Take a Hike in Northwest Trail Towns

by Craig Romano | Craig Romano

It’s easy to fall for hiking in the Northwest during the autumn months.

You can expect mild weather, an absence of annoying bugs and vibrant displays of colorful foliage. And there’s no need to rough it either. The Northwest contains a nice array of family-friendly trail towns. In these small communities surrounded by trails, you can enjoy hearty meals, a micro brew or glass of local wine, and a comfy night’s sleep after hitting the trail. Here are five of my favorite small, trail-bountiful towns, each perfect for a cushy basecamp on an autumn hiking weekend.

Hope, British Columbia

There are few communities in the Northwest located in a more dramatic location than Hope, British Columbia. Founded as a Hudson Bay trading post, this small municipality sits at the confluence of the crystal-clear Coquihalla River and the murky Fraser River, the longest in British Columbia, and is surrounded by the towering mountains of the rugged North Cascades and Coast Mountain ranges. With a growing trail system and the sprawling E.C. Manning Provincial Park nearby, Hope is a stellar trail town.

The short Rotary Trail in town hugs the banks of the Coquihalla River at its confluence with the Fraser River. Hike it and count the eagles. Follow the Trans-Canada Trail right from town to the Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park. Here the trail utilizes the old Kettle Valley Railroad (KVR) line, an engineering marvel that opened in 1916. Hike through five tunnels and over several high trestles above the thundering Coquihalla River in a tight chasm with sheer cliff faces more than 300 feet high.

If you’re really looking for a challenge, give the Hope Mountain Lookout Trail a shot. This well-built 1.4-mile trail gains 1,550 feet of elevation with spectacular views of the town, Fraser River and surrounding mountains. If miles of backcountry terrain is what you desire, make the short drive to 175,000-acre Manning Provincial Park where you can roam more than 100 miles of trails along open ridges where blueberry bushes form a blanket of red and forests of larch set high mountain basins aglow in gold.

To learn more about a visit to Hope, including lodging, go to hopebc.ca. Driving time from Seattle is 3 hours; from Spokane, 6.5 hours; from Vancouver, B.C., 1.75 hours.

Packwood, Washington

Packwood sits in the center of Washington’s Cascades offering easy and quick access to some of the state’s most dramatic and wild landscapes. Graced with rustic charm, a handful of homey lodging options offer some of the best views in the state.

To the north, Mount Rainier towers over the town. Packwood’s location near the quieter southwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park means you can hike trails much less busy than at Paradise. Hike to some of the biggest and oldest trees in the park at the majestic Grove of the Patriarchs. Shriner Peak, home to one of the park’s four remaining fire lookouts makes a great day hike. Come October, crimson carpets of berry bushes and clusters of flaming orange-leaved mountain ashes make Shriner one of the most colorful peaks in the park.

To the east of town is White Pass where you can go wild on the Pacific Crest Trail and hike to scores of backcountry lakes. Shoe Lake in the ancient volcanic peaks of the Goat Rocks Wilderness is a slog. But Deer and Sand lakes are easy and make great kid and dog-friendly hikes. Packwood is close to Mount St. Helens too. The hike to Norway Pass in the fall gives you the classic Spirit Lake and volcanic crater view framed with an explosion of dazzling, colorful foliage.

To find lodging in and around Packwood, visit destinationpackwood.com. The historic Hotel Packwood right in town is a good choice, or book one of the many vacation rental homes in the area. Driving time from Seattle or Portland is approximately 2.5 hours.

Republic, Washington

Imagine a town without fast food franchises, big box retailers or traffic lights. Located in the Okanogan Highlands of northeastern Washington, far from the state’s urban centers, Republic (population 1,000) proudly retains its gold mining roots. The town is surrounded by mountains, lakes and forests. Sporting a couple of comfy inns and a bustling brew pub, Republic makes a great basecamp for exploring more than 100 miles of nearby lightly used trails.

Start at Sherman Pass, east of town. At 5,575 feet, Sherman is the highest highway pass in the state. Here, hike either north or south along the Kettle Crest National Recreation Trail, a 42-mile hiking trail that hugs the high spine of the Kettle River Range. This highly scenic trail traverses alpine meadows and mountaintops exceeding 7,000 feet. In autumn, stands of larch prove there’s still gold in these hills.

Easier hiking can be found at Swan Lake south of town, where a 2.5-mile trail circles the quiet lake. Right in town, take a stroll on the Golden Tiger Trail (named for Republic’s school mascot, not some elusive feline). This paved rail-trail traverses ponderosa pine groves along a high bluff providing outstanding views of the lofty Kettle River Mountains and the pastoral Sanpoil River Valley. You’ll have plenty of deer friends accompanying you.

A good choice for lodging is the historic Northern Inn in Republic, northern-inn.com. To learn more about a visit to Republic, check out ferrycounty.com. Driving time from Seattle is 5.5 hours; from Spokane, 2.5 hours.

Hood River, Oregon

Hood River sits in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge between snow-capped volcanoes Mounts Adams and Hood. A quaint downtown full of brew pubs and coffee shops, and surrounded by orchards, vineyards and hundreds of miles of trails, Hood River makes for one fine trail town.

At Waterfront Park, you can hike the paved trail along the Columbia River. At nearby Viento State Park, hike a section of the historic Columbia River Highway to Starvation Creek State Park’s three waterfalls. An engineering marvel built between 1913 and 1922 designed to blend in with the landscape, parts of the old roadway have been transformed into trail.

The best section of the converted historic highway begins at the Mark Hatfield Trailhead east of town. From here, hike 4.7 miles of easy paved path on a basalt bench 300 feet above the Columbia River. Pass through cool forest and across sun-kissed bluffs. Then hike through the elegant twin Mosier Tunnels, pausing at their two windows to take in views of the Columbia and surrounding rolling hills in Washington.

Hood River is close to plenty of wilderness hikes, too. Nearby Herman Creek and Eagle Creek trails, with their copious cascades, are Columbia River Gorge classics.

Go online at hoodriver.org to find more information about a getaway to Hood River and to choose one of the many lodging options. Driving time from Portland is 1.25 hours; from Seattle, 3.75 hours.

Sandpoint, Idaho

Located in the Idaho panhandle, Sandpoint is surrounded by rugged mountains and expansive forests and sits on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, the largest lake in the state. The town’s sophisticated charm complements its natural beauty. And its fine lodging and restaurant choices make it a great trail town.

Choose from a handful of paths right in the city. Hop on the Long Bridge Bike Path and, via bridge and causeway, traverse massive Lake Pend Oreille. Soak up views, sun and cool lake breezes as you hike across this impressive body of water. Check out the Dover Trail which utilizes an old rail line and passes by many reminders of the city’s logging and railroad past. Farragut State Park’s 4,000 acres on Lake Pend Oreille contains many miles of family-friendly trails.

When not covered in snow, head to the Schweitzer Mountain Ski Area to hike its 25 miles of trails. With a base elevation of 4,700 feet, it is always much cooler up at the mountain than down in town. The views are incredible from sprawling Lake Pend Oreille below to the surrounding jagged Selkirk Mountains and lofty Cabinet Mountains.
To plan a stay in Sandpoint, including the lodging option best for you, visit visitsandpoint.com. Driving time from Seattle is 5.5 hours; from Spokane, 1.5 hours.

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