5 Reasons Why Parks Need to Re-Open, Pronto

posted in: Coronavirus, National Parks | 0

Mount Rainier, Washington

“How long?” is the Question Du Jour on many minds these days. That’s especially true for hikers and outdoor lovers as spring unfolds. Wildflowers bloom. Weather warms. Mountains beckon.

Balancing civil liberties with public health concerns is quite the tightrope walk. But closing state and national parks?! Seriously?

Most hikers and nature lovers I know don’t do The Great Outdoors to hang with the herd. They want solitude and serenity. Not a crowd.

When adventuring in The Great Outdoors, we go out of our way to ‘fly solo’ whenever possible. We hit the high country. The back country. The boondocks. The middle of nowhere.

Forget six feet. We’re good with 600 yards. Even better: 6 miles or more from the nearest soul or sole.

We’ve been “practicing social distancing” on the trail before social distancing was a thing. For decades. Not because anyone told us to. Or issued a mandate. We ‘distance’ because we choose to. Always have. (This doesn’t just happen. There’s a strategy involved. If interested, drop a comment for details.)

So, keeping “best practices” and personal responsibility in mind, here are 5 reasons why state and national parks need to re-open, pronto:

  1. People are getting antsy. You can’t keep responsible outdoor lovers cooped up indoors indefinitely without courting a revolt.
  2. Hiking and spending time outdoors may also be linked to reducing depression and cancer and increasing the strength of our natural immunities.
  3. According to the American Hiking Society, physical benefits of hiking include lowering your risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. As a weight-bearing exercise, hiking and walking can also help reverse the negative effects of osteoporosis and arthritis.
  4. Increased cognitive benefits of hiking and walking include working memory performance, reducing anxiety and other mood disorders, boosting creativity, and strengthening social ties. 
  5. Increased happiness levels and an improved sense of well-being and peace.

All of the above are in short supply for many at present. Additionally, park entrance fees can be handled on-line. Digital passes don’t require any person-to-person contact. Crowded parking lots? Just cone off every other space. But eliminating access to hiking and outdoor recreation as part of a Stay Home order makes zero sense.

In fact, choosing to get outside may be just what the doctor ordered right now. Some say that shutdowns may even be deadlier than the coronavirus. Dr. Phil McGraw recently noted, among other things, that “you actually destroy more lives than you do by letting them go out and protect themselves and opt into their lives to fight for what they believe in.” 

When it comes to maintaining and boosting mental and physical health, getting outside is a boon. So let’s open up our parks and wild places. The sooner, the better. Especially when the mountains are calling.

7 Ways to Enjoy Mount Rainier National Park From Home

Mount Rainier from Bench Lake, 2018.

Was it inevitable?

Maybe. With so many businesses and other venues closed during the coronavirus pandemic, people started flocking to outdoor sites and trailheads to relieve some “cabin fever.”

Some took social distancing and “safe and healthy” precautions seriously. Others didn’t.

Unfortunately, the predictable result of irresponsible behavior by some had repercussions for all when officials started closing public parks and trails to help slow the spread of the virus.

Washington state parks and public recreation lands were temporarily closed following a March 23 “Stay Home/Stay Healthy” order by Governor Inslee.

COVID 19 update (3-24-20): STATE PARKS ARE CLOSED

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife announced the temporary closure of all state-managed parks, wildlife areas, and water-access areas for at least two weeks starting Wednesday, March 25. The closure is in response to Gov. Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order issued on March 23 to combat COVID-19.

The closures will last through April 30.

National parks are also affected. Per the U S. National Park Service:

2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response

The National Park Service is modifying its operations on a park-by-park basis in accordance with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local public health authorities. While most facilities and events are closed or canceled, many of our outdoor spaces remain accessible to the public. Before visiting, please check with individual parks regarding changes to park operations. If you choose to visit a national park, please ensure that you follow CDC and state and local guidelines to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and practice Leave No Trace principles. Updates about the NPS response, including safety information, are posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus.

For a list of national parks that are closed as of this writing, click here.

Much of Mount Rainer National Park is closed. For details, click here.

Have no fear. Help for the homebound Rainier hiker is on the way!

Here are 7 ways to enjoy Mount Rainier National Park from home:

  1. Explore the park from home through the newly released Mount Rainier National Park Virtual Tour! This interactive map reveals many wonders of this iconic park.
  2. Check the webcams for a mountain fix.
  3. Follow @MountRainierNPS on FacebookTwitterInstagramTumblr, and YouTube.
  4. Explore the Mount Rainier National Park website.
  5. Take in some amazing views through 360 video.
  6. Find your favorite photos in our online galleries on the website and Flickr.
  7. And, finally, share and search other #ShareMyRainier experiences on social media.

Additionally, via the Mount Rainier web site:

The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners at Mount Rainier National Park is our number one priority. The NPS is taking extraordinary steps to implement the latest guidance from state and local authorities, which support the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s (CDC) efforts to promote social distancing and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The NPS urges visitors to do their part when visiting a park and to follow CDC guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by maintaining a safe distance between yourself and other groups; washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; and most importantly, staying home if you feel sick.

For more information, call (360) 569-2211 or email.

How are you enjoying the outdoors from home these days?


Hiking Safe During Coronavirus

En route to Berkeley Park, Mount Rainier National Park. September 2019.

Hurray for hiking! It’s one activity we can still do. But have you noticed? There’s an uptick of people out of the trails. We’re seeing many, many people who aren’t even moderately prepared. No backpack. No hats. No water bottles. Some are hitting backcountry trails in sandals or flip-flops.

As with practicing hand washing, social distancing and the like, remember to hike with the 10 essentials. This is perhaps even more important now that our medical/emergency services are under stress.

From The Mountaineers:

Ten Essentials: The Classic List

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp or flashlight
  6. First aid supplies
  7. Firestarter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food

Ten Essentials: Freedom 9 Systems

  1. Map, altimeter, compass (GPS device), PLB of satellite communicators, extra batteries or battery pack
  2. Headlamp plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protections: sunglasses, sun protective clothes, sunscreen
  4. First aid including foot care and insect repellent
  5. Knife plus repair kit
  6. Fire: Matches, lighter and tinder, or stove as appropriate
  7. Shelter: carried at all times (can be light emergency bivy)
  8. Extra food: beyond minimum expectation
  9. Extra water: beyond minimum expectation, or the means to purify
  10. Extra clothes: Beyond minimum expectation

Remember, the ten essentials are the ten essentials. Not the ten suggestions. Carry them and know how to use them.

More Tips & Info

Additionally, the Washington Trails Association recommends staying local, hiking lesser-traveled trails, and visiting parks or green spaces in urban areas during off hours or walking around your neighborhood to ensure adequate social distancing. If you get to a trailhead that’s crowded, use WTA’s Trailblazer app to find another location. Or save your hike for another day.

Here’s a list of What’s Open and What’s Closed via the Washington State Coronavirus response site. The list includes camping on state lands:

To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, all campsites, roofed accommodations (such as cabins, yurts, and vacation houses), group camps, and day use facilities are closed through April 30, 2020. If you have an existing reservation, you will be contacted for a refund. Learn more at the Washington State Parks reservations website

What are you doing to hike safe?

Hike Canceled? 11 Ways to Prep for Your Next Trail Adventure

As outdoor enthusiasts, we recognize the mental and physical benefits of hiking. But it’s important to do so responsibly, especially in the coronavirus era of social distancing and such.

Here are 11 ways you can prepare for your postponed and/or canceled hikes:

1. Join the Washington Hikers and Climbers Page on Facebook.

This is a great resource page for Washington hikers, climbers, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and other outdoor inclined residents of or visitors to the state. Post your photos, trip reports, questions or tips. It’s also a great way to find and make virtual connections with other hikers.

2. Review Hiking in the Time of Coronavirus by the Washington Trails Association.

3. Peruse Top 10 Best Hikes in California and/or 10 Best Days Hikes in California, North to South. Trails in Torrey Pines, San Diego and Anza-Borrego State Park to Santa Barbara, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Lassen, Joshua Tree, Inyo National Forest, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite.

4. Lace up with Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. Brisk, engaging, and unexpectedly hilarious!

5. Dive into Floyd Schmoe’s A Year in Paradise.  An eloquent personal narrative brimming with information and reflections about Mount Rainier and the surrounding region. The author was the first naturalist for Mount Rainier National Park.

6. Read just about any hiking resource by Seabury Blair, Jr. His day hike guides are excellent and include detailed trail notes for hikes in Washington, the Olympic Peninsula, and Oregon. Tip: Creaky Knees Guide Washington: 100 Best Easy Hikes in the State.

7. Check out the Mount Rainier National Park channel on You Tube. Short videos on everything from park history to Sunrise wildflowers and Ohanapecosh archaeology. Also trips to specific sites in the park during all four seasons.

8. Unless you’re planning to hike to your hike, now would be a good time to get your vehicle tuned up. Check the oil, fluid levels, rotate the tires, check your spare, etc.

9. Take stock of your emergency stash. Are your batteries fresh? What about extra food and water? Blankets? An emergency shelter? Tire chains? (Required for all vehicles inside Mount Rainier National Park during the winter season, November 1 – May 1. 4WD and AWD not exempted.) What do you need to replace or update?

10. Check your hiking gear. Do your boots need new laces? Another coat of Max Shield? How are your trekking poles? Backpack? Is your, “in case of emergency, notify…” contact info. current? What needs weather proofing? Are your socks, Under Armor, gloves and gaiters in good shape? What about your water filter? If any of these or other items need repair or replacement, you can often scoop them up at bargain prices during the off-season.

11. You might also want to take a gander at 12 Top Trails at Mount Rainier. Or: Kindle edition. By Yours Truly.

We are in this together. Hike responsibly. Protect yourself and others. Above all, stay safe out there!

P.S.: This site has been down for awhile as I transferred it to another hosting company. What a nightmare! Good to be back. Thanks for your patience. Nice to see you again!

8 Things You Can Do RIGHT NOW While You’re Waiting for Trails to Melt Out

posted in: Hiking 101 | 0

Snow is coming down in dollops. Or it’s raining so hard you’re scouting supplies of gopherwood. What’s a hiker with “itchy feet” to do when weather conditions would give a Yeti cause for pause?

