Top Ten Tips to Find Less Traveled Trails

More and more people are getting out on the trails these days - but that doesn't mean we can't find solitude. That just means we have to look past the popular trails and find the trail less traveled. Guidebook author, Craig Romano gives his tips on how to do that.
Craig Romano Craig Romano
Mountaineers Books guidebook author
April 03, 2018
Top Ten Tips to Find Less Traveled Trails
by Craig Romano, Mountaineers Books guidebook author

The first time I hiked up to Rattlesnake Ledge was in the early 1990’s. The trail was pretty rudimentary following alongside a procession of signs warning you not to venture off the trail into the adjacent public watershed. I brushed through knee-high salal and kept my eyes on the ground lest a loose rock made a play for my ankle. Eventually, I reached the ledge. The view east across Rattlesnake Lake and into the U-shaped glacier-carved Cedar River Valley and South Fork Snoqualmie River Valley was breathtaking — and I had it all to myself! While nearby Mount Si and Tiger Mountain were seeing some play, I was out on the Trail Less Traveled — and it paid off — solitude and a wonderful backcountry experience.

Fast forward to 2018 and the first thing you may be thinking is, are we talking about the same Rattlesnake Ledge? The one that seems like it’s now constantly under siege by a procession of every walk of life — the good and the bad displaying every imaginable behavior both admirable and despicable? The same Rattlesnake Ledge whose parking lot often fills to capacity forcing cars to illegally park and help a few towing companies give their workers a fat Christmas bonus? The same Rattlesnake Ledge that can resemble I-405 during rush hour — except without the cars? Yep, the same Rattlesnake Ledge.

In the quarter-century since I stepped foot on that iconic ledge, the trail has been upgraded (a good thing); the land encompassing it has been protected (a good thing); a trailhead with facilities and an environmental center has been developed (a good thing); and thanks to the viral nature of Social Media posts, the trail has become downright crowded (a bad thing) — and I would add at times, simply intolerable (a sad thing) if one is seeking to commune with nature. This former Trail Less Traveled has morphed into the Trail Heavily Trampled. 

If you’ve been hiking around these parts for a considerable amount of time, you don’t need to be told that many of our trails have become downright crowded. Yes, we are currently experiencing a hiking boom fueled in part by new folks moving to the region and Millennials heading to the outdoors. In general this a good thing. It’s great to see so many folks getting outside, bonding with nature, and living healthy lives. However, it’s not so great to see so many new hikers unversed in proper trail and outdoor etiquette or Leave No Trace Principles — to have to be subject to their wake of blasting Bluetooth speakers, and heaps of trash left behind, while enduring shoulder-rubbing conditions. 

While I’m a friendly and social person and don’t mind a little company on the trail, there’s a limit to how many people I want to be out there with me. When a trail gets crowded, it negates the positive experiences I sought by taking to it. That is, it’s hard to commune with nature, move freely in the hills, and have a reflective moment if my surroundings are taking on the atmosphere of a city park or street festival. 

Some folks don’t seem to mind the crowds and its inherent noise and distractions. But if you prefer your nature in quiet, you have several options. You can help educate this new wave of hikers on proper etiquette and Leave No Trace Principles so at least if the trail is crowded, it is agreeable. I don’t mind being out with 100 enlightened souls. It’s the one or two inconsiderate outliers I don’t want to be near. 

Another choice is to simply seek trails less traveled. It may come to your surprise that despite the fact that so many trails are crowded today — many, many more aren’t! I’ve spent the better part of a decade writing about these trails in my guidebooks and articles, but to my chagrin, many folks return over and over to the same over-hiked trails. If you’re willing to try some new adventures — seek some new territory — perhaps go a little out of your comfort and geographic range, I can promise you wonderful backcountry experiences that may indeed include the Holy Grail of hiking experiences — solitude! It’s all about seeking the Trail Less Traveled. 

