Beginner Backpacking Trips in Oregon & Washington

These nine backpacking trips are suitable for beginners, with short distances to campsites and minimal elevation gain. Locations range from low elevation forests, to the Olympic Coastline in Washington, to the Central Oregon Cascades.

For more info about backpacking gear and trip planning, visit these posts:

Lower Lewis River Trail

Lower Lewis River Trail backpacking trip

The Lower Lewis River is a good early season option when there’s still snow at higher elevations. Highlights include old-growth forest, uncrowded trails, and of course, the Lewis River.

  • I Heart PNW trip report: Lower Lewis River Trail backpacking trip
  • distance & elevation gain to Bolt Camp: 2.4 miles, 175 ft. gain
  • day hike options: continue on the Lewis River Trail for an additional 6-7 miles (one-way)
  • best months: April – June

Salmon River Canyon

Salmon River Canyon - Goat Creek backpacking trip

Hike next to the Salmon River through a mossy forest and setup camp at one of the many campsites in the first several miles, or continue past several canyon viewpoints to Goat Creek Camp. Woodland wildflowers are a highlight in the spring.

  • I Heart PNW trip reports: Salmon River Canyon backpacking trip
  • distance & elevation gain to Goat Creek camp: 5.5 miles, 1,200 ft. gain
  • day hike options: continue on the Salmon River Trail or hike up to Kinzel Lake or Devils Peak lookout
  • best months: May-June, September-October

Indian Heaven Wilderness: Bear Lake

backpacking - Indian Heaven Wilderness - East Crater Trail, Bear Lake, Lemei Rock

Late autumn is the best time to visit Indian Heaven Wilderness. The mosquitoes the area is famous for are gone, and thousands of huckleberry-laden shrubs literally cover the entire area in stunning shades of red, yellow and orange. One of the easiest access points is via the East Crater Trail, providing access to Junction Lake (shown above), Bear Lake, and many other lakes in the area.

  • I Heart PNW trip report: Bear Lake backpacking trip
  • distance & elevation gain to Bear Lake: 4.2 miles, 800 ft. gain
  • day hike options: Lakes Basin loop; Lemei Rock
  • best months: September – October

Packwood Lake

Packwood Lake backpacking trip

Packwood Lake is at low elevation in Goat Rocks Wilderness, so it’s a good early season backpack when the snow levels are above 3,500 ft. Due to the easy access, the lakeside campsites can be heavily crowded, especially in the summer, so go early in the season if you can.

  • I Heart PNW trip report: Packwood Lake backpacking trip
  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 4-6 miles, 400-700 ft. gain
  • day hike options: continue on the Packwood Lake Trail to the end of the lake
  • best months: May – June (due to crowds in the summer months)

North Fork Skokomish River Trail

backpack - North Fork Skokomish River

Located in the Olympic National Park, the North Fork Skokomish River Trail is a great low elevation trip for the spring when water levels are running high in the cascading river and the lush forest is filled with many shades of green.

  • I Heart PNW trip report: North Fork Skokomish River backpacking trip
  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 4 miles, 800 ft. gain
  • day hike options: continue on the North Fork Skokomish Trail; Flapjack Lakes
  • best months: May – June

Tenas Lakes

Mount Washington Wilderness - Tenas Lakes backpack trip

Located in the Mount Washington Wilderness in Central Oregon, Tenas Lakes are a group of subalpine lakes with rocky shorelines and blue-green water. Mosquitoes can be a problem until mid-August, so plan accordingly.

  • I Heart PNW trip report: Tenas Lakes backpacking trip
  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 2.5 miles, 600 ft. gain
  • day hike options: Scott Mountain
  • best months: August – September

Badger Creek

Badger Creek Wilderness backpacking trip

Located southeast of Mount Hood, Badger Creek Wilderness is in a transition zone on the east side of the Cascade crest with a forest of mixed conifers including Ponderosa pine, western red cedar, and western hemlock. This is a good early season backpacking destination due to the lower elevation and drier conditions.

  • I Heart PNW trip report: Badger Creek backpacking trip
  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 3.8 miles, 575 ft. gain
  • day hike options: continue on Badger Creek Trail as snow levels allow in the spring
  • best months: May – June

Tillamook Head

Tillamook Head backpacking trip

The Oregon Coast offers very few opportunities for backpacking. The hiker’s camp on Tillamook Head, while intended for people thru-hiking the Oregon Coast Trail,  has a designated camp area with wood shelters as well as space for tents. The trail is often very muddy, especially during the rainy season, and there’s no water source near the camp.

  • I Heart PNW trip report: Tillamook Head backpacking trip
  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 4 miles, 1,200 ft. gain
  • day hike options: Clatsop Trail to Indian Beach
  • best months: anytime, although trails are muddier in the winter and spring

Ozette Triangle

Ozette Triangle - South Sand Point backpacking trip

Washington’s Olympic Coast is truly wild, with access limited to hikers and backpackers for long stretches of coast line. This trip to South Sand Point includes a day hike to see ancient native petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks.

  • I Heart PNW trip report: South Sand Point backpacking trip
  • distance & elevation gain to campsite: 4.5 miles, 175 ft. gain
  • day hike options: Wedding Rocks petroglyphs
  • best months: spring (for better water access for filtering)

 

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