How to Check Backcountry Weather Forecasts

Weather conditions can have a big impact on trip plans – sometimes necessitating the need for a backup plan to a different destination. Use these resources to check conditions before heading out.

how to check backcountry weather forecasts

It’s important to know what your preferences are regarding weather conditions when hiking or backpacking. Some people don’t mind rain or cold temps on trips, while others prefer to go when the chance for both is slim. The same goes for unusually hot weather or a chance of thunderstorms. Knowing what to expect can make a trip more enjoyable for all – and keep everyone safe.

And while inclement weather doesn’t always negatively impact a trip, managing the risks of what you’ll be exposed to can help prevent finding yourself in dangerous situations such as hypothermia, lightning strikes, or hazardous air quality.

National Weather Service

For weather forecasts, one of the most reliable sources are the forecast maps on the National Weather Service (NOAA) website. For the most accurate forecast for your destination, click on the desired area directly on the map, or by entering latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates. This method will take into account the elevation and specific conditions of the location.

National Weather Service forecasts

NOAA forecast for a specific pinpointed location (left), and hourly weather forecast (right)

For a point-based forecast, zoom in on the map to locate the general area of a destination, then click on the exact location and the forecast will update based on that location. Click on the “Hourly Weather Forecast” link to see more detailed forecasts for temperature, wind and precipitation.

Sample NOAA forecasts for locations in Oregon and Washington

Forecasts are continually updated, with the most accurate info available a few days in advance, so keep checking to see if conditions have changed before leaving.

Backup Plans

Have a backup plan in case you need to cancel or reschedule a trip due to weather or other conditions. The Pacific Northwest has many types of climates and it is often possible to choose another location with better conditions if your original location doesn’t work out.

For example, in the spring, the high desert is often rain-free while western locations are drenched. Or, later in the season, wildfires may impact one part of the region but not another. Having multiple locations to choose from can make the difference from being able to go on a trip versus cancelling it.

Additional Forecast Resources

High Elevation Forecasts

Mountain Forecast website

Mountain Forecast – To see conditions for specific mountain areas, select the mountain range, then the peak to see a detailed forecast that includes wind, snow, rain, and freezing levels. Forecasts are available for multiple elevations, so be sure to click on the elevation that is closest to the area you’ll be visiting.

Snow Levels

snow levels

NOHRSC Snow Level Map – Even in the height of summer, snow can linger at higher elevations and provide an element of risk in some areas. And in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, knowing where the snow level is can tell you whether or not a trail is accessible as well as what type of gear may be needed for a trip. When snow covers trails, keep an eye on avalanche conditions by checking the Northwest Avalanche Center site.

Coastal Tides

tide tables

NOAA Tides and Currents – If you are hiking or backpacking along the coast, tides should be taken into consideration since some areas are accessible only at low tide. Check online sources or pick up a printed tide table at locations along the coast, including state parks and ranger stations.

Forecast for Nearby Towns

local town forecast

Weather Underground – It can also be helpful to check the forecast for towns near your destination. Often, these forecasts are more up-to-date regarding temperature and precipitation swings.

Current Location Forecasts

satellite communicator weather forecast

Garmin InReach – When you are out for multiple days, the forecast can change and bring weather you weren’t expecting. If you have a satellite communication device, you can pull a forecast based on your current location (subscription required).

Wildfires & Air Quality

wildfires and air quality

Wildfires are a common occurrence during the Pacific Northwest’s dry summers, and can impact vast areas with widespread smoke. New fires can start unexpectedly, especially during thunderstorms, and air quality can be hazardous so it’s important to know what the current conditions are for both. Even when active wildfires aren’t an issue for your location, check the current fire danger level for the area you’ll be visiting in case there are trail closures or campfire restrictions.

Online resources for tracking current wildfires and air quality:

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