Of the eight National Forests in Washington State, one is especially beloved by urban dwellers and visitors. The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (MBS) provides easy access from metro Puget Sound cities – including Tacoma, Seattle and Bellevue.All in all, its 1.7 million acres feature more than 1,500 hiking trails.

Learn more about how the National Forest Foundation is working with the Forest Service and local partners to support responsible recreation and a healthy forest here.

Note that the MBS National Forest can receive a high number of visitors, especially during holiday weekends. Be sure to have a back-up plan in case your first destination is full.

Ready to plan your visit?

Explore these beginner and family-friendly hikes in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

1. Picture Lake

Photo by Kara Patajo.

Be awestruck at Picture Lake. The 0.6 mile trail winds around the lake’s perimeter, while offering in-your-face views and reflections of the glacier-covered Mt. Shuksan. Along the way, learn about geology thanks to interpretive signs.

Located ~60 miles from Bellingham, this ADA-accessible trail is perfect for families, retirees, and photographers.

In the summer, be greeted by vibrant pink Fireweed and wild blueberries.

Due to its high alpine elevation at 6056’, the best time to visit is between late-July and mid-September.

Be sure to bring a National Forest Pass. Or, purchase one at the Glacier Public Service Center.

While in the area, don’t miss Heather Meadows Visitor Center just a mile further on the Mt. Baker Highway. Here, you’ll find guide books, public restrooms, and the chance to continue hiking on the 0.5 mile paved Fire and Ice Trail.

2. Heybrook Lookout

Photo by Kara Patajo.

Today, only a handful of fire lookout towers still stand in theMBS. At 2.6 miles and 850’ elevation gain, Heybrook Lookout trail provides a great first fire lookout hike. Also, it’s ideal for active families and pets!

With a trailhead alongside Highway 2, this trail is about an hour from Seattle.

Expect a reasonably steady incline through a young evergreen forest of primarily Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar. In the understory, look for ferns and trillium. Once at the tower, climb the staircase for unbelievable views of Mount Index!And, play a game of iSpy to locate Bridal Veil Falls. In accordance with the Leave No Trace principles, please do not write on or carve into the tower.

During spring, it’s particularly impressive. Enjoy snowy mountain views and a (usually) snow-free trail. Still, the trail is likely to be wet. So, waterproof boots are a must. Additionally, consider gaiters and rain pants.

For a unique experience, visitors can reserve the top level of the tower for overnight stays. Or, check out nearby Money Creek Campground, Beckler River Campground, and Miller River Campground.

No passes required.

3. Franklin Falls

Feel like chasing waterfalls? If so, hike to Franklin Falls. It’s popular year-round for good reason!

On this trail, hikers enjoy a peaceful walk through the forest with gradual elevation changes. Along the way, delight in the sounds and sights of glistening Denny Creek below. Pack a lunch to enjoy along the rocky shoreline of the creek and around the base of the falls. Don’t get too close unless you don’t mind mist!

In total, you’ll log two miles and 400 feet elevation gain. While dogs are allowed on this trail, l recommend leaving them at home because the final descent to the falls involves a narrow, rocky ledge.

You’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass.

For experienced hikers or snowshoers, winter visits are well-regarded as the falls freeze. This time of year, expect an extended route of ~6.5 miles and 700’ elevation gain. Plus, a Sno-Park permit requirement for the Ashael Curtis Sno-Park.

Before heading out, make sure you’re educated on avalanche safety, current snow conditions, and how to properly dress for winter hikes.

4. Middle Fork Snoqualmie River

Photo by Kara Patajo.

If you’re seeking solitude not far from the city, meander alongside the twists and turns of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River.

Located near Snoqualmie Pass, this area is about an hour drive from Seattle. Besides bountiful outdoor recreation opportunities, the neighboring town of North Bend is also a lovely place to visit.

At the trail’s outset, you’ll find the stunning Gateway Suspension bridge, shore access, and picnic areas. Here, you’ll be in the shadow of Garfield Mountain (more on this later).

The trail itself follows the river for six miles one-way, sometimes heading up into the forest because of necessary reroutes due to erosion. Continue as far on this trail as you’d like or access connecting trails for backpacking.

A Northwest Forest Pass is required. Or, buy passes at the Snoqualmie Ranger District.

Note that black bears are commonly sighted in this area, so brushing up on bear safety is wise.

5. Garfield Ledges

Photo by Kara Patajo.

While visiting Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, consider hiking to nearby Garfield Ledges At the top, hikers are greeted with panoramic views.Since the trail opened in 2019, it is quite the hidden gem in Washington!

In just over a mile and 830’ feet elevation gain, second-growth forest gives way to a rocky landing overlooking a valley.

Keep your eyes peeled for the Middle Fork and Taylor Rivers as well as the deciduous trees that line its shores. And, discover how glaciers gradually created the valley visible today by reading a new interpretive sign. Altogether, expect to hike 2.2 miles.

Like the Middle Fork Snoqualmie trail, a Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Before you head out to hike in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, print and download maps.

About the Author

Kara Patajo is a Washington State travel writer and content creator. Whether sharing hikes or coffee shops, she strives to inspire Pacific Northwest adventure. Connect with her on https://yournorthwestiebestie.com or Instagram @YourNorthWestieBestie.

Cover photo by Kara Patajo.


You now know that National Forests provide more hiking opportunities than any other public lands in the U.S. The NFF is determined to ensure this incredible resource is always available. Your unrestricted gift today can help us restore trails, improve safety, and much more. Please click here to make your gift today. Thank you!

National Forest Foundation