IN OUR OPINION, THE NECKLACE VALLEY TRAIL IS ONE OF THE BEST HIKING TRAILS IN WASHINGTON STATE. IT'S STUNNING, EXCITING AND PRETTY QUIET. BELOW IS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS AMAZING WASHINGTON HIKING TRAIL.
If you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and instead spend some time in the backcountry of the Cascades - then we have the perfect trail for you!
The Necklace Valley Trail, which is located in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (one of the biggest Washington national forests) is roughly 15.5 miles long and takes you through dense lush forests, along a raging crystal clear river and up to an alpine basin full of colorful lakes. While hiking this trail is one epic single-day adventure, you also have the option to spend more time in the backcountry and camp overnight along one of the lakes.
Below is everything you need to know about one of the best hiking trails in Washington state; including, how to reach the trailhead (including from the bustling metropolis of Seattle), what outdoor gear you need to bring with you, and what to expect along the trail.
WHERE: Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
WHAT: a hiking and backpacking trail, out and back
DISTANCE: ~15.6 miles total (depending on how far up you go)
HIGHEST POINT: 3,651 feet / 1,112 meters, at the lake
GEAR NEEDED: sturdy hiking shoes, a well-sized day bag or backpacking gear (depending), bug spray and sunscreen, lots of snacks, a water filter
TRAIL CONDITIONS: singletrack trail, forested for most of it, some rocky sections (including a few areas you may need to do a bit of scrambling), a couple of logs you need to use to cross rivers, a few overgrown sections, awesome lake and mountain views
DOGS ALLOWED: yes, but they must be leashed.
PARKING DIFFICULTY: well-sized parking lot, has a bathroom, you must have either the Northwest Forest Pass or an Annual National Park Pass (it is federal land)
\\ How to Get to the Necklace Valley Trailhead
The Necklace Valley Trailhead can be easily reached from a number of towns and cities in western Washington. This includes from the major city of Seattle and Bellingham and from the cute historic town of Skykomish. If you are coming from the eastern half of the state, simply drive up Highway 2 aka Stevens Pass Highway until you get to the right turn off (Foss River Road NE). Likewise, this is a good side trip if you are planning to drive the entire Cascade Loop.
It is about a 15 minute drive from the beautiful, historic town of Skykomish to the Necklaces Lakes Trailhead. To reach the start of the trail, drive from Skykomish on Highway 2 for around 2 miles and then turn right onto Foss River Road NE. Drive this super pretty road (that soon turns to dirt) for just over 4 miles. The trailhead and parking lot will be on the left side of the dirt road.
If you are looking to reach the Necklace Valley Trailhead from downtown Seattle, you will first need to head north on Interstate 5 until you reach the town of Everett (it is just under 30 miles driving on I-5). Once in Everett, turn onto Highway 2/Stevens Pass Highway. Keep driving on this road for about 40 miles until you get to the turn off for Foss River Road NE. Continue down this road for 4 miles until you see the parking lot and trailhead on the left. It takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes (83 miles) to reach the Necklace Valley Trailhead from Seattle.
If coming from the city of Bellingham, you will want to first start by driving south on Interstate 5 until you reach the town of Everett. Once in Everett, turn onto Highway 2/Stevens Pass Highway and drive for another 50 miles until you reach the turn off for Foss River Road NE. Then once again, drive this dirt road for approximately 4 miles until you reach the trailhead on the left. In total, it will take about 2 hours and 15 minutes (114 miles).
OTHER TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS
Unfortunately, there really isn't another option to reach the Necklace Valley Trailhead except with a private vehicle. The only possible exception would be if you biked from one of the nearby towns - including Skykomish (6.2 miles away), Index (20.2 miles away), Gold Bar (26.7 miles away) or the Stevens Pass Ski Resort (19.1 miles away).
\\ The Best Time to Hike the Necklace Valley Trail
The best time to hike in the Necklace Valley area is between July and October. Any earlier than that and you have a good chance of encountering snow up at the higher elevations - including at the alpine lakes. Plus, because the last bit of the trail is quite steep and somewhat rocky, a bit of leftover snow could spell trouble or danger.
By mid-July the trail should be totally clear of snow - though, if it has been a very wet winter, there could still be a chance of some leftover snow on the side of the trail. Likewise, you might also need to walk across some of the rivers if the water is too high. When we did this trail in the middle of July, we found a bit of snow at the very top near the lakes (and especially between the lakes in a more shady area). We also had to take our shoes off and walk a couple of feet across one of the rivers (this wasn't dangerous but it was cold).
Two of the many different types of wildflowers you will see along the Necklace Valley Trail.
\\ What to Bring With You to Hike Necklace Valley
You will want to wear a pair of sturdy boots that can handle all kinds of terrain: from steep rocky scree fields to slick river crossings to just miles upon 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 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 great as your base layer for it is lightweight and breathable enough for hot sunny days, but also insulated enough to 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 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 drawcord 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 (especially when the trail can be overgrown, like in the case of the Necklace Valley Trail). These pants by Black Diamond, are durable enough for all kinds of trails, while also being comfortable enough to wear even when the temperature starts to pick up. Recommended hiking pants here.
Because most hiking is done out in the sun, you will want to make sure you have a nice comfortable, wide-brimmed hat to help keep your face shaded and the sun out of your eyes. This wide brim hat by Patagonia is easy to adjust, lightweight and moisture wicking - plus, like almost all Patagonia gear, it is made of eco-friendly recycled materials. Recommended sun hat.
SUNSCREEN AND BUG SPRAY
While a sun hat definitely helps protect you from the sun's harmful rays, it is still important to give your skin that extra bit of protection - especially your shoulders, feet and hands. These sunscreens not only protect you against the sun but are also environmentally safe. Likewise, you will definitely want to make sure you pack along some bug spray when hiking in the Necklace Valley Trail area. The mosquitos can be terrible up near the lakes, especially during the dusk hours.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the sun is incredibly strong in the Cascades and even if there is cloud cover you can still get burned. Make sure to put sunscreen on when starting out on the trail and reapply once you get up to the lakes since this is where there is the least amount of sun cover.
A handy headlamp is a true adventure necessity. We always tend to have about 5 headlamps scattered around our van just in case we lose one or the batteries die (which somehow happens quite often...). This headlamp by Black Diamond is a personal favorite because it is relatively affordable, it has multiple light settings and it is rechargeable. Recommended headlamp.
Hiking through the dense green forest during the first couple of miles.
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 - including sometimes up and down some steep and sketchy sections - 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. Recommended day pack.
One of the best ways to cut back on your hiking load is to bring along a water filter. This super easy one by Grayl combines a water filter inside an actual water bottle - meaning less gear to carry and less time actually filtering. A true win-win. Recommended water filter.
Or if you want to get an actual filter system that allows you to filter lots of water at once, we recommend the top-notch Katadyn water filter. This filter has been our go-to for all hiking and backpacking adventures. Plus, it takes up very little space, is easy to clean and works pretty darn fast. Recommended Katadyn water filter.
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.