As a decidedly indoors kid originally from the Great Plains region of the country, when I got to Seattle, the idea of hiking was as ludicrous to me as the idea of taking long walks on the beach. Both activities were mere tropes of romantic comedies.
But after actually walking up and down mountains every weekend for nearly two years, I discovered hiking is a perfectly legitimate way to spend an afternoon in the Pacific Northwest. The long walk resets the mind, plumps the ass, and rinses the soul with pine. If you're paying all this money in rent because you like the look of mountains from afar, you owe it to yourself to see them up close.
The Washington Trails Association maintains a website (wta.org) with details on and directions to almost all of the trails in the region. My five favorite hikes, all of which I discovered on that website, are below. They're all off Interstate 90, so you can get to them in less than an hour. The length of each hike is round-trip.
Poo Poo Point
Difficulty: Super fuckin' easy
Gain: 1,858 feet
Length: 7.2 miles (but it feels much shorter)
According to the Washington Trails Association, during the early days of logging, hikers named this point on West Tiger Mountain for the sound the trains made ("oooooh, oooooh") as they zigzagged up and down the rails. This was obviously well before we standardized the onomatopoeia for many products of the steam age.
Poo Poo Point is the closest and easiest hike for Seattleites, the kind you're in the mood for if you woke up hungover at 11 a.m. but still want to walk through some red cedars. On a clear day, you can watch paragliders launch from the bald spot Weyerhaeuser shaved into the shoulder of the mountain in the 1970s.
Gain: 3,150 feet
Length: 8 miles (and you feel every one)
Old reliable. Even in the middle of winter, even when covered in snow, you can almost always get up and down this one without fearing for your life. For this and other reasons, the mountain is popular. The switchbacks make the same argument over and over again, especially on the way down, but if you're in more of a workout mode, you can find comfort in the repetition.
Mount Si's summit feels like a playground. You can scramble up the haystack if you're trying to impress somebody. Otherwise, you can post up at the first lookout and behold the Cascades rolling out to the south, or else head over to the west side and strain to see Seattle in the distance. Note: Protect your snacks. The top is lousy with gray jays (one pictured at left). These birds look like they just finished helping Cinderella get dressed, but they'll swoop down and snatch a cashew right out of your mouth.
Difficulty: Medium spicy
Gain: 2,500 feet
Length: 8.5 miles
In Chinook, "Melakwa" means mosquito, but I've hiked this mountain a lot in every kind of weather, and I have yet to be beset by the bug. In general, it is fun for the whole family, and of the mountains on this list, it sports the most natural variation. Tiny people (or incredibly stoned people) with limited attention spans can chill out on the broad, rocky banks of Denny Creek, which you'll stumble across a little over two miles in. Those who prefer to bathe in a pair of shimmering emerald lakes surrounded by jagged peaks can continue walking for a few more miles through a gorgeous valley, past a massive waterfall, up a moderately challenging ridge, and down to the lake region.
Though you'll be tempted to hang around the first lake, be sure to walk to the second lake. The Instagram vista you're looking for will hit you on the way back (though if you're walking in late spring, your photo storage might be filled up with pics of the wildflowers sprayed along the trailside). Also! It might just be me, but the moss that grows on the trees in this area appears to be more electrically green than anywhere else in the entire world.
Difficulty: Hard but short
Gain: 2,500 feet
Length: 4 miles
For loners who want to traverse a magical fairyland, this one's for you. You can find stuff on Humpback Mountain that you won't find at any of the other places on this list. And because the mountain is hard to find and difficult to assail, you'll never have too much company.
The thin trail winds its way through a dense forest of tall, skinny trees. You'll need to grab hold of them when the going gets tough, which is almost the whole way. But it's a short way! (Only two miles one-way.) And the soft pine duff underfoot makes the consistently steep incline bearable. Closer to the top, you'll see giant mushrooms springing out of soaked stumps and moss carpeting large swaths of the ground. The path is so un-manicured and secretive that it almost feels illegal to hike here, but it's not!
Also not illegal: crystal hunting. In the Hansen Creek area just below the trailhead, rock hounds scoop out the dirt beneath huge trees in search of quartz and purple amethyst. If you stray from the path as I have, it's not uncommon to find piles of clear gems poking out of the earth.
Difficulty: Plenty hard
Gain: 3,800 feet
Length: 8.6 miles (every bit of it)
I like this behemoth best in early autumn. The cool air keeps you from overheating on the tough ascent, and the colors of the foliage in the area are unbeatable. The first leg shares a trail with Pratt Lake, and the scenery is pretty typical. Tall trees, giant broken trees, armored trees, little creeks, and the occasional cathedral of ferns.
But once you split off onto the Granite Mountain trail proper, stuff starts getting sacred, and you begin to see how the mountain got its name. While crossing the alpine meadow about a mile away from the summit, patches of maroon bushes and splashes of neon-yellow leaves pop out against the white-gray slabs of granite. There are huckleberries all over the place, and the green is a deeper green here. The rock formations make the meadow look like a cemetery for humongous gods, or the ruins of some ancient civilization, or just a really cool-looking junkyard reserved exclusively for kitchen counters.
A fire-watch house stands at the mountain's peak, and it offers the best views of any of the mountains on this list. You can see everything up there.