being outside hiking when it’s raining.”
5. Craig Romano is the author of more than two dozen hiking guidebooks. The chief attraction of rainy day hikes, he said, is fewer people on trails.
“A rainy day is a great time to hike popular river trails that are really crowded during the summer, like Boulder River and the Old Sauk River Trail near Darrington,” Romano said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever hiked Boulder River in great weather, but it’s good,” he said. “It’s old-growth forest, so you have a lot of protection there even when the weather is kind of nasty.”
The “bad” weather grants many silver linings to intrepid rainy day hikers, in fact.
“When it’s raining, the river is cranking,” Romano said. “In the summer, you only see a fraction of the water you see in the rainy season. It’s impressive.”