Difficulty: Moderate to difficult; 6.7 miles round-trip, 1,490-foot elevation gain. Or easy; a scant eighth-mile from parking lot to tower Location: In the San Juan Islands, about three hours from Seattle, via Interstate 5 and the ferry from Anacortes. Nearest town: Eastsound, about 20 minutes from the top. Discover Pass required; parks.wa.gov
Take in the soaring 360-degree views from the stone tower atop Mount Constitution the easy way (drive), or the hard way (hike). Either way, summiting the highest point in the San Juans, in Moran State Park, offers spectacular vistas of the Cascade and Olympic mountains, the Canadian Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island and all of the San Juans. A twisting nine-mile drive will drop you just a jaunt from the tower; a short uphill stroll and three flights of stone stairs later, you’re atop the 45-foot-tall lookout, where maps help you identify the sweeping scene below. Heartier souls, watch for the Mountain Lake trailhead partway up the mountain; there, you’ll pick up a fairly strenuous hike that winds steeply upward through old-growth stands of western hemlock and Douglas fir. The first mile is the toughest—a relentless uphill slog—but after that, you’ll meander up switchbacks, occasionally popping out of the trees to encounter a staggering view. When you reach the top, you will have hit that perfect hiking trifecta: righteous workout, huge payoff view, and nothing but downhill between you and that sweet post-hike beer in nearby Eastsound.
Elliott Bay Trail
Difficulty: Easy (paved); 5 miles (SoDo to Magnolia), no elevation gain Location: Downtown Seattle waterfront
Much to the delight of the thousands of walkers, joggers and bikers who use it every day, the Elliott Bay Trail, which stretches for five miles from Royal Brougham Way near the stadiums (still accessible during construction) up to Smith Cove Park at the base of Magnolia Hill, offers some of the best and most iconic views in Seattle. Not many other walks include views of working waterfronts, gleaming city skylines and sunsets behind jagged mountain peaks—all at the same time. Along the way, stop in at Pike Place Market and grab something delicious, or detour through the Olympic Sculpture Park for a little artistic stimulation, marking time by counting passing ferryboats as they ply the waters of Elliott Bay. On a sunny day, this walk is guaranteed to increase civic pride.
Difficulty: Easy; 1.5 miles round-trip, 100-foot elevation gain Location: About four to five hours from Seattle in Olympic National Park, south of La Push off U.S. Highway 101. Nearest town: La Push, 5 miles. National Parks Pass required; dogs prohibited; nps.gov
While the tourists flock to Ruby Beach because of its convenient access right off U.S. Highway 101, those willing to get off the beaten path—specifically, three-quarters of a mile through a spooky forest of twisting cedar, fir, maple and madrona boughs—will be rewarded with more solitude and even better sunset views at Second Beach. Jagged sea stacks dominate the view near and far; you can even climb some of them and get that bird’s-eye view you crave. And during summer, when the angle is right, you can watch the sun go down framed by an eroded “hole in the wall” on the northern end of Second Beach. Don’t forget your headlamp for the hike back to the car—you won’t want to leave before sunset.