Beaches, forests, alpine meadows, and mountain lakes are only a few of the places we search for solitude in the NW.
With increasing population density – more are getting out on the trails than ever before.
Drive-up access to beaches and campgrounds provide mass access to outdoor spots but also draw the largest crowds especially in the summer.
Getting on the trail and hiking even a little distance opens the doors to exploring beyond the crowds.
Here are some tips for finding solitude in the outdoors.
To find uncrowded places let’s first look at conditions that draw the largest crowds in the first place.
Proximity to urban areas.
The trails that are closest with easy access to urban centers get the most traffic. A great example of this is the Green Lake Trail in Seattle. Looping around an urban lake minutes from downtown and surrounded by active neighborhoods makes this a popular loop.
It is not uncommon for 10,000 people to frequent the Green Lake loop trail on a sunny weekend summer day.
People in the NW come out of their shells when the sun comes out. Those in search of solitude aren’t deterred by the cold, wet and dark. Check out the forecast on the NOAA web site which can track elevation as well as GPS for more precise forecasting.
If you go to Paradise on Mount Rainier, you will see throngs of people walking the trails right off the visitor center. Venture a mile down the trail the number drops. A couple miles further and the number drops exponentially. One of the best ways to find solitude even on weekends in the nicest weather is to go further.
This does require a higher level of fitness, confidence and experience than the masses, but the rewards can be well worth it. Trying to find a campground on the Olympic Peninsula in the summer on a whim can be daunting if not impossible. But get a permit to hike in even a few miles and the options open up.
I kind of fell into trail running by trying to do longer hikes and not having the time to hike them. Jogging the flat and downhills or just not stopping movment to take breaks for water and food (have accessible in pack while continuing to walk) can allow more miles without necessarily lots more exertion. These are some of my favorite trail running trails in the area.
When I was completing the top dozen peak trails on Snoqualmie Pass for our video guide, I was nervous about my final summit; Kaleetan Peak. For starters there is lots of vertical gain and many miles with a 3rd class rocky scramble to the summit (Kaleetan means arrow).
But I was more worried about the parking situation. The trail head shares parking with the ever popular kid-friendly natural water park The Denny Waterslide which is accessible far under the I90 sky way in a beautiful forested 2 mile hike. Further up the trail is a vista of Kaleetan falls and Malawkwa lake, all popular day hikes and camping spots. With its proximity to Seattle and proportionally small parking lot fills up fast. So, I set the alarm and got up to the trail head by 7am.
There were only a few cars in the parking lot. I only saw one group of hikers at the trail head. All the way up to the peak I was hoofing it solo. The biggest crowd I ran into near the peak was a family of mountain goats. By the descent in the afternoon the crowds got thicker as I got closer to the water slide and the trail head. Have had similar experiences on MT Si.
If you want to do one of the most popular i.e. crowed hikes on Snoqualmie Pass and don’t want to be in a cattle line on the way up it is mandatory to start early.
I have been on many typically popular trails with few or no people.
Find solitude by going early, in questionable weather, and further than the masses venture.
Waking up early, traveling long distances in dark wet conditions isn’t for everyone, but that is why it works.
We used to bag a peak in the Enchantments range every June (Pre-permit peak). Of course there was all sorts of exciting climbing in blizzard conditions but crowds weren’t a factor we had to contend with.
Giving an itinerary to friends and or family is important when venturing into the Solitude. GPS devices like the SPOT can help message if running late and notify rescue if there is an emergency. Having clothing systems dialed becomes more important as well. I always keep a dry set of clothes (prefer cotton for the ride back, apres hike) and gallon of water back in the car because I typically return soaked from outside conditions, sweat, or both.
So yes there is a way to find solitude in the increasingly crowed NW outdoors, but it comes at a price.
Isn’t pushing comfort zones for discovery part of the adventure?
Follow us to adventure.
Bryan is a trail enthusiast that has explored, GPS mapped and video documented hundreds of unique trails in the NW many toting kids in backpacks and many in sub-optimal (solitude friendly) conditions.