best spring backpacking washington

Where To Go For Spring Backpacking Washington, Oregon, and PNW

For the best spring backpacking Washington, Oregon, and the PNW have to offer, look no further than these 10 spectacular destinations. Spring is not just for biding your time while waiting for the alpine to melt out. It is intrinsically excellent for backpacking, and we’re excited to inspire your next big spring trip.

What follows are some of the most scenic, rugged, and wild Northwest wilderness zones that become hike-able from early March through early June. This list prioritizes exceptional scenery over convenience and proximity to the urban metropolises of Seattle and Portland. I’ve visited each and every one of these regions, many of them multiple times. Trust me when I say that this is the crème de la crème.

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Featured Trips for Spring Backpacking Washington, Oregon, PNW

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Destination Location Terrain Usually Becomes Hikeable Scenery Score out of 5
Olympic Coast Olympic Peninsula Coastal Temperate Rainforest All Year 5
Ancient Lakes Central Washington Shrubsteppe, Canyons, Lakes Early March 4
Rogue River SW Oregon Temperate Forest River Valley Early March 3
Olympic Rainforests Olympic Peninsula Temperate Rainforest River Valley Late March 3
Owyhee Canyonlands Eastern Oregon Shrubsteppe Canyon, Reservoir Early April 4
Enchanted Valley Olympic Peninsula Temperate Rainforest River Valley Early April 4
Chelan Lakeshore Central Washington Arid Forest, Lake Canyon Mid April 4
Hells Canyon NE Oregon, W Idaho Bunchgrass, Canyon, Arid Forest Late April 5
West Coast Trail Vancouver Island Coastal Temperate Rainforest Early May 4
Teanaway Mountains Central Washington Sub Alpine, Forest, Mountains Early June 3

Recommended Permits, Maps, and Guidebooks For PNW Spring Backpacking

In addition to National ParkNational Forest, and State Park permits and maps, we strongly recommend investing in a guidebook for logistical details. Our favorite PNW guidebooks, depicted below, are written by author Douglas Lorain, and published by Wilderness Press.

Where to Go For Spring Backpacking Washington, Oregon, PNW

Washington Coast, best spring backpacking washington

Olympic Coast, WA

About: There’s no finer coastal scenery than waves crashing against the rugged sea stacks of Washington’s Olympic Coast. Challenge yourself on rope ladders, discover marine wildlife, and master the art of tidal awareness. There are three primary routes to consider, South Coast, North Coast, and Shi Shi. All three represent the best spring backpacking Washington offers, though are technically hike-able year-round.

Ancient Lakes, WA

Ancient Lakes, WA

  • Location: Central Washington
  • Terrain: Recessional-Cataract Canyons and Shrubsteppe
  • Usually Hike-able Starting: Early March
  • Scenery Rating: 4/5
  • Precautions: Carry in all drinking water
  • Permits Required: Discover Pass for Parking
  • Resources: WTA – Primary Lake Basin, Dusty Lake

About: The Ancient Lakes are a stunningly beautiful, ice-age formed multi-lake coulee basin nestled alongside the Columbia River, just east of the Cascade mountains. With jutting basalt cliffs, rushing waterfalls, and pleasant enough weather by March, the destination makes for some of the best early spring backpacking Washington offers. Because most of the water is irrigation runoff from farmlands and hosts many chemicals, all drinking water must be carried in. Busy on weekends, so backpackers should pitch tents away from the most well trodden sections or deviate to Dusty Lake.

Rogue River Trail, best spring backpacking oregon

Rogue River Trail, OR

  • Location: Southwestern Oregon
  • Terrain: Temperate Forest River Valley
  • Usually Hike-able Starting: Early March
  • Scenery Rating: 3/5
  • Precautions: Rattlesnakes, Ticks, Poison Oak, Black Bear
  • Permits Required: None
  • Resources: Guidebook, BLM Info Page

About: With 40 miles of hike-able trail traversing the Lower Rogue National Wild and Scenic River, there’s lots of forest scenery, rock formations, and waterfalls to go around. The Rogue is also a popular rafting destination, and you may be able to take advantage of this for shuttling purposes to make it a thru-hike. Learn to identify poison oak, use tick precaution, and enjoy some truly dandy spring backpacking Oregon style.

