So, you have finally decided to set out on your first hike but have no idea where to start? Or you have seen one of those incredible “PNW” pictures on Instagram but have no idea how to find the location? Unfortunately, the beautiful outdoor photos on social media, more often than not, don’t tell the whole story. How long is the hike, how difficult it is, how to get to the trailhead, when to go, what to bring, and so on. In this blog post, I intend to share all of the resources I use to find and plan hikes in the Pacific Northwest and encourage all of my readers to “get out there” with the appropriate knowledge of respecting the environment and leaving no trace.

Top ten things you need to know before heading on a hike:

  1. Name of the hike & the overall area (WTA, Cairn, Google)
  2. Weather Conditions (WTA – Recent Trip Reports, Google)
  3. Road Conditions (WTA – Recent Trip Reports, Google)
  4. Sunrise/Sunset Times (Google)
  5. Trailhead Coordinates (WTA, Cairn, Google Maps)
  6. Total Elevation (WTA, Cairn)
  7. Estimated duration (WTA – Recent Trip Reports, Cairn)
  8. Water Sources (WTA, Google)
  9. Permits & Parking Fees (WTA, Google)
  10. Wildlife information (WTA, Google)

Top three information sources to find everything you need before heading on a hike + *bonus tips:


  1. On the website choose “Go Outside” → “Hike Finder Map” – and find a hike in the area you prefer .
    1. OR
  2. “Go Outside” → “Trip Reports” – Select an area and explore the trails that have been recently hiked and choose a hike that catches your eye.
  3. Find the hike you want to go on at WTA.ORG and get all of the information listed above. Most of the information you will find at the very beginning of the page and in the description of the hike. After reading through the hike description, scroll all the way down and go through a few most recent trip reports. The trip reports are the best way to get the most recent information on the road and weather conditions.

After you get done with WTA.ORG, open up the CAIRN App on my phone. (Only available on IOS for now but they are working on the Android Version)

2. Cairn App

  1. Find the trail you would like to hike in the Cairn App.
  2. Pre-download the area of your destination.
  3. Get the driving coordinates (compare the driving coordinates with the coordinates you get from WTA.ORG; if there’s a discrepancy, you might need to do further research on the hike)

3. (Say whaaat?)

  1. Write down sunrise/sunset times in your notes (depending on the time of the day/anticipated duration of your trip)
  2. Research the wildlife information in the area you’re heading to
  3. Research the water sources in the area you’re heading to
  4. Notify your safety circle

*Bonus Tips:

If you’re heading out on a hike to catch the sunrise or sunset but have no idea what the visibility will be like in the area you’re going to, check out the astronomers forecast on cloud cover and transparency in the area you’re heading to. Click here to check out Clear Sky Chart in Washington!

Buy an $80 annual pass that will be your ticket to all the national parks in the U.S. as well as more than 2,000 federal recreation lands. Click here to buy America the Beautiful – National Parks & Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass!

Find the name of the trail & area you’re heading to on Instagram via the location tag or hashtags to see what it looks like within the last few days.

Leave No Trace! 

And last but not least, before heading out into the wilderness, you simply MUST learn the outdoor etiquette be respectful to the environment. So, head to American Hiking Society to check out the appropriate hiking etiquette and learn how to protect the outdoors and enjoy it responsibly by checking out Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.





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