Nestled among the basalt rimmed cliffs of the Blue Mountains and rolling wonders of the Palouse Hills, Walla Walla provides a scenic backdrop for some of Washington’s premier hiking adventures. From ultralight to mountaineering, and from backcountry adventures to urban trail systems, Walla Walla has a trail for any hiking shoe. So, where to start?
Blue Mountain Trail System
The Blue Mountain Trail System has several access points from the Walla Walla area. Opened in 2021, the Blue Mountain Trail System links seven Northeast Oregon wilderness areas. The trail begins in Wallowa Lake State Park near Joseph and ends in John Day, stretching for 530 miles through Northeast Oregon and Southeast Washington. This whopping 530 miles feeds into smaller trail networks of all levels and distances, and with peaks, rivers, and forests to explore, we promise you won’t want to miss this. To start planning your day trip, section hike, or full thru-hike of the trail, check out trail maps and town guides at hellscanyon.org.
Just five miles out of town, along the eastern edge of Walla Walla, Bennington Lake and Mill Creek are a one stop shop for more than 20 miles of trails to explore. Each spring water is diverted from Mill Creek filling Bennington Lake just in time for Walla Walla’s famous summer heat. Hikers (and runners) flock to the lake to enjoy angling rainbow trout, which are stocked yearly by The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. And speaking of flocking, there is no shortage of birdwatching while hiking at Bennington Lake. You can focus your binoculars while enjoying a stroll at the Blue Mountain Audubon Society bird walk Tuesday mornings at 9:00 am for a walk around the lake. Bennington Lake’s hiking trails range from 1.7 to 4.8 miles, with the opportunity for shorter walks out and back along the lake. With no fees for parking, room for cars, trucks and trailers and restrooms available, the family-friendly Bennington Lake is a great addition to a day or getaway in Walla Walla.
Pro Tip: don’t forget life preservers for your littles!
West Tiger Creek, a feeder to Mill Creek, lies in the Umatilla National Forest and is a quick and scenic 30 minute drive east of Walla Walla proper. After enjoying the 4-mile out and back that West Tiger Creek provides, you’ll have no shortage of Walla Walla’s wineries to sample on your jaunt back to town. West Tiger Creek trail is accessible year round due to its low elevation, making winter walking a welcome escape from the indoors and tree covered trail and cool creek a shady respite in the summer. This trail is great for the day tripper and family friendly.
Fort Walla Walla City Park is a great way to get those wiggles out after touring the Fort Walla Walla Museum, art galleries, downtown shopping, or an “are we there yet?” ride in the car. The park hosts a variety of activities including a skate park, dog park, disc golf and remote control airplane and car areas. Perhaps the most interesting of the activities is the series of hiking trails that wind through and around the park and surrounding 70-acre wildlife preserve. Namely, Fort Walla Walla Recreation Trail; this ordinary almost mile long paved trail, blasts into the extraordinary when you discover the “Planet Walk”, a scaled simulation of the 3.7 billion mile solar system. Enjoy a jog from Fort Walla along the .9 mile path ending at Chestnut street making for a loop that ends in town or a great scenic out and back. Longing for more time with the park? Extend the recreation trail when pairing it with the connecting Arthur G. Rempel Natural Area and Nature Trail, respectively. Restrooms and parking are available along with sheltered picnic areas.
Whitman Mission National Historic Site includes four shorter hikes that take visitors through the rich history of the Whitman Mission during the early 1800s. It was during this time that Native Americans living on the Columbia Plateau experienced great change as settlers and missionaries began colonizing the area. The National Park Service has partnered with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to keep the story of the Cayuse Nation alive, and retell the impacts of this early interaction with foreign immigrants. The trails include the original mission site, a mass grave where Marcus and Narcissa Whitman are buried, the Whitman memorial obelisk, a Visitor Center with a small museum, a small network of paved and unpaved trails to hike around the site. The park is located seven miles west of Walla Walla off of Highway 12.
Pro tip: Take time for education! For an introduction to Whitman Mission National Historic Site, watch the park film titled “A Prophecy Fulfilled.”
Just an hour north of Walla Walla is Palouse Falls, a popular day trip for those visiting the area. As one of the last active waterfalls on the Ice Age flood path, adventurers come from near and far to witness the Palouse River’s dramatic 200-foot plunge just four miles upstream from its confluence with the Snake River. Palouse Falls was carved more than 13,000 years ago, and was named Washington’s state waterfall in 2014. Hikers can experience the falls from three different viewpoints, each with its own unique perspective on the cascade. The lowest viewpoint provides a direct view of the falls and can be reached from a set of steps just down from the main day-use area. The second viewpoint is situated in the walls of the canyon and is a popular spot for history and geology buffs, as it tells the story of how the canyon came to be. Finally, the falls can be seen from Fryxell Overlook, the highest viewpoint of Palouse Falls. The thundering falls and vast canyon of Palouse Falls State Park are spectacular no matter the season, so pack your camera and enjoy Washington’s very own state waterfall.