For those of us in the Northwest, the summer is hereeee. Actually it’s like at least a third over please do not bring it up. So far my summer is super different than last year, when I took a health & wanderlust-necessitated sabbatical from my very plugged-in job as a tech editor to acquire some outdoor skills and generally roam around. And roam I did! It didn’t seem like that much roaming at the time, but looking back I went on a lot of adventures.
It’s funny because a day after being home from each of those adventures (and the many more not documented in that post) I’d be thrown into a mild personal crisis over how I hadn’t “gotten out” in a while. But given that the outdoors eases the soul-crushing burden of my day-to-day indoor life existential despair, that only makes sense I guess. Thanks, the outdoors! Anyway, this year I have been traveling some for my cool new-ish job and I went to Japan and Costa Rica for the first time for pleasure so my priorities have been a little different and I’m at peace with that!
What is this blog post about… ok I just forgot but we’re back on track now, look at us. It’s about summer plans which in spite of the joy and lightness they bring me once enacted are without fail very stressful until that moment. Part of the reason is that shit in the Pacific Northwest is just more popular than it used to be. I’ve lived here for six years (I think it’s six idk why I can never remember) and it was not always this way. Online campsite reservation systems have exploded, once secret lakes are now thoroughly bro-ified, and extremely competitive permit application systems have popped up for some of the most beautiful place in the region (and yes I have spent tens of hours cracking their sweet, sweet codes)…
At the risk of making all of that way worse, here are all of my must-visit Northwest spots for this summer! The ones I don’t make it to I’ll plan on for next year, but because I am a strange kind of impulsive that involves deep strategic planning I’ll probably end up in half of them in the rain and snow as fall creeps its warmly-paletted way over our mountains and things.
Speaking of mountains: I fucking love mountains! Have you seen all of those ultra-cliche inspirational quote coffee mugs and Instagram posts with the John Muir quote on them? That’s how I feel; I’m not even sorry.Though apparently, in context Muir actually said “The mountains are calling & I must go & I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.” Dude was always journaling and conserving and stuff, so yeah. I mean I love studying but it just won’t fit on a tote bag is all I’m saying.
Anyway the point is I fucking love the mountains and I went a solid 30 years of my life not spending significant time in them and now I fully intend to make up for lost time. I also love glaciers, deserts, wildflower fields, pine martens, and lots of other things in no particular order.
In my very expert (opinionated) opinion, some of Oregon and Washington’s prettiest places are tucked away in the subalpine and alpine zones above 3,000′ elevation (sometimes 4,000′). They are generally fragile, exceedingly mind-blowingly beautiful and vary widely in how hard they are to reach, from “kinda” to “way very hard.” Alpine/subalpine areas comprise most of the places I want to spend time either hiking/climbing, backpacking, or engaging in the fickle desktop art of astrophotography.
So here it is! My super-not-actually-very-top-secret list of the best Northwest summer spots to explore/camp/backpack/idk. Please do not tell bros, straight people who are not-chill, or climate change deniers. This is a very exclusive secret post for my three readers, you know who you are. (And yes, I fully expect an Instagram shoutout)
Mt. Rainier National Park: Ok, as Portlanders Mt. Hood is our mountain or whatever, but can you tell I’m obsessed with Mt. Rainier? It’s not that much further a drive and the rewards and also the mountain are big.
- Sunrise area – for astrophotography
- Mowich Lake & Western half of the Wonderland Trail – the Eastern portion of which I narrowly survived last year
- North Loop – very secret do not tell
- Paraside to Camp Muir – did a portion of this day hike/possible one-night backpack along the Mt. Rainier summit approach route last year. Takeaway: Paradise is called that for a reason.
Olympic National Park: Last year I knew so little about this area that I ended up circumnavigating the peninsula and shooting some nightsky photos.
- Mt. Ellinor – almost climbed it last year and ran out of time.
- Anywhere at elevation, open to ideas!
- Mt. Olympus – eventually I’d like to do the approach hike to the glaciers near Mt. Olympus (it’s called that!!) even though it is very flat and boring and through the rainforest which I know because I did some miles of it last year. Eventually I would also like to climb Mt. Olympus but that is further off!
Alpine Lakes Wilderness: This is one of my perennial list-toppers that I still haven’t made it to. I’ll probably lose my mind if I don’t do it by next year. I plan to show up abruptly and hang around until I score one of the very limited walkup passes that they issue. Then I’ll hike up Aasgard Pass, the most badass-sounding pass ever, and explore the central area what with its mountain goats and shimmering turquoise lakes and whatnot and probably never come home.
North Cascades National Park: Oh they are very wild, these mountains. They give me a lot of feelings. I scraped the surface of the park last year after driving a million hours in the dark alone both ways, and if you live in Seattle heads up I will probably crash on your couch this summer to avoid that next time.
This is the most glaciated area in the lower 48 states. If you’re used to the Cascade range thing of like “oh here are a bunch of big mountains spaced apart neatly,” you’ll be in for a treat. It’s just a whole mess of mountains and they’re all rugged and awesome and impossible to get to and you can only access the area for a sliver of the calendar year. (Ok I am exagerrating but not by a lot.)
- Cascade Pass to Sahale Arm – I ran up Cascade Pass last year and didn’t have time for an overnight trip. Next time I’ll be backpacking.
- Thunder Creek – also backpacking. To what? I’m not totally sure! This whole park is very remote and full of mysteries and it makes me feel a little unhinged like I need to leave this blog post right now to go explore them.
Mt. Adams: I’ve spent time in Goat Rocks and in Gifford-Pinchot but I actually have no idea what it’s like closer to Mt. Adams.
- Mt. Adams summit – I’m gonna go up there soon.
There are other things I would like to do (section hike some Washington parts of the PCT, visit Alaska in both sunny/dark season, parts of the JMT/Sierra High Route, visit Glacier National Park for the first time, go back to Utah ASAP, etc.) but they are not on this list because I either plan to do them at a later, laterer date or they aren’t in the PNW. And I do have a few other climbs planned with the Mazamas later this summer, including Broken Top, Middle Sister, and Mt. Thielsen in the central cascade range. Oh yeah, and I did three climbs (two summits: Castle and Pinnacle) in June in the Tatoosh range… I should write about them!
Leave me suggestions in the comments! I’m always looking for alpine or desert backpacking trails, non-technical glaciated mountains I can climb on my own, and campsites away from light pollution that are southern-facing (weirdly specific astrophotography request). Cool good talk!