Runners in North Central Washington are lucky. If we can survive patches of ice in the winter, we’re rewarded in the spring with so many trails opening up that we could quit our day jobs and run full time.
We came up with five trails to suit runners of various abilities and time commitments, but we could have easily picked other ones in the region that are equally worthy. So, use this list as a starting point, and then go explore other trails, from Stevens Pass to Chelan in the north, and from Blewett Pass to Moses Lake in the south.
Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail
Maybe this trail is so convenient, smooth and, well, pedestrian, as to not seem extraordinary. But just imagine Wenatchee and East Wenatchee without it. The virtues of the 10-mile Loop Trail are many. Not only can you gaze over the serene Columbia almost the entire way, there are multiple access points, most endowed with restrooms, so a runner can mix it up with different distances and heading out clockwise or counterclockwise. You can run on smooth asphalt the whole way, or dabble on dirt.
Running the full Loop feels like an accomplishment. If you prefer a shorter route, incorporating Confluence State Park on the west side, or Coyote Dunes on the east side, offers an escape into nature where you’re likely to spot raptors, songbirds, waterfowl and plant diversity. And don’t forget that, on the east side, you can journey north of the Odabashian Bridge and south of the Old Wenatchee Bridge on trail extensions; marathoners looking for runs close to 20 miles take advantage of these.
Runners will share this trail with: bikers, both of the serious, fast and spandexed variety and the young, wobbly and learning variety, dogs and their people, folks with binoculars or business colleagues taking the meeting on the trail, and even the exotic roller skier dreaming of winter ahead. Sharing the trail makes for great people (and dog) watching, and gives a chance to exchange a friendly hello with someone else making outdoor movement a priority.
Ski Hill Trails
This place will make a trail runner out of you. You’ll be cajoled by the wide original trails that have playful ups and downs that are particularly fun for Nordic skiers in the winter. You’ll want to venture up the slowly climbing 4 the Boyz Memorial Trail or the NUT, where you’re treated to viewpoints with comfy benches.
There’s lots more to explore, including steeper trails, access to the Freund Canyon trails and a chance to check out the old mighty ski jump that is slowly disintegrating into the hillside. In the spring, the hillside is lush with brilliant greens and dozens of wildflower species. And this is a place you can come all summer long because the pines and big leaf maples offer some welcome shade. After a run, the Ski Hill Lodge is a great place to recharge with a beverage and maybe catch a summer music night.
If you’ve not been to Ancient Lakes, which is part of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, be ready to be surprised. It’s unpretentious, with minimal signage. After parking in a dusty lot, you pass through a gate on a trail that winds through sagebrush and grasses, hugging the edge of the basalt cliff. The running is easy on the sandy soil, and made interesting by stony sections and strewn rocks that require footwork.
Wonders impress when you’re least expecting it. Early on, there’s a waterfall pouring out of what is otherwise arid rock. You turn a corner and the landscape opens up. The terrain of the coulees obscures the lake until, suddenly, it’s there in front of you. You have choices, to go to Ancient Lake or Dusty Lake or a trail that snakes its way above the cool Columbia, or some combination. Intersections aren’t marked so keep your map handy and use the unique geological features to keep your mental compass calibrated.
This is a landscape of warm browns and muted greens, where the roughly geometric rock formations will enthrall any runner who ventures here.
Horse Lake Reserve
Horse Lake Reserve is one of several parcels of land owned and managed by Chelan-Douglas Land Trust for the benefit of wildlife and visitors alike. Trails are closed in winter when mule deer and other wildlife take precedence.
If you drive to the main Horse Lake trailhead (as opposed to parking at the bottom where the dirt road and a couple trails start), your vehicle will gain a chunk of elevation for you. No matter where you park, don’t be daunted by the protruding hills. The trail architects made these trails flow gently uphill, so you’ll be too busy gawking at the display of wildflowers to notice how much elevation you’ve gained. There are several interconnected trails, and some are doublewide with names recalling their significance to the original homesteaders.
You’ll see old barns and other signs of human use on this land, but the shrub steppe habitat is thriving thanks to weed eradication by CDLT volunteers and users that do a good job staying on the trail. Don’t expect to see a lake, however. Horse Lake, more of a pond filled by seasonal snow runoff, has been dry for about 20 years.
This big day run/hike, reckoned to be 18.8 miles, is crazy popular now, and it’s critical to know two things. One, not everyone who does the Enchantments should be there. They’re in over their head in terms of terrain and distance, thus they’re stumbling to their car in the middle of the night; or worse, they need help getting out. Second, the excess of people on the trail doesn’t have to ruin the experience, but there are some do’s and don’ts that should be taken seriously.
Don’t go on a weekend. Don’t go at 10 a.m. Do plan an early midweek start such as 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. Do follow all of the Forest Service rules about group size, no-trace ethics, dogs, drones and not annoying the mountain goats. Do bring the right number of calories plus extra — same thing for water, with a way of filtering more. Do bring extra clothing in case the weather changes. Do study the route and also bring a map with you. Enough hikers have gone the wrong way to make the correct route obscured in a maze of choices.
Finally, if you’re prepared and fit, do enjoy yourself. Not many run up Aasgard Pass (those vying for the fastest known time [FKT] definitely do as they are hovering around three hours for the full route), but there are some gradual ascents, flowy sand and smooth granite paths through snowmelt lakes, and a long descent from Nada Lake that are worth cruising. But take it slow in the high country, where the polished rock, fiery blue water and krummholz firs and larches truly do enchant. That’s what you came for, so savor it.
A Northwest Forest Pass is required for both ends of the Enchantments (Stuart Lake trailhead and Snow Lakes trailhead). Ancient Lakes requires a Discovery Pass. Parking is free at the other three locations. For more info about access and parking, trail conditions, route options and trip reports, check out these websites: