A beginner’s guide to hiking on the Palouse

Know before you go; always be prepared for weather, emergencies

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EMMA LEDBETTER

Ready to get out and experience a view like this one? Be sure you plan your path ahead of time and are prepared for possible trail conditions.

EMMA LEDBETTER, Evergreen editor-in-chief

If you are anything like me, you get cabin fever after about two weeks of staying at home. And after a whole year of quarantine, I am more than ready to get out and explore. 

For me, there is no better way to beat cabin fever and experience my surroundings than hiking. I’m a big fan of Western Washington’s mountains and evergreen trees, but the rolling hills of the Palouse have really grown on me over the past three years.

So, if you are ready to get out and experience the beauty of the Palouse, this hiking guide is for you!

Know before you go

My best possible piece of advice for beginner hikers is to do your research. 

There are plenty of websites and apps that can help you plan your first Palouse hiking adventure. Washington Trails Association and AllTrails are two I recommend. Be sure you know how to get to the trailhead, how long the hike is and what the weather conditions are. 

Always check recent trail reports so you know what to expect on the trail. It might be warm in Pullman in April, but that does not mean there won’t be snow on the ground at Moscow Mountain. Learn from my mistakes. 

You should also let someone else know where you are going and how long you expect to be gone. You might not have cell service where you are hiking, so if you have an emergency, you want to make sure someone knows to come looking for you.

Good scouts are always prepared

If you want a good hiking experience, you have to be prepared. 

Make sure you have a solid backpack to carry everything you need on the trail. Hiking poles, a first aid kit or extra snacks won’t do you any good if you leave them in the car. Take them with you so you don’t regret leaving them behind.

It is up to you to decide what you need to bring. What you put in your pack really depends on the length of your hike and the season. 

In general, never go without water, snacks and any necessary medications. If you are hiking in the summer, be sure to also have sunscreen, bug spray and sunglasses. During colder months, you should bring extra layers.

Experienced hikers will tell you to always carry the 10 essentials. You may find that these items weigh you down more than they give you reassurance. You can pick and choose, but keep in mind these items could save your life in the event of an emergency.

  1. Extra water. It is also nice to have a cooler with water in your car for when you finish your trip.
  2. Extra food. Granola bars, trail mix, fruit and veggie slices will be your best friends.
  3. First aid kit. Be sure to include any necessary medications and bug spray.
  4. Extra clothing. Be sure you have multiple layers, especially for colder weather.
  5. Navigation. This could include anything like a map, compass or GPS.
  6. Headlamp or flashlight. Your light will not work without batteries, so be sure to pack some spare ones!
  7. Knife and gear repair kit. Duct tape works great for a lot of repairs.
  8. Fire. This could include matches, a lighter or a camp stove.
  9. Shelter. Even if it is a lightweight tent, you will be grateful for it in the event of an emergency.
  10. Sun protection. Be sure you bring sunglasses, sunscreen and clothing to protect you from the sun, especially during summer months. 

Finally, be prepared for crowds. If you do not want to share a hiking trail with a ton of other people, plan to go on a weekday or early on a weekend. Some trails are not as crowded as others, which you should be able to tell by reading trip reports.

Palouse favorites

If you live in Pullman and have not hiked Kamiak Butte, that should be your first stop. It is close to town, a relatively easy hike and there are a number of ways you can extend it if you want to stay out a little longer. Plus, the views are very rewarding, especially if you go for sunrise or sunset. 

Idler’s Rest is a hidden gem in Moscow that you should not miss. Like Kamiak, there are a number of ways to hike here that could create a short or slightly longer adventure. You will not get as much in terms of views, but I think it is still worth the drive at least once.

Steptoe Butte is not a hike unless you make it one. You can park at the bottom and walk up, which I have never personally done, or you can drive up. Either way, you’ll encounter sweeping views of the Palouse and, if you are lucky, you might see the moose who hangs out near the parking lot. 

For Western Washingtonians, East Moscow Mountain will give you the evergreen trees you’ve been longing for. This is a great all-season adventure, but be prepared to encounter a lot of snow if you are going between October and May. 

Elk Creek Falls is a pleasant hike outside of Deary, Idaho. I hiked this in the winter and definitely want to return so I can see the falls without snow. 

Depending how far you are willing to drive, there are plenty of hikes in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. 

If you are unsure of where to head first, WSU’s Outdoor Recreation Center offers guided trips to many of the best hikes nearby — and some even further away. This is a great way to start if you aren’t sure how to prepare or need transportation.