First off, don’t venture out on any hiking endeavor without checking the weather report and preparing properly. If you’re not into snowshoeing or other winter trail options, there are some things you can do now to make the most of your “down time” while you’re waiting for better hiking weather. Here are eight suggestions:

 1. Invest in a good quality trail guide. The single page maps provided by the nice National Park Service rangers at Mount Rainier National Park are okay. They offer basic, brief overviews of area trails at Ohanapecosh, Longmire, Paradise and Sunrise. If you’re looking for something meatier, however, I recommend Ron Judd’s: Day Hike Mount Rainier: The Best Trails You Can Hike in a Day. For the Olympic Peninsula region, check out Day Hike Olympic Peninsula: The Best Trails You Can Hike in a Day, by Seabury Blair. Both include trail descriptions, topo maps, and trail ratings and photos. Hiker Dude recommends The Creaky Knees Guide: The 100 Best Easy Hikes in Washington, also by Seabury Blair. (Guides for other states are available).

2. Unless you’re planning to hike to your hike, now would be a good time to get your vehicle tuned up. Check the oil, fluid levels, rotate the tires, check your spare, etc.

3. Take stock of your emergency stash. Are your batteries fresh? What about extra food and water? Blankets? An emergency shelter? Tire chains? (Required for all vehicles inside Mount Rainier National Park during the winter season, November 1 – May 1. 4WD and AWD not exempted.) What do you need to replace or update?

4. Make reservations. Don’t wait until the week before your planned hiking excursion to snag a campsite or a room at the inn. You’re likely to be left out. Plan ahead. Book your room or site now. You can book a room at National Park Inn at Longmire or at Paradise Inn via Mount Rainier Guest Services. National Park Inn is open year-round. The adjacent general store offers cross-country ski equipment and snowshoe rentals during the winter months. Paradise Inn typically operates from late May through September-ish, depending on weather.

5. Make your own trail snacks. Whether you dehydrate your own beef jerky – I recommend thin-sliced round steak marinated in honey teriyaki sauce – or mix up your own unique brand of trail mix, now’s the time. The DIY route can save you money, too!

6. Check your hiking gear. Do your boots need new laces? Another coat of Max Shield? How are your trekking poles? Backpack? Is your, “in case of emergency, notify…” contact info. current? What needs weather proofing? Are your socks, Under Armor, gloves and gaiters in good shape? What about your water filter? If any of these or other items need repair or replacement, you can often scoop them up at bargain prices during the off-season.

7. Does your hiking site require an entrance fee? Many state and national parks charge entrance fees. If you plan ahead, you can save money with an annual pass at some venues. For more information.

8. Stay in shape. This may include power walking in an indoor venue like a mall, working out at the gym, developing your own strength-training/calisthenic regimen, or hitting the treadmill. Whatever works. Just don’t use foul weather as an excuse to couch potatoes. If you work at staying in shape now, your body will thank you later when the trails melt out and you’re ready to tackle that next hiking adventure!

    Paradise at Mount Rainier is one of the snowiest places on earth!

A little advance planning and preparation now can save you money, time and effort later. Get busy now so when the weather warms up and sunshine is pouring out of the sky by the truckload, your itchy feet can get out and go!

What would you add?

Happy trails!

Image credit

Is $eattle $pace Needle Worth The Moola?

Seattle’s Space Needle is a Northwest icon. Towering over Puget Sound like an urban giant over metropolitan mice, the 605-foot tall structure reigns supreme over the Seattle cityscape. On a clear day, the Space Needle offers jaw-dropping views of the Cascades and Olympic Mountain Ranges, Mount Rainier, and Puget Sound. It’s a world-famous landmark and one of the most photographed structures in the world.

But is it worth the cost of admission?

Screen shot – Space Needle admission rates

Answer: That depends.

Regular General Admission is $37.50 per person. Valet parking at the base of the Needle is extra, depending on how long you stay ($26 for three hours).

Yes, the views are breathtaking on a clear day. (But really? How often is it clear in Seattle?) No, you don’t have to use the valet parking. But other parking lots are blocks away. And the cost is about the same.

So you’re basically looking at about $100 for two people to visit the Space Needle. Take pictures. Oo and ah. Look through the world’s only revolving glass floor.

Space Needle’s revolving glass floor.

Some Questions

To determine whether or not that kind of moola is worth it, here are some questions you might want to consider:

  1. Is this trip for a special occasion?
  2. Is this your once in a lifetime chance to visit Seattle, or will you be back? (If you’re a local, don’t bother. There are lots of other cool places to visit that cost a whole lot less. More on that in a min.)
  3. How much time do you have?
View from the top

Regarding Question #1:

If you’re marking a special occasion – say, a marriage proposal, a 50th birthday or a silver wedding anniversary – the Space Needle will doubtless make your special day even more memorable. If not, there are plenty of other worthwhile attractions in the area that cost a whole lot less. (See below.)

Regarding Question #2:

If you’ve never been to the Space Needle and this is your first and likely only trip to Seattle, then you probably oughtta pop in, if for no other reason than to say you’ve been there. Take enough pictures to last a lifetime!

Likewise, if you only have one day in Seattle and have never been to the Space Needle, then you’ll probably want to cough it up and buy some tickets.

Regarding Question #3

If you have a few days to roam the region, forget the single admission thing. As long as you have the time, your best bet is to purchase a Seattle City Pass. You can visit five Seattle area destinations for $99 per person with the pass, including:

CityPASS Admission Includes:

  1. Space Needle
  2. Seattle Aquarium
  3. Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour
  4. Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) or Woodland Park Zoo
  5. Chihuly Garden and Glass or Pacific Science Center

Here’s the catch:

You can easily spend a half or a full day at any one of these attractions. So buying a City Pass for a one-day whirlwind visit to Seattle doesn’t make a lot of sense. You don’t save much because you won’t have time to visit much.

If you have the time, however, and don’t want to shell out an arm and a leg for regular admission to multiple Seattle attractions, the CityPass is definitely the way to go.

The Bottom Line

Ready to ‘experience the wow’ at the Seattle Space Needle!

We did the Space Needle thing last November for my 60th birthday. We’d never been. Was it cool? Yep. Was the revolving glass floor awesome? Sure. Was it worth $100 for the 60 minutes we were there – or about $100/hour?


60th in the sky!

In fact, the Space Needle wasn’t the highlight of our one-day trip to Seattle. That title goes to the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. For more on that, see my post: Count On It.

Yes, the Space Needle is a world-famous Northwest icon. And if you don’t mind paying through the nose to experience it, go for it. Otherwise, skip it. Cuz frankly, there are a whole lot better ways to drop $100 around Seattle.

Still Cool But Way More Affordable Options to the Space Needle:

Have you ever been to the Space Needle? Was it worth it? Would you do it again?

Top 10 Trails of 2019

As 2019 glides into 2020, we’re taking a quick look back at some of our favorite hikes from the past year.

2019 included awesome “old faithful” standards at Mount Rainier National Park. Also some new trails to thundering waterfalls and sparkling lakes. Meanderings on Bainbridge Island, nature reserves, and a world-class zoo! All right in our own PNW backyard (more or less)!

So without further ado, here are our Top 10 Trails of 2019. (All are in Washington State. Note that state parks require a Discover Pass.) In no particular order:

1.Berkeley Park, Mount Rainier National Park.

Stay on the trail! At Berkeley Park, Mount Rainier National Park.

Distance: 7.8 miles round trip (RT)

Rating: Moderate

Located on the east side of Mount Rainier out of Sunrise, this stunningly beautiful hike winds along the serpentine coils of Sourdough Ridge past the rocky, stark “moonscape” terrain near Frozen Lake. About a mile past Frozen Lake the trail dips into a lovely alpine valley latticed with rollicking wildflowers, laughing Lodi Creek, and chirping hoary marmots.

“Moonscape” near Frozen Lake, Mount Rainier National Park.

We hiked this trail in September. It was a bit brisk as we started out in the morning from the Sunrise parking lot, elev. 6,400 ft. But this wasn’t our first Sunrise rodeo. We dressed in layers and peeled them off one by one as the day warmed up.

And… we’re off!

Mount Rainier was wreathed in clouds for much of this day hike. But the Queen of the Cascades peeked out of her foggy mantle occasionally.

To Berkeley Park.

A great out-and-back hike to a rugged wilderness camp nestled in a splendid subalpine forest under craggy mountains. The hike out is steep. Take your time.

2.Comet Falls/ Van Trump Park, Mount Rainier National Park.

Distance: About 4.0 miles RT to Comet Falls; 6.0 miles RT to Van Trump Park viewpoint

Rating: Moderately Difficult/Difficult

Pouring over a rocky lip like Chenin Blanc out of a Venetian glass, this falls cascades 320 feet to its base above Longmire. It’s one of the highest falls in the park.

“Howdy from Comet Falls!”

The trail climbs steadily for the first 1.8 miles. You’re nearing the falls when you hit a sign that says – duh – “Comet Falls 200 feet.” This refers to the first clear view of the falls through a thick forest. Keep going for a clearer view. Also at this spot is tri-tiered Bloucher Falls, plunging a total of 124 feet.

The trail is steep and stair-steppy in places. If your idea of “exercise” is 12-oz curls of Bud, you may want to think twice about this one. Or work up to it. (Probably our favorite waterfall.)

Thundering 320 ft. to its base, Comet Falls is probably our favorite waterfall at Mount Rainier National Park!

This hike is really two hikes in one, if your legs are up for a challenge. Continue climbing after Comet Falls past Mildred Point. The trail is steep and stair-steppy. But the reward is worth the effort. The end of the maintained trail at 5,800 ft. offers breathtaking in-your-face views of the Kautz Glacier, Mount Rainier, and on a clear day, Mount Saint Helens, Baker, and Adams.

Mind your knees on the descent! Don’t even think about trying this 2 for 1 combo without trekking poles, sturdy boots, and plenty of water.

Getting there:

The Comet Falls trailhead is located four miles east of Longmire on the road toward Paradise. Parking space is limited and often full. There’s no additional parking nearby. Either arrive early or have an Option B.

3. Whatcom Falls Park and Lake Whatcom, WA

If you only have time for one county park in Whatcom County, check out Whatcom Falls Park

Located in the City of Bellingham, the largest city in Whatcom County, this county park includes multiple waterfalls, picturesque ponds, marsh and song birds, picnicking, and a playground. Ditto a vast network of hiking trails that braid around Whatcom Creek. Trails are mostly brief, level, and easy, with lots of shade. Also a sweet little waterfall and stone bridge that was built by the WPA in 1939-40.

Whatcom Falls gallops under a stone bridge built by the WPA in 1939-40.

If you continue hiking north and are willing to brave a busy street crossing you’ll find beautiful Bloedel-Donovan Park, where the lapping waters of Lake Whatcom kiss the shore. There’s also a popular leash-free zone for dogs at the south end of the park near Lake Whatcom.

Lake Whatcom!

Whatcom Falls Park is located at 1401 Electric Avenue in the Whatcom Falls Neighborhood. 

4. Stimpson Family Nature Reserve in Sudden Valley

Distance: 4.5 mile loop trail

Rating: Moderate

This place is off the beaten path. But it’s worth the drive, with a 4.4 mile RT loop trail through a splendid mixed growth forest bristling with hemlock, Douglas fir, big leaf maple and a thousand shades of green.

Geneva Pond.

You can lop 1.2 miles of your RT by eliminating the loop trail around Geneva Pond. But then you’d miss this sweet pond (more like a lake). Indulge and enjoy!

You don’t need to be a world class athlete to take this loop trail, which is 4.4 miles RT if you include the pond. But you should be in decent shape. It includes some ups and downs. Bring plenty of water, especially on a warm day.

There’s a small dirt parking lot at the trailhead that can accommodate maybe a dozen cars. Vault toilets at the lot. There’s a sign with a trail map at the trail head, just before the beaver pond.

5. Bloedel Nature Reserve on Bainbridge Island.

This beautiful reserve ranks among the top 100 “greatest gardens” of the world and is  “one of North America’s 10 best botanical gardens.”

Entrance to the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island.

From the Bloedel web site:

Bloedel Reserve is a wonder of nature, created by the imagination, vision, and a passionate love of the natural world shared by our founders, Prentice and Virginia Bloedel. Working with the rugged geography of the land, they artfully transformed a rough-hewn Northwest forest into a harmonious series of curated gardens, structural features, and distinctive landscapes, with nature as canvas and paint.

Internationally-recognized for the inspirational beauty of its refined gardens, natural landscapes, and preserved forests, Bloedel also excels in environmental stewardship of its 150 acres. …there’s something new to discover in every season: ever-changing landscapes, guided walks, expert lectures, summer concerts, special seasonal events, and more.

Bloedel Reserve.

We visited the reserve in November. A bit brisk, but the fall colors were amazing!

November trip to Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island.

The Bloedel Reserve is located at 7571 NE Dolphin Drive, Bainbridge Island.

6. Semiahmoo Bay, Semiahmoo County Park, and the Semiahmoo Spit Trail, Whatcom County.

Across the Semiahmoo Bay: White Rock, Canada!

Semiahmoo County Park in Blaine, Washington is a must-see if you’re in the area. The Semiahmoo Spit Trail is a short, flat, paved trail with sweeping views of Mount Baker and the Semiahmoo Resort, where U.S., Canadian, and Washington State flags snap smartly in a crisp blue breeze.

Flags at Semiahmoo Resort.

We visited this county park in May. A great place for solitude and a pleasant picnic along the water, with to-die-for views of Canada just across the bay.

Semiahmoo Marina.

7.Fragrance Lake and Larrabee State Park

Distance: About 5.5 miles RT + .6 mile loop around the lake

Rating: Moderate

Fragrance Lake is in Larrabee State Park, Washington State’s first state park. The Fragrance Lake trailhead is on Chuckanut Drive, directly across from the main entrance to Larrabee State Park.

Somewhere near Fragrance Lake.

The popular trail is relatively steep. You don’t have to be part mountain goat to navigate it. But it wouldn’t hurt.

If your hamstrings are up for it, the trail levels out near the lake, which includes great picnicking sites and splendid, serene views! The lake brims with birdsong and jumping fish. Beware the skunk cabbage and mosquitoes in summer, tho! Whoo-eeie!

Fragrance Lake – worth the effort!

As long as you’re here, might as well take the short loop trail around the lake. Watch out for caved-in or otherwise rickety foot bridges. There were several when we hiked this trail in May.

Watch your step!

Getting There:

From Mount Vernon head north on I-5 to exit 231, then navigate the roundabouts to head north on State Route 11/Chuckanut Drive. At approximately 15 miles, turn left into main entrance of Larrabee State Park, or look for trailhead parking on the right. From Bellingham, head south on SR 11 for 7 miles.

8. Cathedral Falls – Lewis County

Distance: 3.3 miles RT

Rating: Easy

Hello from Cathedral Falls!

Located in western Washington’s Lewis County, the Cathedral Falls trail was one of those spur-of-the-moment deals. Headed to Mount Rainier National Park in May, we pulled off the highway at Taidnapam Park to explore.

In the process we discovered this hike to this magnificent waterfall, plunging 250 feet over a rock outcropping over the trail. You can actually hike behind the thundering waterfall. How cool is that?

Bonus Points: We had the entire trail all to ourselves. All morning.

The Cathedral Falls hike is considered one of the beautiful hikes in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It’s located just east of Morton. Get directions here.

9. Porter Falls Grays Harbor County

Distance: About 3.6 miles RT

Rating: Easy

To Porter Falls!

The Porter Falls Trail out of Southwest Washington’s Capitol Forest is a bit of a misnomer. It’s actually three falls within a stone’s throw of each other. None are going to dethrone Niagara Falls. But it’s a nice lunch stop, with plenty of shade and laughing water slucing over rocks and boulders to join the Chehalis River.

The easy, mostly level trail of about a mile and a half one way is pleasant. There’s a short stretch of uphill, but it’s brief. This family-friendly trail is a nice walk through a thick old growth forest draped with moss, ferns, and lots of shade.

10. San Juan Island Overlook – Larrabee State Park

This overlook is worth the side trip!

This spur trail is an off-shoot of the trail to Fragrance Lake located in Larrabee State Park (see # 7, above). I’m including it because it offers eye-popping views of the San Juan Islands off a short spur trail.

Look hard and you can peer across the water into Canada!

We were here in May and: Oh, my!!!

Wait. Did I say “ten”? Okay. I fibbed. There are so many more trails and adventures from 2019, both near and far, short and long. But I would be majorly remiss if I left out one of the most glorious hikes of the year: Owyhigh Lakes, from the east side of Mount Rainier National Park. (Yes, it’s plural. There are two lakes.)

11. Owyhigh Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park

Distance: 7.5 miles, RT

Rating: Moderate

Owyhigh Lakes – just over the next knoll!

This lightly trafficked, out-and-back trail winds through towering stands of primeval forest to two subalpine lakes high above the White River Valley. Sparkling like twin sapphires, the lakes repose in a quiet meadow beneath the snaggle-toothed summit of Governors Ridge.

If you’re fortunate enough to hike this gorgeous hike during peak wildflower season (mid-July – August) as we were, get ready for a riot of Renoir pastels as the park’s world-famous wildflower fields erupt a kaleidoscopic palette of petals. Their blooms splash the meadows every imaginable hue, from purple lupine and scarlet paintbrush to yellow cinquefoil. And every shade in between.


We enjoyed them all during an August hike to these splendid lakes nestled at Mount Rainier’s eastern flank.

Owyhigh Lakes in August. It just doesn’t get much better…!

Owyhigh Lakes can be accessed from the north via White River Road (Sunrise Road), or the southeast via State Route 123. We’ve done this hike from both directions and recommend access from the north.

There’s a reason why Mount Rainier’s wildflower meadows are world-famous!

Getting there:

From Enumclaw follow SR 410 east for 37.5 miles to Mount Rainier National Park turning right onto the White River Road. Continue for 3.5 miles to trailhead on your left—parking on your right.  

12. Woodland Park Zoo – Seattle

Forget the Space Needle. If you’re willing to brave Seattle traffic snarls, much better adventures are to be had at the Woodland Park Zoo! We loved it!

Here we come!

This was another “spur of the moment” stops. We nipped in here on our way home from a week-long hiking trip in Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Penguin exhibit!
This may have been the first time I’ve ever seen a male lion out and about! They’re usually hiding!

It was warm and toasty. Thankfully, the zoo not only has excellent exhibits and educational opportunities, it also has lots of shade! And a carousel! Woo-hoo!

How cool is this carousel?
Hippos cooling off on a warm day!

Our “inside the outdoors” year wouldn’t be complete if I left out our May visit to this wonderful zoo!

If you’re in the area, don’t miss the Woodland Park Zoo! You’ll get way more bang for your buck than at the Space Needle. (With parking, it’s about $100 for two.)

For zoo hours, prices, and directions, click here.

After a full day at the Woodland Park Zoo.

What trails or outdoor adventures are you looking forward to in 2020?

9 Things I Believe About Hiking

posted in: Announcement, Just for Fun | 0

I started this blog because I’m passionate about enjoying and respecting nature, sharing adventures along the way. I want to offer information and inspiration to help you make the most of your trail miles and outdoor adventures. Like

“There is no exercise so beneficial, physically, mentally, or morally, nothing which gives so much of living for so little cost, as hiking our mountain and hill trails and sleeping under the stars.” —Will Thrall

Hiking the Summerland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park, WA.

So. Here are 9 Things I Believe About Hiking:

  1. I believe hiking is a great family-friendly activity that builds muscle and memories.
  2. I believe that spending quality time outdoors is one of the best ways to promote appreciation of and respect for the environment.
  3. I believe hiking is an activity that can be tailored to any schedule and ability.
  4. I believe that hiking is a unique and healthy alternative to social media binges and other electronic addictions.
  5. I believe that time on the trails clears one’s head and reduces stress.
  6. I believe hiking promotes good health and strengthens social bonds.
  7. I believe the best trails are often the most challenging, and am not afraid of hamstring-hollering climbs or endless switchbacks as long as they take me where I want to go.
  8. I believe that hiking makes me a better, more well-rounded person. And slightly less hyper.
  9. I believe connections made on the trail are precious and enjoyable and that hikers share a unique camaraderie.

Sound good? Ready to grab your boots? Cool. Let’s make the most of our outdoor miles, one step at a time!

For more, download a copy of my FREE ebook, A Hiker’s Manifesto.

Count On It

Most people think Seattle’s Space Needle was the highlight of last week’s birthday trip counting down to 60 candles on my cake. The Space Needle is cool. Especially with the world’s only revolving glass door.

But it wasn’t the highlight.

That honor is reserved for the Bloedel Nature Reserve on Bainbridge Island.

On the ferry back to Bainbridge Island!

Our original itinerary was Bainbridge on Monday, Seattle on Tuesday. But the Reserve is closed on Mondays. Bummer.

“Instead of spending the rest of the day in Seattle, how ‘bout catching the ferry back to Bainbridge?” I suggested to Chris as we stepped out of the Space Needle elevator on Tuesday.

Entrance to the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island.

“I thought you wanted to spend your birthday seeing the Seattle sights?”

“Not really,” I shrugged. “I’d rather be outside. In the forest.” I suggested we scoot back across Puget Sound and spend the day exploring the world-famous Bloedel Reserve.  

“Let’s go!”

“It’s your birthday,” Chris smiled. “Whatever you want, babe.”

Just behind the front entrance to the Bloedel Reserve.

So we caught the next ferry back to picturesque Bainbridge Island. Spent the rest of my 60th birthday exploring the Bloedel Reserve. Counting its accolades, which include “one of North America’s 10 best botanical gardens.”

And they’re not kidding!

This place is major league awesome!

Beautiful, isn’t it? Bloedel residence is in the background.
Soak up some solitude at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island!

From the Bloedel web site:

Bloedel Reserve is a wonder of nature, created by the imagination, vision, and a passionate love of the natural world shared by our founders, Prentice and Virginia Bloedel. Working with the rugged geography of the land, they artfully transformed a rough-hewn Northwest forest into a harmonious series of curated gardens, structural features, and distinctive landscapes, with nature as canvas and paint.

Internationally-recognized for the inspirational beauty of its refined gardens, natural landscapes, and preserved forests, Bloedel also excels in environmental stewardship of its 150 acres. Open year-round, there’s something new to discover in every season: ever-changing landscapes, guided walks, expert lectures, summer concerts, special seasonal events, and more.

Birch trail!

Anemic afternoon sun drifted through the evergreens as we strolled through the Reserve. Jackets and gloves were in order. But we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

150 acres of awesome!

We spent the afternoon meandering the Reserve’s many trails. Exploring its Japanese guest house and garden.

Japanese guest house!
How cool is this Japanese garden?!
Front of the Japanese guest house.

Checking out multiple ponds, including a reflecting pool. Soaking up the solitude.

Did I mention the Moss Garden near this Reflection Pool?
Talk about “a walk in the woods!”

You don’t rush through the Bloedel Reserve. You don’t run and you don’t hurry. You slow down. Breathe deep. And Take. Your. Time.

We also popped in to the Bloedel residence. It reminded me of the Von Trapp family villa. “The hills are alive…”

Bloedel residence.
“Anyone home?” Bloedel house features a docent-led tour.
Bloedel house.
Mrs. Bloedel loved swans.

The Bloedel residence features a stunning panorama of Puget Sound out the back door.

Back of the Bloedel Residence.
How’s this for a backyard view? Puget Sound from the back of the Bloedel Residence.

Talk about primo “forest therapy”! Not bad for a 60th birthday bash. Not bad at all.

We’ll be back. Count on it.

The Bloedel Reserve is located at 7571 NE Dolphin Drive, Bainbridge Island.

Fall / Winter Hours

Open Tuesday – Sunday.
Closed Monday.

  • 10 AM Gates open
  • 3 PM Last admission
  • 4 PM Grounds close

For more information and admission prices: 206-842-7631

60th in the Sky – or – The Birthday That Almost Wasn’t

posted in: Uncategorized | 6

“Maybe we could go out to dinner somewhere?” husband Chris offered.

It was the week before my November birthday. My 60th birthday. I had just asked Chris what birthday plans were in the hopper. His response hung in the air, sagging like wilted crepe paper after a spring shower.

 “I don’t want to just go out to dinner somewhere,” I sighed. His eyebrows arched like twin caterpillars on alert. “I can do that any day,” I continued. “Turning sixty is a major milestone.”

Not everyone makes it to the wonderful world of sexagenarianism. My mom didn’t. She died at age 54.

“So,” I continued to Chris, brow puckered. “Hitting The Big 6-0 is literally a once in a lifetime event. I was hoping we could so something… special. Maybe a little outrageous?”

You see, we had plans. Big ones. Reservations. The whole 60 yards.

Then Chris’s company of seventeen years announced it’s closing its doors in December. It felt like we were kissing cousins to Della and Jim of O. Henry fame, also on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

Frugality being the better part of valor in such circumstances, we canceled our reservations. Disappointment dripped off me like rain from a Seattle sky. 

“Lord,” I prayed half-heartedly a few days later. “You promise to supply all our needs. I know a special 60th birthday celebration isn’t exactly a ‘need.’ But could You pull something off in that department? Maybe something a little… outrageous?”

“Oh yeah,” I added. “Can you please make sure Chris gets Monday and Tuesday off so he can have the day prior to my birthday and my birth-day off?” His schedule changes every week and is unpredictable. Requests for time off don’t always come through.

“While You’re at it, Lord,” I mumbled, prickly as a porcupine. “how ‘bout a trip to Bainbridge Island and the Space Needle for my birthday?” We’ve lived in Washington for almost 20 years and I’ve never been to either one. “Now that would be a birthday for the history books!”

Ready to ‘experience the wow’ at the Seattle Space Needle! 60th birthday!
“60th in the sky” baby!

Shaking my head, I laughed. Just like Sarah did when God promised her a son in her old age. It felt like I was asking for the moon.

Then an extraordinary God did something extraordinary. A lot outrageous. Something only He could orchestrate.

Real sudden-like, folks volunteered to pay for the whole birthday shindig. All 60 yards.

60th Birthday Bash on Bainbridge!

And that’s how we got overnight reservations on Bainbridge Island and tickets for the Space Needle.

Yeah, baby!

I kid you not.

It was a whirlwind tour. But the weather held out just long enough to sneak in two dry days of hiking, exploring, and taking in the Seattle skyline from 605 feet up at the top of the world-famous Space Needle.

Upper observation deck, Seattle Space Needle.
“Looks like we MADE IT!!”

It costs an arm and a leg to visit. But where else can you do a “60th in the sky” birthday and take in bird’s eye views of Puget Sound, Lake Union, the Seattle skyline, and the Cascade and Olympic Mountains?

Besides. The Space Needle is home to the only revolving glass floor in the world. Not recommended for acrophobes. But it’s really, really cool.

World’s only revolving glass floor!

During our two day “60th in the Sky” birthday bash, we visited six parks, five counties, hiked seven trails, more beaches than I recall, and traveled about 300 miles. We even got to take not one but two ferry rides across Puget Sound.

“All aboard!” Ferry from Bainbridge to Seattle.
Yep. Bundle up for the ferry crossing to Seattle!

Bainbridge Island highlights included:

Fort Ward. Gazzam Lake Nature Preserve. Battle Point Park – outrageous fall foliage! An observatory. The Grand Forest, Winslow on the water, and lovely Lynwood Center and Point White.

Fort Ward, Bainbridge Island.
Fall foliage at Fort Ward.
Fort Ward, Bainbridge Island.
No idea what this is. But it’s on the trail to Gazzam Lake. Cool, huh?

Post-Space Needle, Chris and I planned to spend the rest of my birthday taking in as much of Seattle as possible. There’s lots to see and do in The Emerald City, especially near the water.

Bainbridge to Seattle ferry!

A country girl at heart, however, I’m not big into city life. I’d rather be out on the trails or in the woods, enjoying fresh air, nature, and some “forest therapy.” In the vibrant, verdant Pacific Northwest, opportunities abound.

So an idea popped into my head. 

I really wanted to visit the world-renowned Bloedel Nature Reserve on Bainbridge. It ranks among the top 100 “greatest gardens” of the world. But our itinerary was Bainbridge on Monday, Seattle on Tuesday.

The Reserve is closed on Mondays. Bummer.

“Instead of spending the rest of the day in Seattle, how ‘bout catching the ferry back to Bainbridge?” I suggested to Chris. “Let’s not waste half the day sitting in traffic or shelling out a small fortune for parking. What say we scoot on back to the Bloedel and see what’s what?”

“It’s your birthday,” he smiled. Whatever you want, babe.”

Battle Point Park, Bainbridge Island.

So we scampered back from the Space Needle moments ahead of a Sasquatch-sized Seattle traffic snarl due to the Sounders victory parade. Caught the next ferry back to picturesque Bainbridge Island. Turned blue crossing the water – really gotta work on that polar bear thing – and spent the rest of my 60th birthday exploring the Bloedel Reserve. It’s “one of North America’s 10 best botanical gardens.” And they’re not kidding!

Sneak peek: Bloedel Reserve.

I’m saving the Reserve for a separate post. So stay tuned.

As sable evening crept over Bainbridge Island and poured over the Reserve, we headed to the state capitol of Olympia for a lovely dinner at a favorite waterfront restaurant.

60th at Anthony’s with my Mister!
Birthday dinner with my Mister!

I couldn’t’ have asked for a better birthday.

Oh, and God threw in a job offer for Chris, too. Out of the blue. Just because He can.

I kid you not again.

You see, I serve a God who delights in giving good gifts to His children. Who lavishes His love and mercy and care on me even when I don’t deserve it. Maybe especially when I don’t deserve it. (Frankly, that’s pretty much all the time.)

I haven’t yet reached Sarah status. But I look back over 60 years and marvel. Yes, there have been some crushing disappointments. Adversity. Struggle. Job losses. Health issues. Involuntary moves. Misunderstandings and estrangements.

But pouring over my life like a mighty rushing river is God’s grace. Extravagant, outrageous grace. The kind that makes you want to jump up and down. Turn cartwheels. Sing from the Space Needle at the top of your lungs.  (Okay, okay. Let’s not get crazy here. But you know what I mean.)

Sometimes I forget. Then I start grousing. Whining and complaining. Even when I’m acting like a jerk, however, the Lord of love and life still smiles on me.

I oughtta turn 60 more often.