Favorite PNW Wildflower Hikes

Wildflower season in the Pacific Northwest is truly a wonderful thing to experience. And the beauty of it is that you will have many opportunities to do so, depending on where you go and time of year! At lower elevations, wildflowers will start to bloom in early Spring, around mid or late March. Then, at higher elevations, blooms will occur after the summer solstice, June through August. There are also so many different types of wildflowers too! Here is a helpful guide from the Washington Trails Association to help you identify what’s what.

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite hikes to spot wildflowers in Washington and Oregon.

Remember the #1 rule of hiking and exploring nature: leave no trace, especially with these pretty flowers!

  • This means that when hiking, you need to stay on the trail – do not trample the flowers or lay down in meadows!  Even if an area off-trail is not blooming, there may be seedlings that are not yet visible, or a delicate area that is undergoing restoration, so best to remain on trail at all times.
  • This also means that you should not pick any wildflowers!  Leave the wildflowers wild, in the wilderness, where they belong.  Even picking individual flowers from a plant, can cause the entire plant to die.

Sage Hills – Wenatchee, WA (Central Washington Cascades)

    • DISTANCE: 5.5 miles round trip (out-and-back)
    • DIFFICULTY: Easy, rolling hills, family friendly.  650’ elevation
    • GETTING THERE: park at Horse Lake Reserve Trailhead, which is where we started
      • There are a few other entry points to access this trail system, detailed here
    • DOGS? Dog friendly
    • PERMITS/PASSES: None needed
  • This is an area well known for its wildflowers, which usually peaks around early to mid May.  Views extend for miles on a clear day and there are many different types of wildflowers, especially the famous balsamroot, a bright yellow plant of the sunflower family.  You just can’t beat the explosion of colors.  
  • This is a popular hike, so keep this in mind with when you start your hike as there are limited parking spots at the trailhead
  • An early start is also helpful because the entire trail is exposed, so underneath full sunshine, it would get quite hot
  • We “glamped” at the nearby KOA Campground in Leavenworth so that we could wake up early and get an early start
  • The end point is a “summit” that has a bench and large sitting rocks – perfect lunch rocks! This was the turn-around point for the out-and-back hike

Columbia River Gorge – Oregon and Washington border

There are so many options in this area!  The Columbia River Gorge area refers to the canyon forged by the Columbia River that separates the borders of Washington state and Oregon. It is lined with waterfalls, wineries, rolling hills, and beautiful wildflowers.  On clear days, you will get beautiful views of nearby Mount Hood. We like escaping to this area in April and May because it usually gets warmer and sunnier in this area before the North Cascades and Mount Rainier areas that are closer to Seattle.

Mosier Plateau – the highlighted photos below are from this sunset hike 

    • DISTANCE: 3.5 miles round trip (out-and-back)
    • DIFFICULTY: easy to moderate, 600’ elevation gain
    • GETTING THERE: park directly at Mosier Trailhead by a large totem pole.  Cross a bridge to start the hike.
      • After passing by a cemetery and then a waterfall, you’ll encounter several trailheads, and the wildflowers just keep coming!  At the top, you’ll see fields full of wildflowers, and eventually reach the viewpoint with a small seating area with a few benches.  This vista of the Columbia River from across the highway with the array of wildflowers is gorgeous, especially if you can catch this view at sunset, like we did!
    • DOGS ALLOWED? Yes, leashed
    • PERMITS/PASSES: none

Esmerelda Basin – Leavenworth, WA (Central Washington Cascades)

    • DISTANCE: 7 miles round trip (out and back)
    • DIFFICULTY: moderate; 1,750’ elevation gain
    • GETTING THERE: the trailhead is 9.6 miles off of Forest Road 9737.  The closest town is Cle Elum
      • NOTE this is the same trailhead as the hike to Ingall’s Lake which is a very popular hike that is NOT dog friendly
    • PERMITS/PASSES: Northwest Forest Pass, or $5/vehicle/day
  • The beginning of the hike shares a common trail with hikers going to Ingall’s Lake, so it can be crowded for this firs half mile.  After the junction where the trail splits off to continue onto Esmerelda Basin (Trail 1394) and Ingall’s, the crowds simmer down.  You’ll continue straight ahead through lush forest before starting to head upwards along multiple switchbacks.  There are several water streams to keep cool, and a few established campsites as you continue to climb higher.  Wildflowers line the trail everywhere you turn.  Eventually, there is an option to turn towards Lake Ann, which would add another 2 miles to your trip, but we did not do this.  At the end of the hike, you’ll reach a large plateau with expansive, 360 degree views of multiple mountains.

Marmot Pass – Olympic Peninsula, WA

  • This is a popular trail that backpackers will use to pass through to access even more trails in this area, however for our day hike, reaching the Pass was our turn-around point.  There were many campsites with a lot of water access – I would love to come back here as a backpacker someday!  Actually, the first part of the hike follows a river entirely.
  • We did this as a day hike with some friends in mid July while camping at nearby Dosewallips State Park for the weekend
  • It is a long hike that is not particularly strenuous in regards to elevation gain, but more so due to the long distance of the trail
    • DISTANCE: 11.5 miles round trip (out-and-back);
    • DIFFICULTY: strenuous due to the distance; 3,500’ gain- this elevation is spread out nicely over the miles, and does not really feel very steep until towards the end just before reaching the pass
    • GETTING THERE: trailhead location here; the closest town is Quilcene which is only 1.5 miles away.  The entire road is not paved- it is half gravel- but in good shape and should be accessible by any car
    • DOG FRIENDLY? yes
    • PERMITS/PASSES: Northwest Forest Pass

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival – Mount Vernon, WA (Western Washington)

  • This is not necessarily a hike, but rather a stroll through tulip farms, but I still think a lovely sight to see and worthy of a spot on this page!
  • It is a super cute, family friendly, annual tulip festival that takes place every April in the quaint town of Mount Vernon, which is about an hour’s drive north of Seattle. 
  • Details at the event website here
    • You must purchase tickets – you can do so online in advance for a discounted price, or at the gate.  
  • Pro tip: the crowds are insane – start early! Which will work to both beat the crowds and also get the best, soft lighting for your photos.

Pro Tips

  • Wildflower season means longer and sunnier days… but this also means tick and snake season
    • For tick prevention:
      • Cover your skin!
        • Wear long sleeves and long pants, and tuck your shirt into your pants
        • Wear light colored clothing to more easily visualize ticks
      • Option to use permethrin tick repellent (a pesticide!)
      • Stay on the trail!
        • Ticks are more likely to be found in tall grass and brush
      • Check for ticks in your hair or your skin (and your furry friends and backpacks!) frequently throughout the hike, and at the end of the hike
      • What to do if you find a tick?  Remove it!  See this guide for details and symptoms to watch for
    • Snakes like to sunbathe – watch your step and stay on the trail to avoid an encounter!

What else?

Here are some other recommendations for hikes that we have done in the summer/fall, but would love to return to in spring/early summer to see the wildflowers!

  • Naches Peak Loop (Mt Rainier National Park)
  • Skyline Trail & Panorama Point (Mt Rainier National Park)
  • Dog Mountain (Columbia River Gorge area) – this is such a popular wildflower hike, you now need a permit if you plan on hiking between a certain date range
  • Loowit Trail (Mt St Helens)
  • Sun Mountain Trails (Central Washington Cascades)