EXPLORE OUR IN-DEPTH HIKING GUIDE ON ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL HIKES IN THE SEATTLE AREA: THE FAMOUS KENDALL KATWALK.
While the Kendall Katwalk - a 150 yard long narrow pathway that was blasted out of the side of a steep granite mountain face - is the main draw to this scenic hiking trail, we instead recommend checking this hike out for the amazing mountain views and opportunity to swim in turquoise alpine lakes.
The Kendall Katwalk Trail is actually a part of the world famous Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which runs 2,650 miles from the border of Mexico in the south to the border of Canada in the north. Therefore, if you are feeling gumptious, you can really hike as far as you want along the trail (the Kendall Katwalk is around 6 miles from the trailhead).
Below is an in-depth hiking guide that covers everything you need to know about one of the best hiking trails in the state of Washington.
WHERE: Mount Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest & Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington (it is part of Section J of the PCT)
WHAT: hiking and backpacking trail, out and back
DISTANCE: 12 miles to the Kendall Katwalk, option to go muuuuuuch farther
HIGHEST POINT: 5,400 feet / 1,646 meters, at the top
GEAR NEEDED: sturdy hiking shoes, a well-sized day bag or backpacking gear (depending on your distance), sunscreen, lots of snacks, and a water filter
TRAIL CONDITIONS: singletrack trail, forested and shaded for 1/3 of it and open for the rest of it, no super steep sections, awesome lake and mountain views
DOGS ALLOWED: yes, but they must be leashed
PARKING DIFFICULTY: well-sized parking lot, has a bathroom, must have either the Northwest Forest Pass or a National Park Pass (it is federal land); arrive early to secure a parking spot (it gets busy)
➳ You can check out the full Alltrails map to the Kendall Katwalk trail here.
\\ How to Get to the Kendall Katwalk Trailhead
It is really easy to reach the Kendall Katwalk Trailhead if you are coming from either Seattle or from the eastern half of the state of Washington (like from Leavenworth or Spokane). The trailhead is located right off of Interstate 90 near the Snoqualmie Summit (and the Summit at Snoqualmie Ski Resort).
Once you reach the pass, which is approximately 23 miles from North Bend (the last major town on the west side) and 32 miles from Cle Elum (the last major town on the east side), the Kendall Katwalk trailhead will be on the opposite side of the interstate as the ski resort. You will see a sign for the trailhead as well as numerous signs for the PCT (which the Katwalk is a part of). There is a large parking lot and bathroom at the trailhead. You will need to have either a National Park Pass (like this one) or a Northwest Forest Pass.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: it takes around 50 minutes to reach the trailhead from downtown Seattle (without much traffic). Due to its closeness to the metropolis, if you are planning to hike on a weekend we definitely recommend arriving to the trailhead nice and early.
If you are looking for an even longer adventure and you don't want to drive up to the trailhead, then you do have the option to bike along the Cascade to Palouse Trail, which starts near North Bend and ends at the Washington-Idaho border. We have biked the whole distance from North Bend to Snoqualmie Pass and absolutely loved it. It is a pretty easy 21 or so miles up the trail to the base of the ski resort and then another 3.5 miles to the actual Kendall Katwalk trailhead.
\\ The Best Time to Hike the Kendall Katwalk
We recommend hiking the Kendall Katwalk trail in mid to late summer or in the early fall. Because the trail has a good number of narrow sections with steep drop-offs on one side (including the famous Katwalk), you will want to make sure it is completely melted out of snow.
We hiked the trail during the last week of August and found it to be absolutely perfect. There was no snow along the trail, the wildflowers were blooming, and the sun was shining. But, with that being said, the trail was also quite busy. So if you are not looking to share the trail with others, we recommend arriving really early (before 8 AM) or visiting on a weekday.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: we have also heard that the Kendall Katwalk is an amazing trail to do once the larch trees start to change colors. Supposedly, the whole mountainside that the trail curves up and around comes alight with shades of red and gold. This usually occurs between late September and mid-October.
\\ What to Bring With You to Hike the Kendall Katwalk
You will want to wear a pair of sturdy boots that can handle all kinds of terrain: from rough talus fields to just miles and miles of trail pounding. These hiking boots by Vasque seem to be a jack of all trades and therefore should be able to handle whatever the trail throws at you. Recommended hiking boot.
These socks can easily go from hitting the trails to hanging out at camp due to their moisture-wicking properties and slightly elastic stretch. Plus, they are made partially of recycled materials - meaning they are good for you and the planet. Recommended hiking socks from Smartwool.
