How to Make a Perfect Trail Mix Add-In

posted in: Hiking 101, Trail Tips | 0

If you’re looking to add flavor and “oomph” to your time on the trail, bananas are a great choice as a hiking snack. Why? Well, among other things, bananas are a great source of vitamin B6, manganese, vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber, potassium, biotin, and copper. Bananas are one of the world’s healthiest foods. They’re also a great add-in to trail mix.

Unfortunately, bananas are difficult to cart around in a backpack. They’re oddly shaped and bulky. They bruise easily, resulting in banana mush. These problems can be solved if you dry bananas by slicing them and slow baking them in an oven to create banana chips. (I recommend this over using a dehydrator, which tends to crank out mini hockey pucks.)

Here’s how we do it:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees
  2. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray
  3. Slice a banana in thin slices, about one-quarter of an inch thick
  4. Dip slices in lemon juice and place on baking sheet (very important step or you’ll wind up with little black hockey pucks. Don’t ask how I know that.)
  5.  Bake, turning over once or twice, until banana slices are golden brown and crispy. About 8 hours.
  6. Remove from oven. Cool and add to your favorite homemade trail mix.

That’s it! Ovens and wattage vary, so be sure to check your banana slices often so they don’t overbake.

For more, see: Cheapskate Guide to Terrific Trail Mix.

What’s your favorite add-in? Share in the Comments section.

Happy trails!

Photo credit

Are You Being Robbed?

posted in: Random | 10

Hiking affords an opportunity to see and explore what can’t be seen or explored from your car. But what if your ability to see is suddenly threatened – or vanishes altogether? And you never saw it coming?

Don’t get robbed! Get an eye exam!

Half of the over 3 million Americans with this eye disease don’t even know they have it. That’s because its destructive impact can happen slowly and without early symptoms. Unfortunately, the damage is irreparable.

Indeed, glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness worldwide, especially among those age 60 or older.

I have it. I didn’t even know it.

My last eye exam was a few months back. It was routine. No eye issues. No vision problems. In fact, I aced all the vision tests, including a perfect score on the peripheral vision test.

But my optometrist identified me as a glaucoma “suspect.”


“You have really narrow angles” he said. “I don’t like the looks of this. I’m going to refer you to a specialist for a second opinion.”

I was like, “Angles? Narrow? Huh? What?”

So I scheduled an appointment with an ophthalmologist. Again, I walked into the office feeling fine. No vision problems at all.

A gonioscopy and an eye ultrasound – yes, there is such a thing – confirmed my optometrist’s suspicions.

Public Domain

Angles and Iridotomies

Post ultrasound, the ophthalmologist is talking “narrow angle glaucoma” and “anatomically narrow angles” in both eyes. It’s a fairly rare condition. I was born with it, apparently. Never heard of it until last week. But it means I’m at “high risk” for an “acute angle closure,” also known as a “closed angle attack.”

Sudden and Serious

This is a very serious condition in which natural fluids inside the eye can’t drain due to the narrow angles. It’s like damming up a river. When this happens, pressure within the eye increases suddenly and dramatically, causing irreversible damage to the optic nerve and partial or total blindness.

According to the opthamologist, my “angles” are so narrow, they’re almost completely closed. In both eyes. (Note: Narrow angles are anatomical. They’re not caused or exacerbated by external factors like “reading too much.” In case you’re wondering.)

The usual treatment is a “laser iridotomy.” This in-office procedure uses a precisely focused beam of laser light to burn a tiny hole in the iris. The hole acts as an alternate channel through which fluid inside the eye can flow if the usual pathway becomes blocked or closed, reducing the risk of a sudden, dangerous build up of pressure in the eye.

Talk about getting the proverbial rug pulled out from under you. I had no idea. None. I mean, my dad had glaucoma. I always considered it a disease of the elderly, like 80+. Or more.

Well, guess what? I’m 59 and holding. So there ya go.

And that was the day I started learning all I could about “The Silent Thief of Sight“: Glaucoma.

How Glaucoma Works*

Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye‘s optic nerve. It gets worse over time. As noted above, it’s often linked to a buildup of pressure inside your eye. As this flow is blocked, pressure builds inside the eyes and presses on the tiny vessels of the optic nerve. Left untreated, the sensitive optic nerve becomes permanently damaged, resulting in partial or total vision loss.

Additionally, Glaucoma tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life. (Hi, Dad.)

Regular Eye Exams

That’s why regular visits to your eye doctor are so important. Tests can detect early glaucoma and treatment can help prevent or slow the loss of vision.

When was the last time you had your eyes checked? Don’t assume that just because you have no vision problems or you’re under 60, your eyes are good. Get. Them. Checked.

Don’t Get Robbed

Public Domain.

If it’s been two years or more since your last eye exam, it’s too long. Don’t get robbed. Please schedule an appointment today. The eyesight you save could be your own.

Oh, and Silent Thief? I’ve got your number, pal. And I’m gonna kick your butt.

·  What are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?

·  Are You at Risk For Glaucoma?

