washington historical hikes

Time Machine Optional: The Best Historical Hikes in Washington

Spooky old coal mines… Native American trading grounds… Lewis and Clark’s campsites– there’s no shortage of historical hikes in Washington waiting for your exploration.

History is alive and well all across the state, and lucky for hikers who like a little history on the side, much of the state’s storied past can be taken in from a trail.

For a walk back in time — mixed with mountains, rivers, trees and other natural glory of the Northwest — hit some of these historical hikes in Washington.

Iron Goat Trail

Location: Stevens Pass, WA
Distance: 6 miles round-trip

An engineering marvel in the late 19th century for how it helped get the transcontinental railroads all the way across the country, this old portion of the Great Northern railroad is one of our favorite historical hikes because of its pleasant amble past trickling waterfalls, across wooden bridges and near old railroad tunnels. Interpretive signs explain some of the history of the region, and several stops along the way offer up views of Stevens Pass and far-off peaks. Bonus: the first three miles of the trail are ADA accessible.

historical hikes iron goat trail john hathaway

Sacajawea Historical State Park

Location: Pasco, WA
Distance: 1.2 miles of trails

There’s lots of Lewis and Clark history all over the Northwest, including at this state park located at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers. Named in honor of the famous Shoshone guide, this state park was once a Lewis and Clark campsite; for thousands of years before that it served as a traditional fishing and trading area for Native Americans. In addition to an on-site interpretive center, the park offers 1.2 miles of hiking trails, self-guided interpretive displays and more than 9,100 feet of freshwater frontage to explore.

historic hikes sacajawea j stephen conn

Cape Disappointment

Location: Ilwaco, WA
Distance: Varies

Despite its bummer of a name — which came from English Captain John Meares who in 1788 found the nearby cape but failed to find the Columbia River — Cape Disappointment does not let down. An eight-mile trail network winds through this state park, which is also home to two lighthouses, (how to stay overnight at the lighthouse) stunning ocean views and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.

historical hikes

Franklin Ghost Town

Location: Franklin, WA (Mt. Rainier Area)
Distance: 2.5 miles round-trip

Sure, you’ll get some stellar views of Mt. Rainier on one of the easier historical hikes, but the real prize is the history on display at this former coal-mining town. Founded in the late 1880s and largely abandoned by the 1920s, Franklin was once home to an active mining scene, but also one of the largest mining disasters in King County history. Today, the old mining shaft has been sealed off, but some remnants of earlier days remain, including an old coal cart, the former powerhouse and a cemetery.

historical hikes franklin

Old Robe Canyon

Location: Mountain Loop Highway, WA (North Cascades)
Distance: 2.4 miles round-trip

The Stillaguamish River is a pretty one, all tucked into the trees east of Granite Falls, and the trail that runs parallel to it through Old Robe Canyon offers one of the region’s most beautiful historical hikes with great views throughout. There’s history here, too, as the area was once home to thriving mining operations and the railroad tracks needed to move the goods, signs of which still abound on this simple hike along the river.

historical hikes

Did we miss any of your favorite historical hikes through Washington’s past? Share them with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

Image of Iron Goat Trail tunnel courtesy of  John Hathaway via Flickr
Image of Sacajawea Historical State Park courtesy of J Stephen Conn via Flickr
Images of Franklin Ghost Town and Old Robe Canyon courtesy of Niedec-STOCK via DeviantArt

Jon Bell

Jon Bell writes about the outdoors, fitness, health, and a range of other topics from his home in Lake Oswego, OR. He is also the author of "On Mount Hood: A Biography of Oregon's Perilous Peak."

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