Multi-Day Trails in the PNW

With summer just around the corner it is time to start planning your epic trail adventures. Now that we’ve already covered all the things to consider before signing up for your summer races, let’s put a bug in your ear about all the things you can do that doesn’t include race bibs. Namely multi-day trail adventures for all you ultra runners!

First off, what exactly is a multi-day trail adventure? It all depends upon how you look at it. For some of your faster runners, it’s just a really long run. For those of us chase views, it’s fast backpacking [fastpacking, if you will]. All of the Pacific Northwest trails we’re about to talk about fall into both of those categories. It’s not about the trail you hit, but how you go about hitting the trail.

The snowstorm that kept us away from Three Fingered Jack – Oregon

Secondly, be sure you head out onto these adventures fully prepared. Physically + mentally. Don’t let these massive adventures be your first adventure of the season. Work your way up + pack along enough to survive overnight. Pad in extra time to allow for mishaps + always bring extra food because it’s tasty treats that’ll keep you moving.

Now, where should you venture out for a weekend of fastpacking? Anywhere. Really, any trail system that links together can become an epic weekend of dirty shenanigans. Take a peek at websites like alltrails.com, trails.com + your local Facebook adventure/hiking/running groups. It’s even helpful to look at trail races in the area — a looping 50-100 mile race may have already planned out a beautiful route you can follow in your free time. You’re bound to find something. Or check out the list we have for you below.

Northern Cascade Mountain Loop Highway – Lake 22 – Washington

If you’re lucky enough to live in the PNW you probably already know you have a whole network of interlocking trail systems just waiting for you. A few summers ago I had a few weeks to kill in Oregon + Washington. Naturally, I took to the trails. These are some of the long distance trail loops + lollipops I explored…or dreamed of exploring.

Three Fingered Jack Loop

This trail holds a special place in my heart, even though I have never made it past the trailhead. Twice I planned to take on the 20 mile loop around Three Fingered Jack, twice my plan was thwarted. The first time it was because of a randomly large snowstorm in early November, the second time was…poor planning [thus my mention of dreaming earlier, I didn’t plan at all so it just stayed a dream].

Eventually I will make it back to this trail with my fastpack in tow. It’s a 20 mile lollipop, so it’s perfect for a relaxing weekend of hiking or a long day of running. Both have their own appeal! Plus, there is a great coffee shop in Sisters — if you take on this loop be sure to hit up Hop + Brews for me [yup, brews…they have beer + kombucha on tap too!].

Location: Willamette National Forest, Oregon

Distance: ~20 miles
Route Info: Three Fingered Jack via Trails.com

Three Sisters Loop

In an effort to get all of my failure stories out of the way right away…let’s chat about the Three Sisters Loop. This is another loop I’ve talked about + semi-planned out but never got around to exploring. There are a lot of trails in this area + you can summit the volcanos the Three Sisters trail loops. Personally, I’d love to do the entire loop because it give you stunning views of the North, Middle + South Sister volcano.

View of trail linking to Three Sisters Loop -Oregon

The trails within Three Sisters Wilderness are near Bend, Oregon + I don’t need to tell you that town is full of coffee shops, cafes + breweries just waiting to fuel +/or refuel you!

Trailhead: Three Sisters Wilderness

Distance: ~50 miles
Route Info: Three Sisters Loop via CleverHiker.com

Enchantment Lakes

Now it’s time to ease back into trails I’ve actually been able to frolic around. I say ‘ease’ because, due to permitting, I’ve only been on a portion of the Enchantment Lakes trails. From Leavenworth, Washington you have easy access to the trails leading up to the well known lakes, but you are required to have permits for any overnight travel. This keeps the traffic down, but may put you in a situation where you need to do a few out + back adventures if the permitting doesn’t work out.

The Enchantments Lakes -Snow Lake – Washington

This area of the Cascade Mountains is quite literally…enchanting. It’s cliche, but it is oh so true. My personal experience didn’t get me very far past Snow Lakes, but the entire trip was stunning. The trails varied from gloriously runnable to steep climbs to rocky descents. There was no time to get bored + plenty of excuses to take in the view [ie: stop to breath]. With Leavenworth just down the road from the main trailheads you won’t run out of places to refuel, although I will admit I found their coffee shops lacking…in quality + quantity.

Trailhead: Wenatchee National Forest

Distance: ~19 miles one way, ~38 miles out + back
Route Info: Enchantment Lakes via WTA.org

North Cascades Highway Loop

The trails looping through the Northern Cascades aren’t exactly an official multi-day adventure, but there are hundreds of miles of gorgeous + challenge trails just steps off this equally beautiful road. Rather than ignore this section of the PNW all together, let’s make it into a bit of a challenge. If you ever find yourself in the Northern Cascades pop over to the Washington Trail Association website, peruse around for a bit + create your own epic adventure.

Northern Cascade Mountain Loop Highway – Washington

I spent two weeks near the Mountain Loop Highway + managed to visit at least 11 trails. Some of my adventures involved a long day of linking trails together, others were short days on shorter trails. Either way, I spent just enough time there to fall in love + realize there is an insane amount to potential here! You’ll find easy access to a handful of small towns with great cafes for refueling + the WTA website has so much information you can’t help be plan + plot for hours!

Trailhead: Northern Cascade Mountains

Distance: variable, get creative + make your own routes
Route Info: Washington Trail Association has great trail beta

Obviously these are just a few of the trail loops you can find in the Pacific Northwest. I left out iconic routes such as the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier, trails linking Mount Saint Helen + Mount Adams together, the Tunnel Falls trail that goes under a waterfall + so much more. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get out on these trails yet…but if you have, please tell us about them! The area is obviously gorgeous + I’d love to explore more!

Heidi Berghammer

Heidi Berghammer

Heidi Berghammer is a trail runner, world traveler, mountain climber, and all around adventure enthusiast. As a trail runner she has covered thousands of miles in the Colorado Rockies and beyond training for and running races from the half marathon distance to the one hundred mile ultra. Heidi is so stoked about finding adventure on trails that she has made it her career as the owner of Adventure Feet First, a travel company that focuses on getting people outside to explore the world as they travel. Over the past years Heidi has spent months living abroad, volunteering around the world, living out of a van/car/truck, and finding new ways to explore on foot, by bike or with a backpack. She has learned the ins and outs of self propelled exploration the hard way, so she’s here to help us learn from her mistakes and to help us become more informed on how to make your own mistakes…safely.

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