What’s a “creaky knees hike”? Well, a creaky knees hike is not the trail equivalent of lacing up your boots for a mad dash to the Lazy Boy to pump 12 ounce curls of Pepsi. You don’t need to be Sir Edmund Hillary or Justify to tackle these trails. But you should be in decent shape.
Anyway, a “creaky knees hike” is one that:
- Is “mature hiker friendly.” That is, these trails may be challenging and include some climbing. But not long hamstring hollerin’ uphills or bone-crushing descents that require titanium – or 18 year-old – knees.
- Is based on 50+ years of hiking.
- Is 10 miles or less RT (round trip)
- Is rated Easy to Moderately Difficult (but not extreme)
- Offers eye-popping vistas, mountain meadows marinated in wildflowers, singing streams or rushing rivers, serene alpine lakes, thundering waterfalls, or is otherwise majorly rewarding.
- Will make you want to take a U-turn if you view them from the Pearly Gates. Better to check out these Seriously Awesome Creaky Knees Trails now. I hear one-way tickets to a chat with Saint Peter are notoriously difficult to refund.
So here, in no particular order, is my totally subjective, 100% unscientific list of 10 Bucket List-Worthy PNW Hikes for Creaky Knees (you may detect a pattern here):
Distance: 3.5 miles RT
A popular trail with big rewards, this relatively easy loop has it all: pristine mountain tarns, kaleidoscopic wildflower carpets in season, beautiful sub-alpine meadows, a towering peak, and oh, yeah, jaw-unhinging views of that snowy colossus in the distance. Highlights:
- A gentle climb above Tipsoo Lake
- Eye-popping vistas + killer views of the Mountain
- Elev: 5,4000 feet+ – one of the first to close when the snow flies; one of the last to melt out in the spring
- An option for hiking down to Dewey Lake.
- Sheep Lake – near Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Distance: 4.2 miles RT
A great choice for rookie hikers or families with young children, the trail to Sheep Lake includes sweeping vistas, towering trees, scores of wildflowers, and a splendid emerald-green lake lolling under an infinite blue sky! Highlights:
- Climbing for the first mile or so, but the grade is gentle and not steep by Rainier standards.
- It’s outside park boundaries by a stone’s throw, so dogs and horses are allowed on the Sheep Lake trail, which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail.
- First mile is rocky and exposed. Wear a hat. Bring plenty of water.
- Ringed by jagged mountains, Sheep Lake offers smooth-as-glass reflections of the quiet, conifered landscape and open skies. A great lunch stop.
Distance: 3.5 miles RT
Located on the Mountain’s southeast flank out of Ohanapecosh, Silver Falls is one of the best-known waterfalls cobwebbing the park. An easy hike through a spectacular old growth forest. Highlights:
- Out of Ohanapecosh or the Stevens Canyon Entrance on the southeast side of the park, at a much lower elevation than trails out of Paradise or Sunrise.
- One of the first trails to melt out in spring.
- One of the most popular trails in the park.
- No major uphill climbing.
- Good option for families with young children who are used to walking.
Distance: 2.6 miles RT
Sapphire ovals set between jade green hills and emerald foliage, Bench and Snow Lakes are a Mount Rainier “must-see.” Highlights:
- Starts on the south side of Stevens Canyon Road, 1.5 miles beyond Reflection Lakes.
- Enough ups and downs to thrill any step-aerobicizer – but they’re short.
- A hard, fast climb from the trail head which levels out on “The Bench,” a broad plain hosting killer views of the Mountain.
- The walk down to Bench Lake is short and steep and usually muddy. Snow Lake is an easier approach.
Distance 1.3 miles RT
This easy, 1.3 mile walk winds along the aquamarine waters of the Ohanapecosh River, ending in a splendid loop of soaring conifers. Think Emerald City. Times ten. Highlights:
- Some of the grove trees are hundreds of feet tall and up to 1,000 years old.
- One of the most crowded trails in the entire park.
- Arrive early to avoid trail traffic jams, particularly on busy summer weekends.
- You can complete the loop in under an hour, but a hike through this “green cathedral” is worth much more.
- You can combine this hike with the Silver Falls trail.
Note: The Grove of the Patriarchs parking lot is small. It fills up early on bright, sunny weekends in summer. Bathrooms, a drinking fountain and picnic tables are located at the parking lot, a short drive from the Steven’s Canyon entrance.
Distance: 5.5 miles RT
Rating: Moderately Difficult
This steep, rocky trail out of Paradise may be pushing the “creaky knees” envelope. If you’re game, however, you’ll find that it lives up to its name with jaw-dropping in-your-face views of Mount Rainier, the Nisqually Basin, the Tatoosh Mountains and beyond. Highlights:
- An elevation gain of about 1,625 feet.
- Starts at Paradise behind Jackson Visitor Center. The trail is paved for the first half mile or so.
- The Upper Skyline trail option above The Point is about as close as you can get to the Mountain without an ice axe or strapping in to crampons.
You’ll find a “short cut” from Panorama Point along the Lower Skyline Trail. It includes a hazardous trek through a steep snow shelf, lopping off about a half mile from your hike. Park rangers don’t recommend it. The upper trail adds a climb of about 300 feet, but it’s safer. The upper trail joins the lower route eventually and winds through a rocky “moonscape” past Sluiskin Falls back to Jackson Visitor Center.
Tip: Hike this trail clockwise, starting from behind the visitor’s center. You’ll get most of the uphill out of the way at the beginning, while your legs are still fresh.
7. Dege Peak
Distance: 4.2 miles RT
A stunningly beautiful hike out of the east side of Mount Rainier starting from the Sunrise parking lot – 6,400 feet. Prepare to perspire. But worth the effort. Highlights:
- The trail is mostly above the treeline. Little to no shade. Wear a hat. Bring plenty of water.
- A steady climb along steep ridges until you hit a short spur at 1.8 miles, then climb to 7,006 ft.
- Outstanding views of the Emmons Glacier, the northeast face of Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Glacier Peak, Mount Baker, and Oregon.
Distance: about 6 miles RT
Rollicking waterfalls, towering conifers, twittering song birds, laughing creeks, and shoreline views of one of the largest lakes on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
Located a short drive east of Portland off Highway 84, Waterfall Corridor meanders along the Historic Columbia River Highway 30 from Corbett to Dodson. The drive includes sweeping panoramas of the Gorge and surrounding countryside as well as some majorly awesome waterfalls like Multnomah, Latourell, and Bridal Veil. All are accessible by trails. (Caveat: Some of the worst or MIA trail signage we’ve ever seen.)
10. Trail of 10 Falls – Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
Distance: 9 miles RT (if you hike the whole loop)
A nationally recognized hiking trail snaking through a series of spectacular waterfalls along a rocky canyon hemmed by conifers. You pass behind several of the canyon’s most impressive gushers.
What would you add?