– Ben Martens

Hiking 101: Picking a Hike

Now you’ve got your pack ready. How do you know where to start hiking? If you want a good, consistent experience for comparing hikes, I recommend two books: Beyond Mt. Si or Day Hiking Snoqualmie Region. I have the former but it’s getting a bit hard to find online. If you’re sitting at the computer and thinking about hiking, go to They have a new hike finder tool which lets you see hike locations on a map.

But how do you know which hikes are in your skill range? There are a few things I look for in any hike:

  • Length and elevation are the two biggest ones. The best way to know what you can handle is to start small (less than 5 miles and less than 1000 vertical feet) so you have a baseline experience to compare against. Elevation change is generally the most important statistic. If you’re still getting into hiking, avoid hikes with more than 2000 vertical feet.
  • How do you get to the trailhead? Is the whole route there paved or are you going to be on a dirt road of questionable quality? Is the road closed or gated? The hike description should give you some idea, but if you have any questions call a ranger and ask.
  • Do you have to pay to park at the trailhead? Many hikes that start on forestry service roads require a Northwest Forest Pass. You cannot always pay at the parking area! I keep an extra day pass in my glove box. You can order them on the internet, pick them up at REI, or get them from a ranger station. Look for “pass required” in the hike description.
  • What does the actual route look like? This can be a bit hard to discover, but it can make a big difference. If the path is wide and smooth, you can cover a lot more ground than if you’re scrambling up rock falls and streams.
  • Do you have enough time to finish the hike? I think I’m an average to fast hiker. I can cover a mile of shallow incline at a rate of 20 minutes per mile. Very steep/difficult terrain slows me down to 40 minutes per mile. Once you figure out your own pace, you can use that to estimate the length of the hike.
  • Look at the weather forecast right before you leave to get the latest info. This will help you dress for the right temperatures and let you know if any foul weather is expected.
  • Early in the season, the higher hikes will be blocked by snow. The road to one hike I’m looking at right now is still blocked by 20 FEET of snow. No joke. The best way to check for this is to look at trip reports on

The only real way to get good at picking hikes is trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try a hike but ALWAYS be prepared and be willing to turn around if you run out of energy or time. Don’t get stuck out in the woods after dark or in bad weather!

Tomorrow I’ll recommend some hikes for you to start with.