Olympic Rainforest, best spring backpacking washington state

Olympic Rain Forests

About: Do you love verdant, overhanging moss, ferns, and gigantic old growth evergreens? Look no further than the temperate rainforest river valleys flowing out of the Olympic Mountains. For us, Spring Backpacking Washington always means a trip to the Olympics. And as each river trail is quite similar to the next in terms of flora, fauna, and overall aesthetics, we recommend mixing it up rather than settling on any one favorite. The exception being Quinault River, which is a cut above the rest due to its access to Enchanted Valley. That hike is written up separately and may not be snow-free for a few weeks after the others.

Owyhee Canyonlands best spring backpacking oregon

Owyhee Canyonlands, OR

  • Location: Far Eastern Oregon
  • Terrain: Desert Plateau, Canyons, Shrubsteppe, Reservoir, Rock Formations
  • Usually Hike-able: Early April
  • Scenery Rating: 4/5
  • Precautions: Difficult Roads, Rattlesnakes, Must Treat & Filter Water
  • Permits Required: None
  • Resources: Guidebook, ONDA

About: Now here’s a unique spring backpacking trip in Oregon – the Owyhee Canyonlands. And more specifically, the Honeycombs Painted Canyon loop. This remote, high desert shrubsteppe ecosystem is pockmarked with stunningly beautiful, towering rock formations, more reminiscent of Utah than the PNW. But visiting ain’t easy. The Owyhee reservoir water must be chemically treated and filtered for safe consumption, and never have we experienced more challenging roads. High clearance plus 4-wheel drive are mandatory, and unusually sticky mud immediately following strong rain may make them outright impassable.

Enchanted Valley, WA

Enchanted Valley, WA

  • Location: Olympic Peninsula, WA
  • Terrain: Temperate Old Growth Rainforest River Valley
  • Usually Hike-able: Early April
  • Scenery Rating: 4/5
  • Precautions: Bear canisters required
  • Permits Required: Backcountry Camping & Parking
  • Resources: Guidebook, ONP, WTA Write-up

About: Enchanted Valley, located just below the headwaters of the Quinault River, is a crown jewel in the pantheon of spring backpacking Washington. But first, you must earn your views with a grueling-yet-beautiful 14 mile hike in through lush temperate rainforest. Enchanted Valley itself is equal parts meadow, riverbed, and forest, topped off by a picturesque, near-century-old, out-of-use chalet. Camp nearby and enjoy breathtaking views of the massive granite peaks jutting up from the opposite side of the valley. Over a dozen waterfalls cascade down the cliffs and will hold your gaze for hours, if not days.

Lake Chelan, WA

Chelan Lakeshore Trail, WA

  • Location: Central WA Cascades
  • Terrain: Arid Forest, Lake Valley, Bunchgrass
  • Usually Hike-able: Early April
  • Scenery Rating: 4/5
  • Precautions: Rattlesnakes, Ferry Timing & Logistics
  • Permits Required: None
  • Resources: WTA Write-Up Lady of the Lake Ferry

About: For interest, variety, views, and generally warm spring backpacking weather, we strongly recommend the Chelan Lakeshore Trail. This 17 mile mini thru-hike starts with a 90 minute ferry ride from the city of Chelan, and drops you 2/3 of the way up-lake from whence you begin your hike to the remote town of Stehekin. You will traverse steep, rolling hillsides, but never want for something to look at with the deep blue lake Chelan always below, and the snow-capped Entiat Mountains always opposite.

