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5 favorite spring backpacking trips for beginners

by Amanda Phillips

Hello backpackers! A few weeks ago I shared how I select a backpacking trip. Today I thought I would share some of my favorite spring backpacking trips. Backpacking in the spring can be a little tricky, but hugely rewarding. Snow melt can make finding routes tricky, as high elevation routes can be impassable, and snowmelt can make creek crossings tricky.  Coming out from winter hibernation, bodies may not be ready to complete the miles of a mid-August route. But there is nothing like getting outside after a long winter and spending the night in the wilderness.

These are my five favorite spring routes, routes that are relatively low in elevation, fairly low mileage and appropriate for beginners. Some are coastal routes, beautiful river walks and a few sub-alpine lakes. Pull your backpack out of winter storage and lets hit the trails!

Shi shi is one of my favorite beginner backpacking trips. It starts in a wooded area, wanders through a super muddy, swampy section then spits you out on an absolutely stunning beach. It is so much fun to start in the woods, and it is great practice at walking with a backpack if it is your first of the season–or ever! There is a lot of flexibility once you get to the beach, so if you are feeling tired, or it is super windy, snag one of the campsites right at the base of the cliff. Otherwise, feel free to wander down the sandy path to grab an established site, or throw your tent down among the driftwood. Just make sure to check the high-tide line before pitching your tent. With tons of things to do and explore, you will want to spend extra time just relaxing at your campsite. Since this area is snow-free all year, it makes a great spring trip when everything else is still snowed in.

Mileage: up to 10 miles

Elevation Gain: 200′

Max Elevation: 200′

Shi Shi is a tricky spot in terms of passes as it has quite a few. It passes through Makah wilderness then ends at the Olympic National Park. Backpackers will need to obtain a Makah Recreation Pass, and an overnight backpacking permit from the Olympic National Park. Lastly, overnight parking is not allowed at the main parking area, so you will need to park at one of the lots provided by local residents. They are fee lots, so make sure you bring cash (usually about $10.00/night).

The Olympic National Parks require that backpackers carry a bear can. You can rent one from the Olympic National Park, or bring your own. Depending on the tide, some creek crossings can be difficult. Make sure you have appropriate footwear and a tide chart, or plan on sleeping on the other side of the creek crossings.

Plan on spending some time at low tide to explore the sea creatures and fun features. Consider bringing a guidebook to go tidepooling! Bonfires are allowed on this beach, though only with scavenged driftwood, so enjoy a roaring fire on the beach.

Hoh River Trail in the Olympic National Park

The Hoh River Trail is snow-free year around, has minimal elevation gain and lets you experience quintessential temperate rainforests. Starting at the Hall of Mosses, wander under giant, old-growth trees draped in many different species of moss. Hike alongside the Hoh to a series of campsites near the river. Watch the river turn pink with a sunset and possibly catch a glimpse of Roosevelt Elk. 

Mileage: 11 miles

Elevation Gain: 300′

Max Elevation: 800′

National Park Pass and overnight backpacking permit. 

This area is popular and can be crowded. During spring melt the trail can get very muddy. It is in a national park, so no pups allowed. 

Elk grazing at the Olympic National Park
Man walking in the Olympic National Park
Hoh river in the Olympic National Park
Thunder creek in the North Cascades

Thunder Creek is an excellent beginner backpack trip in the North Cascades. The pale green, tumbling water of Thunder Creek is a lovely companion as you hike into the old-growth forest. Campsites are available after only two miles, but the views and experience continue to improve as you extend your hike. McCallister Camp at 1900′ is a great early-season spot to camp and the sounds of the rushing river will lull you to sleep. Also, one of my favorite toilets of all time was on this route so if that doesn’t convince you, not sure what will!

Mileage: 12 miles

Elevation Gain: 1300′

Max Elevation: 1900′

No parking pass required, but the final backpacking camp is in the North Cascades National Park, so an overnight backcountry permit is required. Stop at a ranger station before heading to the trailhead to secure one. 

This area is popular and can be crowded. Bridge near McAllister camp had not been repaired as of May 2018, so you may need to find an alternate spot. 

Forested trail in the North Cascades
view of peaks from Thunder Creek
tent in forest clearing in the North Cascades National Park
Thunder Creek in the North Cascades
Small waterfall in the North Cascades surrounded by moss
Lily Lake on a cloudy day

Lily Lake was our second backpacking trip last spring (Shi Shi was the first!). It was ideal for being relatively close to Seattle, snow-free, short mileage with bonus attributes like views of the San Juan Islands, eagles and no advanced permits! With many intersecting paths, it is easy to make this a short or long trip with plenty of opportunity to explore. Sleep at either lake, both are lovely! The campsites are less primitive than other areas, with metal fire pits and eating areas, so enjoying a campfire is a possibility as well. 

Mileage: 7 miles

Elevation Gain: 1400′

Max Elevation: 2100′

Discover Pass. 

This area is popular and can be crowded. The parking lot is somewhat public and break-ins occasionally occur. Visit Oyster Dome, or the lesser-known North Butte for incredible views of the water and islands. 

Man standing next to Lily Lake
view of San Juan Islands from North Butte
tent next to Lily Lake
skunk cabbage near Lizard Lake
trail through forest near Bellingham
Alpine lake near stevens pass

Walk 2 flat miles of an old road, then climb to a beautiful lake in a rocky cirque. This spot is a little higher than the others and may not be available until later spring. The road walk can be a bit tedious but provides good early season practice in walking with a pack. The road is also lined with salmon berries, which make the walk go a little faster. Then get a workout with 40 switchbacks, gaining most of the elevation in the last 1.5 mile. There are two lakes at the top, Little Greider Lake and Big Greider Lake. We camped at the littler and visited the bigger in the morning. Both lakes were delightful! 

Mileage: 8.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 1370′

Max Elevation: 2930′

No permits required, but visitors are asked to visit the information kiosk. 

This area is found in the Sultan Basin, including Everett’s public water supply. Swimming in the lake is prohibited and appropriate disposal of waste is required. 


man holding large salmonberry
forested trail near stevens pass
Rocks on the Greider lakes trail
alpine lake near stevens pass
Waterfall along Greider Lakes

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Gabby May 23, 2018 - 4:05 pm

I just upgraded my sleeping bag to one from this century and am itching to see how much more space I have in my overnight pack! Definitely bookmarking these.

Taryn May 19, 2019 - 9:22 pm

I can’t get the Details or other sections to open 🙁


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