Here are ten of my tried-and-true tips on how to find those less-traveled trails:

  1. Skip the Instagram famous hikes. Rest assured that they are currently under siege. If you continuously see 20 posts a day on Franklin Falls, Rattlesnake Ridge, or Colchuck Lake in your Social Media feeds, you can bet your sweaty hiking socks that thousands of others are seeing those same pics, too — and they’re heading to those trails at this very moment!
  2. If you absolutely want to hike an Instagram famous hike (after all, it’s famous because it looks so darn enticing to do) — then schedule your hike for early morning on a weekday in lousy weather. Whatever you do — don’t head there on a sunny weekend day — unless of course you enjoy sitting in Seattle traffic or standing in a TSA line. There are plenty of other great places to hike on Bluebird days.
  3. Actively seek the Trail Less Taken. There are hundreds of them out there. These trails are sometimes viewed as second-rate because perhaps the view isn’t stellar. Or maybe the trail is a little harder to hike, or maybe the drive there is a little too far. Those are all good assurances that crowds won’t be there either. But usually these trails are off the radars of the masses because they are simply unknown to the Social Media sheep. My books (as well as other Mountaineers Books authors’ titles) are filled with these trails — start researching them and hiking and enjoying them for yourself.
  4. Divert off the Main Way. Want to have some silent moments on Mount Si? It’s not that hard to do. Just get off of the beaten path. I have hiked on the Talus Loop Trail and the Teneriffe Connector and have been all alone, whilst back on the main way and summit there’s enough people to fill a concert hall.
  5. Drive at least two hours from a major city. The farther you get away from Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver BC, in general the trail populations thin out. It might not make sense to drive 150 miles for a 5-mile hike, so make a night or two out of it. Find a little quiet car campground on the east side of the Cascades, in BC’s Kootenay, or Oregon’s High Desert and enjoy a couple of days of peaceful roaming.
  6. Hike trails that are near popular trails. Instead of hiking Park Butte, opt for the adjacent and generally overlooked Scott Paul Trail. The crowd difference between these connecting trails is considerable. In the Suiattle River Valley, head to Huckleberry Mountain instead of Green Mountain. South Fork of the Skokomish instead of the North Fork. Skip Winchester Mountain and head to High Pass instead. Better yet, check out Silesia Creek. It’s all yours!
  7. Hike when the Seahawks are playing. I can’t tell you how many peaceful Sunday hikes I have had including urban ones, when the Seahawks are playing. 
  8. Road washouts have benefits. If the road to one of your favorite trails is currently washed out, take advantage of it. Get yourself a mountain bike and head off to the trail. I have had the Ashland lakes, Peek-a-Boo Lake, and Lake Edna all to myself thanks to a blown culvert or river run wild.
  9. River fords keep the crowds at bay, too. If you’re not afraid to ford a river (and you can safely do it) a world of quiet trails exists. I have had the North Fork Sol Duc, Queets, and Waptus Lake all to my lonesome.
  10. Take the long way there. If there are multiple routes to a popular destination, rest assured that almost everyone will be taking the most direct route there. You take the longer, less-chosen trail and you can at least have a quiet journey before you get to a happening destination. Head up Mount Townsend via Dirty Face Ridge, Park Butte via Ridley Creek, or Lake Ann via Swift Creek if you want to see what I am talking about.

Okay, I hope I gave you some practical advice to help you have a crowd-free hiking experience. This year, resolve to hike the trail less chosen. Leave the crowded trails for the crowds, discover some new and wonderful places, and get a little reflection and peace of mind along the way. And most importantly, by choosing to hike the trail less taken you will help assure that it will remain open lest the crowded trails grow even more crowded as we lose more trails.


Craig is an award-winning Mountaineers Books author who has written and co-written 20 books. His latest release, Urban Trails Olympia highlights the best trails for walking, running, and hiking in Olympia, Shelton, Harstine Island, and Capitol State Forest. Some of his other titles include Urban Trails Bellingham, 100 Classic Hikes Washington, and Backpacking Washington.

This article originally appeared in our Spring 2018 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.


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