Hells Canyon

Hells Canyon, OR & ID

  • Location: NE Oregon or Western ID
  • Terrain: Steep Bunchgrass Canyon, Arid Forest, River
  • Usually Hike-able: Late April
  • Scenery Rating: 5/5
  • Precautions: Heat, Cold, Rattlesnakes, Ticks, Black Widows, Poison Ivy
  • Permits Required: Parking
  • Resources: Guidebook OR, Guidebook ID

About: Hells Canyon offers world class views and world-class challenges to the experienced backpacker. And it is easily our top pick for spring backpacking Oregon. This rugged canyon is over 100 miles long, including a forty consecutive mile stretch, all of which is over one mile deep. Parts are even deeper than the Grand Canyon, which is due to measurements being taken from the tops of the surrounding peaks rather than a plateau. The views are consistently stunning, five-star worthy, and wildlife is everywhere. Trails abound at river level on the Snake, mid-canyon along the “bench” (our favorite section), and of course the rim. Unfortunately, there was a large wildfire here in 2022 that damaged much of the western/Oregon side of the canyon. So for now, we recommend exploring the eastern side of Hells Canyon in Idaho.

West Coast Trail, BC PNW

West Coast Trail, BC

  • Location: Vancouver Island, BC
  • Terrain: Coastal Temperate Rainforest, Beach, Bluffs
  • Usually Hike-able: May
  • Scenery Rating: 4/5
  • Precautions: Tidal Awareness, Slippery Board Walk, Ladders, Cable Cars, Fords,
  • Permits Required: Backcountry
  • Resources: Guidebook, Parks Canada.

About: The world famous West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC is a spring backpacking trip worth completing for those who have already visited the much more easily accessible (and in our opinion – more scenic) Olympic Coast. But there’s no denying the appeal of WCT’s challenge. So challenging, in fact, that you are required to undergo a park-ranger-led orientation. The ~50 mile route begins with a ferry shuttle so that you can thru-hike back to your car. On it, we saw lots of whales, and got rather sea sick. The trail itself involves countless ladders, bridges, cable cars, tidal hazards, steep bluffs, and river crossings. But the coastal scenery is pristine, and this is a must-do for spring backpacking PNW trip.

Teanaway Navaho Pass, WA

Teanaway Mountains, WA

  • Location: Eastern Central Washington Cascades
  • Terrain: Sub-alpine mountains, arid forest, meadows
  • Usually Hike-able: Early June
  • Scenery Rating: 3/5
  • Precautions: Black Bear
  • Permits Required: Parking
  • Resources: WTA – Navaho Pass, Iron Peak, Bean Basin

About: While nothing special by Cascade Mountain standards, the Teanaways are a perennial late spring backpacking Washington favorite, simply by virtue of being the first section to melt out. Most south-facing portions are snow free in early June, and the lower portions are accessible in May. The Teanaway is both hotter and drier than the rest of the cascades, so late spring and early summer are a great time to go. Navaho Pass (pictured) is arguably the most scenic, but definitely the most busy.

Spring Backpacking Washington & Oregon Means Tick Safety and Snow Traction Precautions

Depending on your exact destination, PWN spring backpacking requires a few extra gear precautions beyond the scope of a traditional equipment list. In desert ecosystems east of the Cascade Mountains, we strongly recommend taking added precautions for tick prevention. This means wearing full coverage, head-to-toe clothing, and treating your exterior apparel with Sawyer Permethrin. Apply Sawyer Picaridin insect repellent lotion to exposed skin every morning. The lotion is far superior to, and longer lasting than, the spray-on version and should be decanted into a smaller container. Old hand sanitizer bottles work well for this purpose.

When spring backpacking Washington, Oregon, and the greater PNW, you may encounter lingering snow fields, especially on north facing slopes and in steep avalanche chutes. If unprepared, this can create a significant safety hazards. As such, we highly recommend investing in a pair of microspikes, and a lightweight ice axe.

Conclusion to Spring Backpacking Washington, Oregon, and Greater PNW

Thank you for reading our guide on where to go for spring backpacking Washington, Oregon, and PNW. Many of the best backpacking trips in the region are best-hiked in spring, and we can’t wait for you to experience these natural wonders. Happy trails!

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