It’s a fact. Northwest winters can be a little bit dreary, but that’s no reason to avoid going outdoors. The fact is, Seattle winters are pretty temperate, all things considered. Snow is relatively rare as is heavy rain, making a winter hikes a perfect outdoor activity throughout the colder months. While many popular winter hikes involve a drive up into the mountains, there’s no reason to bust out chains for your car unless you really want to. Seattle has many trails that make perfect cold-weather hikes right within the city limits or within a short drive out of town.
Lace up your hiking boots, be prepared for a bit of mud and grab your rain jacket for these winter hikes in and near Seattle.
Discovery Park is a 534-acre park that’s easily accessible, easy to get to and a genuinely enjoyable easy hike. It’s also located right within the city limits and offers miles of hiking trails through forests, along paved roadways, through meadows and along a rocky shoreline. Any of year, even during rainy months, there are enough paved pathways that you can avoid the mud, if you prefer. There is some elevation change in the park, but if you want to stay on level trails, you can do that as well. You can check trail maps, but this park is not so large that a good wander isn’t in order. Inevitably, you’ll end up on the far side of the park on the beach. Take some time to get some photos of the lighthouse along the beach.
Like Discovery Park, Seward Park is open all year round and offers easy hiking trails for all hiking levels within the city limits. The main trail is a 2.6-mile paved loop with plenty of beautiful water and mountain views. You’ll spot plenty of walkers, cyclers, and runners on the trail, but much fewer people in the winter than in the summer. Because it’s paved and mostly level, you won’t need special gear or even shoes beyond walking or running shoes. This is an especially great hike for families or those who don’t want to hike for more than an hour.
Just to the northwest of Seattle, Carkeek Park is another great hike close to the city, and like Discovery Park, its trails feel like a hike through the forest. There are a few trails through the park, but Piper’s Creek Trail is the longest. The trail follows along – you guessed it – Piper’s Creek and has about 500 feet of elevation gains and losses, which is perfect if you want a trail that offers a bit of a workout. Along the way, branch off of the Piper’s Creek Trail to lengthen the experience, or maybe even spot some wildlife along the Wetlands Trail.
Less than an hour south of Seattle is the largest urban park in the United States at 702 acres, and it has a range of trails within its forested bounds as a result. If what you seek is a straight-forward, paved hike, Five Mile Drive offers just that and is open and tidy all year round. Rougher trails crisscross the park as well (and provide handy shortcuts back to the parking area if you end up not feeling like doing the full five-mile loop) that are well maintained throughout the year but may be a little muddy during rainy winter months. The park is fully forested, relatively level (unless you choose to head down to Owen Beach) and provides beautiful views of the Puget Sound, Narrows Bridge and surrounding islands and land masses.
Another park in Tacoma is far lesser known than Point Defiance but actually offers a more challenging hike. Swan Creek Park has a single hiking trail that winds through the middle of a ravine. Park at the entrance off Pioneer Way and you’ll make your way into a forest along maintained but often muddy trails. The farther in you go, the more incline you’ll encounter so be prepared for switchbacks, rough stairs and roots in the trail. Unlike many urban parks, there is only one long trail going through the heart of this park and it does not loop back, so go as far as you’d like and then turn around and head back and retrace your steps.
Even farther south of Seattle, just past Olympia, is Capitol Forest, which serves up a mix of untamed nature and approachable trails. The forest is not a park and so it’s much larger than the previously listed hikes—so large that it’s wise to remember your steps or carry a trail map. At 91,650 acres, Capitol Forest offers ample unpaved trails that wind through forest and open areas alike, past waterfalls, and there’s even a ghost town in the forest if you can find it. Because the forest is fairly vast, you can find trails that are level or that offer more of a challenge, too. The area, in general, is pretty interesting to check out along the way with highlights like the Mima Mounds near one of the main entrances.
If you’re tired of exploring gorgeous, lush, green forests, the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge offers something a little different – exploring a unique coastal habitat. About two hours north of Seattle on the Olympic Peninsula, the Dungeness Spit is near the small town of Sequim. While the spit is a popular summer hike, not as many trekkers make their way here in the winter since the hike is pretty open to the weather. But head out on a clear day with calm weather and you’ll be rewarded with a paradise. The narrow spit juts miles out into the water and is home to eagles, herons, gulls, seals, sea lions and other animals. In the winter, you won’t spot as much wildlife, and later winter yields better results in that department. Before you go, check the weather as well as the tides. You can usually still hike during high tide, but you’ll be traveling over rocks and driftwood the entire way and your hike will instantly become several hours longer. Time your hike for low tide so you can walk on the beach, and make your way out to the lighthouse – about a five-mile roundtrip.
Maybe forest hikes at urban parks are just not enough. Maybe 500-foot elevation gains are too small. Maybe what you need is a more hardcore hike and maybe you’ve got some traction devices already in hand. If that’s the case, look to popular Mount Si. Mount Si is, as its name implies, a mountain so hikers will experience a heady elevation gain of 3,400 feet in about 6 miles. The trails may be slick or snowy so some gear is necessary, and it’s not a bad idea to check the weather so you don’t end up hiking in high winds or heavy rain. Depending on which trail you choose, views on clear days might include downtown Seattle, the Olympics or Mount Rainier.