MOISTURE-WICKING SUN SHIRT
No matter the month (or weather) you are planning to hike in, you will likely want to wear a nice lightweight long-sleeved shirt on the trail. This one by Backcountry works perfectly as your base layer for it is lightweight and breathable enough for hot sunny days, but also insulated enough to still be great when the temperature starts to cool down. Recommended long-sleeve shirt.
This lightweight fleece jacket works great as both a mid-layer for winter hiking adventures or as a solo jacket once the season starts to warm up. Plus, the raglan-style sleeves provide seam-free comfort when you are carrying a heavy backpack. Finally, the fleece jacket is made of recycled fabrics and is Bluesign approved (its sewing is also Fair Trade Certified). Recommended hiking jacket.
While a nice cozy jacket will help keep you nice and warm on those chilly mornings or late-season days, usually the best jacket to have with you while hiking - especially in the PNW - is an easy-to-pack rain jacket. This one by Patagonia checks all of the boxes: it is super lightweight and can pack down into its own little pouch, it has underarm zips that let you vent air even when hiking (and sweating), it has an adjustable elastic draw cord hem that allows fine-tuning for the perfect fit, and finally, it is also Bluesign approved and its sewing is Fair Trade Certified. Recommended rain jacket.
Depending on the time of year, you will likely choose to gravitate towards wearing either full-length hiking pants or a set of lightweight active shorts. We tend to veer more towards wearing pants while hiking unless it is absolutely scorching out - just for the sun protection and less likelihood of getting scratches and cuts from plants. These pants by Black Diamond, are durable enough for all kinds of trails. Recommended hiking pants here.
HIKING DAY PACK
By far one of the most important items in your hiking repertoire is going to be your backpack. Because you will be carrying this bag all day on the trail you will want to make sure it is really comfortable. This bag by Osprey holds 24 liters of gear, while still having plenty of straps to allow it to fit perfectly to your body. Plus, it is made of a nice durable nylon construction that can withstand tons of trail abuse. It also has a specific place to attach your trekking poles or ice ax if needed. Recommended day pack.
HIKING FIRST AID KIT
This is one of those items that you don't realize you need until it is too late. Luckily, this lightweight pack comes with (almost) everything you could need if an accident does unfortunately occur on the trail. Recommended hiking first aid kit.
Hiking first aid kit for your dog: because you want to make sure your best friend stays safe on the trail as well. This pack is also very lightweight and doesn’t take up that much space. The perfect doggy first aid kit.
We personally have never been the type of hikers to use trekking poles but we have friends who absolutely swear by them. This set by Black Diamond can handle all kinds of terrain, are super lightweight and pack down small enough to be stored easily on the side of your backpack. Recommended trekking poles.
Once you make it back to your basecamp (your car, your tent, your house) make sure to take off those boots, stretch out your arches and let your feet breathe. Seriously, this might be one of the best feelings ever. After you do that, slip on a pair of these comfortable Teva sandals (we won’t judge if you add socks too). Recommended post-hike sandals.
POST-HIKE COZY SHIRT
Similarly, there are few things nicer than taking off your sweaty shirt and putting on a nice cozy, clean one after a long day on the trail. This one by Parks Project is made of a nice durable, soft cotton fabric and cut into a very vintage-y style. Recommend post-hike shirt.
HIKING THE KENDALL KATWALK | THE ADVENTURE BREAKDOWN
TOTAL DISTANCE: 12 miles round trip to the Kendall Katwalk and 15 miles round trip to the two lakes (you can then hike an extra 1 mile or so out for an amazing view!)
ELEVATION PROFILE: 3,205 feet gained to Ridge and Gravel Lakes
TIME NEEDED: 7-9 hours to the lakes, 6-8 to just the end of the Kendall Katwalk
TRAIL CONDITIONS: super nice trail, very easy to follow. Expect wildflowers and awesome valley and mountain views and red and golden larches in the fall.
The trail starts in a small campground that is used by PCT thru-hikers. From the beginning, you will be in a dense, forested section that stays really shaded all day. There is one small trail break-off at the very beginning, though it isn't very well-marked so you probably won't even notice it as you walk by. Keep going on the more established trail, past a small wooden bridge until you reach your first switchback (it takes a sharp left-hand turn).
1 | The first couple of miles is in a dense pine forest. It will be nice and shaded. Hike up to the first talus field where there may be a couple of small water crossings depending on the time of year (likely in the early summer). Make sure to take a look out towards the nearby mountains; including, Guy Mountain and Red Mountain. You will also be able to see the bowl where the Alpental Ski Resort is.
2 | Hike up a few more long, gradual switchbacks until you get to the second talus field. This one is quite a bit higher and more open. You will likely hear the chirps of nearby pika and marmots (and maybe even see a few scurrying around the rocks). Also, if you are hiking on a clear day, this will be your first opportunity for an epic view of Mount Rainier in the distance (see photo below).
