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Ten Low-key Nature and Interpretive Trails

WTA has chosen ten of its favorite interpretive trails. Whether you have little ones, limited mobility or simply need to stretch your legs after a long car ride, a short interpretive trail can do the trick. What's more, these trails provide information that can enrich your visit as you learn about the ecology, geology and human history that have shaped the environment.

Whether you have little ones, limited mobility or simply need to stretch your legs after a long car ride, a short interpretive trail can do the trick. What's more, these trails provide information that can enrich your visit as you learn about the ecology, geology and human history that have shaped the environment.

If you like these, we encourage you to seek out others on your own adventures and write about them in a Trip Report.


Olympic Peninsula 

Quinault Rainforest Nature Trail

Location: Olympics -- West
Mileage: 0.5 mile, roundtrip 
Elevation Gain: 40 feet

Quinault Natinal Recreation Trails by Rachel Wendling.jpeg
Learn about the local ecology from the interpretive signs on the Quinault Rainforest Nature Trail. Photo by Rachel Wendling.

If you only have the time for a quick peek at the lush landscape surrounding Lake Quinault, don't miss this short nature loop. Interpretive signs provide an excellent introduction to the ecology of the area. Those who have more time can connect to a larger system of trails that ultimately pass by the historic Quinault Lodge.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Kestner homestead 

Location: Pacific Coast 
Mileage: 1.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 30 feet

A dirt road parallels an old wooden fence with an old farm building in the distance. Photo by somewhat slow Susan
The dirt road leading to the old homestead buildings. Photo by somewhat slow Susan. 

Not only will you be surrounded by the mighty forests of the Olympic Peninsula but also the rustic remnants of a homestead from the 1800s. Wandering through this area is a delight as farm buildings and equipment lay where they were once used to shelter and provide sustenance for the families that once lived here. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide 


North Cascades 

Shadow of the Sentinels 

Location: Mount Baker Area
Mileage: 0.5 mile, roundtrip 
Elevation Gain: 50 feet

An adult and two younger children walk beneath old growth trees with an interpretive sign next to one tree. Photo by Tiger Hiking
Walking beneath these massive trees is a memorable experience. Photo by Tiger Hiking. 

This is a hike that will have you and your family looking up a lot to marvel at these old growth trees, some of which are 700 years old! Signs along the way add interest to the scenery and a boardwalk makes this tour of trees accessible folks in wheelchairs or parents pushing strollers. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide 


Central Cascades 

Bygone Byways

Location: Stevens Pass-East
Mileage: 1.0 mile, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: minimal 

A view through the trees to a river. Photo by jbk51691
A view down to the river from the trail. Photo by jbk51691

Following the Great Northern Railway, this ADA accessible trail is a great intro to the expansive Wenatchee National Forest for young hikers. Interpretive signs tell about the natural and cultural history of the area as well. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide 


Snoqualmie Area 

Traditional Knowledge Trail

Location: North Bend
Mileage: 0.3 mile, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: minimal

Traditional Knowledge Trail by parisrobin.jpegInterpretive sings describe many medicinal plants described on the Traditional Knowledge Trail. Photo by parisrobin.

This new interpretive trail on Snoqualmie tribal land showcases the native plants traditionally used for medicine and food by Native Americans. After touring this area, consider visiting the new Rain Garden nearby.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Pretzel Tree Trail

Location: Near Issaquah
Mileage:
0.5 mile
Elevation Gain: minimal

Two young kids read an interpretive sign along the trail. Photo by 976-HIKE
The interpretive signs are a hit along this trail. Photo by 976-HIKE

Tucked just off the Squak Mountain picnic area, the Pretzel Tree trail tells the story of forest animals who go on an adventure to find the Pretzel Tree Trail. It's an engaging tale for young kids or new readers, and at the end, there is the infamous Pretzel Tree! Do you prefer ecology in a story like this? Consider the Swamp Trail at Tiger Mountain to learn about Zoe and the Swamp Monster.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Mount Rainier 

Trail of the Shadows

Location: Mount Rainier National Park
Mileage: 0.5 mile, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 20 feet

Trail of the Shadows by Jennekehikes.jpeg
The Trail of the Shadows is a short and easy loop great for all ages and abilities. Photo by jennekehikes.

A stop-over at Mount Rainier's Longmire isn't complete without a short detour on the Trail of Shadows. It's a self-guided trail, so hopefully the box is packed with trail booklets. You'll pass by a 1888 logging cabin, mineral springs and beaver dams.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


South Cascades

Layser Cave

Location: Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Mileage: 0.25 mile, roundtrip 
Elevation Gain: 100 feet

Layser Cave by ejain.jpeg
Check out the beautiful view of Mount Adams from the Layser Cave trail. Photo by ejain.

Hike It: One of the most important archaeological sites in Western Washington lies just off the forest road to Mount Adams and the east side of Mount St. Helens. Only a quarter mile from the spur road, this cave was discovered in 1982 and was found to contain tools and bones dating back 7,000 years. Interpretive signs help put the human history here in context. If you have more time, you may also want to visit the Cispus Braille Trail at the Cispus Environmental Center for a short sensory hike.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Birth of a lake

Location: Mount St. Helens
Mileage: 1.2 miles, roundtrip 
Elevation Gain: minimal 

A wooden boardwalk curves out over a section of lake and returns to land on the other side. Photo by Jennekehikes
A stretch of boardwalk along the trail. Photo by Jennekehikes. 

The Mount St. Helens area offers a wealth of learning opportunities, both about the eruption but also the way the landscape was altered as a result. The signs along this trail tell that story and the combination of paved sections and boardwalk make this a great option for folks in wheelchairs or parents with strollers. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide 


Eastern Washington 

Mission Point

Location: Selkirk Range
Mileage: 0.5 mile
Elevation Gain: minimal 

A man stands in front of an old A-frame building. Photo by Holly Weiler.
The old mission is still standing. Photo by Holly Weiler. 

The trail through this sight sheds light on the complex history of this area. With an old mission and a graveyard and signs explaining the history of this as a trading outpost, visitors will learn as they walk. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide