5 Kid-Friendly Wildflower Hikes in Western Washington
Where to find carpets of wildflowers around Mount Rainier, the Olympics and the North Cascades
In Washington State, both the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges put on a colorful show of wildflowers all summer long, from blooming Western trillium peeking out from behind a fern in June to subalpine daisies cheerily greeting you from a slope in July or August.
Wildflower blooms follow the snowmelt, so the later in the summer it gets, the higher in elevation you must go to see wildflowers. For high meadow lovers, summer saves the best for last.
Below are five kid-friendly hikes in Western Washington that are putting on a show right now. Hike them soon to see the pretty blooms at their best. (Note: Wildflowers are blooming early again this year, 2016.)
Tips: Wildflower meadows are fragile ecosystems, so remember to chat with your kids ahead of time about staying on designated trails. These hikes are through meadows and will have plenty of sun exposure, so pack kid-friendly sunblock and wide-brimmed hats to protect against sunburn.
Looking for an easy guide to wildflowers? Washington Trails Association’s online Wildflower Guide is a PDF that can be easily viewed from your tablet or printed for your pocket.
Stats: 3 miles round trip, 950 feet elevation gain, no dogs, entrance fee $15 per vehicle
Info: Check recent trip reports on Washington Trails Association's website.
Wildflowers to spot: Small-flowered paintbrush, alpine lupine, Menzie’s larkspur
Description: If you like big rewards for little work (aside from a summer ferry crossing -- leave early) head to Hurricane Hill, one of the many trails that departs from Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. The mostly paved path is a perfect hike for children of all ages – even those still in strollers. (This also makes it pretty crowded; go on a weekday if possible.)
Follow the trail as it ascends to one of the most stunning panoramas in Washington, with clear vistas across Puget Sound to Mount Baker, past the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Vancouver Island, and a close-up of snow-capped Mount Olympus. Make sure you tear yourself away from the big views for long enough to look down – that’s where the wildflowers are. And keep close track of the deer and marmot that cross your path on this trail or you’ll surely lose count.
Directions: From Hwy 101 in Port Angeles head south on Race Street 1.2 miles to Hurricane Ridge Road. Continue 17.5 miles to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, then 1.5 miles more to the trailhead.
Stats: 6 miles round trip, 1,300 feet elevation gain, no dogs, entrance fee $15 per vehicle
Info: Find recent trip reports on Washington Trails Association website.
Wildflowers to spot: Avalanche lilies, magenta paintbrush, bistort
Description: Everyone knows Mount Rainier boasts an immeasurable number of meadows thick with gorgeous wildflowers. Not everyone knows that Spray Park on the mountain’s Northwest side puts on one of the biggest and best displays. Unlike the paved, crowded trails near Paradise, your family will have a real wilderness experience here.
This trail is essentially a 3-mile, jaw-dropping path through seemingly endless open meadows of lupine, lilies, paintbrush and heather, all taken in to the soundtrack of whistling marmots. After you’ve hiked for awhile, smelled enough flowers and had a nice picnic lunch in a spectacular meadow, just turn right around and hike back out.
Directions: From Puyallup, take SR 410 to Buckley, then turn south (right) onto SR 165 and proceed through the town of Carbonado. Just beyond the Carbon River Gorge bridge, bear to the right onto Mowich Lake Road, then follow it 17 miles to its end. You’ll find the trailhead at the far end of the Mowich Lake Campground.
3. Sheep Lake, South Cascades
Stats: 5 miles round trip, 400 feet elevation gain, Northwest Forest Pass required.
Info: Find recent trip reports on Washington Trails Association's website.
Wildflowers to spot: Dwarf mountain butterweed, beargrass, elephant head
Description: Most of this easy, kid-friendly trail is through open mountain hemlock forest punctuated with clearings of wildflowers and huckleberry bushes. It’s actually a small portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2600-mile route from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. The turnaround point is Sheep Lake, ringed with meadows and the perfect spot for a midday picnic. This lake also makes a fine backcountry camping spot for families. If you want to push on, the trail climbs another half mile to Sourdough Gap for a nice vista.
Directions: Drive east on SR 410 (Chinook Pass Highway) to Chinook Pass on the northeast side of Mount Rainier. On the left (north) side of the highway just east of Tipsoo Lake is a small trailhead parking lot.
Stats: 4 miles round trip, 600 feet elevation gain, Northwest Forest Pass required
Wildflowers to spot: Common butterwort, mountain arnica, wandering daisies
Description: As you drive to this trailhead in your car, you’ll swear the views couldn’t possibly get much better. Welcome to the land of fire and ice – fire in the belly of Mount Baker, an active volcano, and ice in the glaciers atop its peak.
A longer loop option takes this hike to 8-miles round trip, but you’ll find the hike just as rewarding and more attainable for young children if you hike in to the lakes, then hike back out. This scenic path boasts big views of two beautiful peaks, Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan, and skirts four azure-colored subalpine lakes named Mazama, Iceberg, Hayes and Arbuthnot. What more could you ask for? Oh yes, carpets of wildflowers.
Young rockhounds might want to keep an eye out for outcroppings of andesite, a black igneous rock that forms hexagonal columns. Another reminder of Mt. Baker’s volcanic activity is the black sand beach at Hayes Lake.
Directions: From northern Bellingham off of Interstate 5, drive east on the Mount Baker Highway (State Route 542) to the road’s end, the Artist Point parking lot. Reach the trail from the western side of the parking lot, opposite the bathrooms.
Stats: 4 miles round trip, 1100 feet elevation gain, Northwest Forest Pass required
Wildflowers to spot: Alpine coltsfoot, Lewis monkeyflower, pink mountain heather
Description: This family-friendly hike to beautiful sub-alpine lakes offers nice views for such a short hike. The first mile meanders through a beautiful forest — you may see a few wildflowers in the understory. When you come to a lush open meadow and a trail junction with the Anderson Butte Trail, stop and listen for pikas then continue on, keeping to the right towards the lakes. After a mile or so you’ll come to another trail junction, and you have a choice of descending down half a mile to Anderson Lake, or up half a mile to Watson Lakes. Both are surrounded by lovely peaks and have meadows to explore.
Pack bug repellant, as mosquitoes might be hungry at the lakes.
Directions: From Sedro-Woolley, head east on the North Cascades Highway (SR 20) to the Baker Lake Highway (milepost 82). Turn left (north) onto the highway and continue 14 miles to the Baker Dam Road and turn right. Drive past the Kulshan Campground and across the Upper Baker Dam, then turn left on Forest Service Road #1107, following it for 8.0 miles. Turn left on Forest Service Road #1107022. The trailhead and parking area are located on the right.
Photo credits in order of appearance: Hurricane Ridge flower, Jenifer Gonzales; Chain Lakes, Becca Frans, flickr; Hurricane Hill, Steve Voght, flickr; Anderson Lakes, sunrise soup, flickr; avalanche lily on Rainier, istockphoto; Sheep Lake, Lauren Braden.