3 | Your best bet for a water refill (if you are filtering) will be around the 3.2-mile mark. There will be a small waterfall and stream right along the trail. You can easily filter and replenish your supplies here before or after you reach the Katwalk (we did it on the way back). After that, water will only be available at the two lakes (Ridge and Gravel), which are around one mile past Kendall Katwalk (so roughly 7 miles up the trail).
4 | After the stream, you will continue hiking up some more switchbacks until you eventually get out of the dense forest for good. There will be a few narrower sections along the mountain side that are a bit rocky - though nothing too crazy or scary. Take your time and make sure to check out the beautiful surrounding mountains.
5 | You will then circle around a basin and be able to see a sharp, slightly toothed granite mountain in front of you. The Katwalk is on the other side of that. Remember to take in the views of the surrounding mountains and the bowl - especially Red Mountain, which stands out against its more gray-ish counterparts.
6 | The Kendall Katwalk is located at around the ~5.5 mile mark. It is likely that you will not have the trail to yourself (it is quite popular), so just remember to allow other hikers to pass before you step out onto the narrow trail yourself.
💬 INSIDER TIP: definitely be aware of other hikers and especially trail runners along this part of the trail. A good rule of thumb is if someone is going uphill then you give them the right of way. Also, if someone is coming up fast behind you, simply step to the side of the trail (safely of course) and let them pass.
7 | Once across the Katwalk, take in the stunning views of the area, and then continue hiking another mile or so to two beautiful alpine lakes: Gravel and Ridge. This part of the hike is a great spot to take a break, eat a snack or a full lunch, refill your water bottles and just take in the beautiful surroundings.
The total distance from the trailhead to Kendall Katwalk = 5.5 miles and then to Gravel and Ridge Lakes = 7 miles.
8 | If you are starting to feel a bit tired, the lakes are a great turnaround spot for the hike (this would end up being a roughly 14-mile round-trip hike). Simply retrace your steps back up to the Katwalk and then down the trail to the parking lot (once past the Katwalk it is all downhill).
9 | But if you still have a bit of energy left, consider hiking about another mile up the trail to a very amazing viewpoint. From the lake to the viewpoint you will get even more amazing views of the surrounding mountains - including, Huckleberry Mountain, Chikamin Peak and Four Brothers. Similarly, you will know you got to the viewpoint once you see Joe Lake (another alpine lake) down in the valley below. You will also have a great view of the PCT trail across the valley.
💬 INSIDER TIP: we decided to hike out to the viewpoint and wow, what a spot. Definitely recommend checking it out if you have the energy to hike another 2 miles (total). We had lunch there and were totally in awe of the views of the surrounding mountains as well as Mount Rainier in the distance.
10 | No matter where you stop and turn around, you simply have to retrace your steps all the way back to the trailhead. The route down is mostly flat or downhill so you should be able to go a little faster. In terms of water, the only places to fill up your bottles (or give your dog a drink) are at the two lakes (Ridge and Gravel) and then at the stream at the ~3.2 mile mark.
EXTRA TIPS FOR HIKING THE KENDALL KATWALK
| There is only one trail spur along the whole hike (it is called the Old Commonwealth Trail, funny enough, this was actually the precursor to the PCT). Otherwise, you will just need to keep hiking up the trail (the PCT) as long as you want (seriously, you can hike all the way to Canada if you want).
| Because the trail is a part of the PCT, you can technically camp anywhere in the area (no permits required). That being said, definitely make sure to follow ALL Leave No Trace Principles and try to camp in already established sites (there are some fantastic ones by the two alpine lakes).
| Dogs are allowed on the trail, though they do need to be on a leash at all times.
| It can be quite sunny on the backside (once you hike through the forest), so definitely bring ample sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat).
| As with many trails in this part of Washington (less than an hour from Seattle) it can be quite busy during the weekend. We highly recommend showing up nice and early to make sure you get a parking spot. We arrived at the Kendall Katwalk Trailhead around 7 AM and it was about 1/3 full already.
The Kendall Katwalk Trail is a great introduction to the whole upper section of the PCT. While the actual Katwalk is usually the main selling point, we actually found that the stunning mountain views and colorful wildflowers really stole the show.
If you are looking for a decently challenging hike within an hour of Seattle and you don't mind a bit of exposure, then we cannot recommend this trail enough. Hopefully, this hiking guide helps you plan the perfect day out on the trail, but if you have any more questions about hiking the Kendall Katwalk or hiking in Washington in general, then please feel free to leave a comment or question below or reach out to us directly.