* Source: Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute

Disclaimer: Nothing in this post should be construed as medical advice or a diagnosis. Please consult your health care professional.

Photo Credit: “Human eye cross-sectional view grayscale” by NIH National Eye Institute – [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Iridotomy. Glaucoma Research Foundation.

Where to Stay at Mount Rainier National Park

We’ve been visiting Mount Rainier National Park for decades. We’ve stayed at all kinds of lodging on the west (Ashford) and east (Packwood) side of the Mountain, from campgrounds to B&Bs.

Here’s how I break down lodging near Mount Rainier. Factors include amenities, cost, cleanliness and service, proximity to the park, and “most bang for your buck.” I’ve broken them down into lodging on the Ashford (west) side of the park and on the Packwood (east) side of the park. I’ve also included our #1 favorite, again based on two decades of visits to and stays at the park.

Ashford (West Side)

National Park Inn, Longmire

Mount Rainier as seen from the back veranda of National Park Inn, Longmire.


  • Located inside the park
  • Has its own dining room and is right next to the Longmire General Store
  • Right across the street from Longmire Meadow and the easy Trail of the Shadows
  • Stunning views of Mount Rainier from the Inn’s spacious veranda


  • Teeny-tiny rooms. Two is a crowd.
  • Zero amenities
  • Private baths are extra
  • Waaaay over-priced.

Gateway Inn & Motel


  • Located just a few feet from the Nisqually entrance
  • Convenient


  • The cabins are very basic and look like a thousand other cabins
  • Pricey
  • Our cabin windows didn’t open. So the inside air was stale and dank.
  • The place is rather dingy. It feels tired and rundown. Needs an upgrade.

Packwood (East side)

Cowlitz River Lodge

This lodge and its sister lodge on the Ashford side, the Nisqually Lodge, are quite possibly the biggest rip-offs in the area.

We used to stay at the the Cowlitz River Lodge every time we visited the east side of the park. Both lodges changed hands a few years back, resulting in STEEP rate increases. (You can watch elk graze for free just down the road.)

  • No pool or restaurant
  • Basic motel-type rooms
  • Ridiculously over-priced

The Hotel Packwood


  • Probably the cheapest accommodations near the park


  • Probably the cheapest accomodations near the park. (That’s not a typo.)
  • The rooms are Lilliputian, with no amenities (No TV, microwave, micro fridge, etc. Communal bathrooms.)
  • This place may be inexpensive and they say Teddy Roosevelt stayed here. Apparently nothing has been upgraded since.
  • Rundown and shabby.

So when it comes to places to stay at Mount Rainier, we’ve been to quite a few. Some are better than others. Our numero uno favorite?

Mountain Meadows Inn, hands down.

Located in Ashford about ten minutes-ish from the park’s Nisqually entrance, the Inn offers rest and relaxation in a rustic park-like setting. The chalet suites are So. Darn. Cute. We’re talking sweet suites. Nestled in a tranquil setting crocheted with bird song, soaring conifers and a splendid, carefully manicured meadow, the suites are Private. Quiet. Charming.

We’ve stayed in both the Cedar and Garden Suites. They’re clean, quaint, and welcoming. The rooms are comfortable, with plenty of pillows and an extra quilt and blanket.

There’s no boxy, one-size-fits-all, seen-one-seen-‘em-all, hotel chain-type feel to the Inn. No siree, Bob! Much care and personal attention are given to fine details. In fact, pulling into the driveway feels like coming home.

Pluses and Unique touches include:

  • Vintage wall hangings, rugs (Garden suite) and décor. Check out the “cowboy boots” lamp on the night stand in the two-bedroom Garden suite.
  • Baseboard heating in each room and the bathroom
  • Superior cleanliness and comfort
  • Spacious rooms with lots of light
  • Microwaves, mini fridges, toaster ovens, kitchenettes
  • Quiet, park-like setting
  • Outdoor fire pit and hot tub
  • Outstanding staff
  • A GREAT value!

Breakfast includes milk and fruit juices, yogurt, bagels, and breakfast burritos. Check out the wind-up snow globes on the bedroom window sill. (Bonus points if you can name the tune the Garden suite globe plays. Think “Seattle.”)

The owners, Ralph and Chris Coleman, go out of their way to make sure your stay is pleasant and enjoyable. This includes:

  • Hanging a mini-flashlight on a peg above the key-pad entry at the door so you don’t have to guess at numbers if checking in at night.
  • Twinkling indoor lights and soothing music.
  • An extensive notebook chock full of area sites, “must-sees” and recreational opportunities on the table when you arrive.

Did I mention snacks waiting on the table upon your arrival? Or the DIY indoor S’more toaster with all the fixin’s in case you don’t want to take advantage of the outdoor fire pit or hot tub?

Yeah, baby.

Note: If you’re not a fan of body wash, you may want to BYO bar of soap and hand lotion. There are no closets or dressers in the Garden suite, but wall pegs and hangers are available in the hall to the bathroom. There’s also plenty of hot water to wash away a day on the trail. Ditto free Wi Fi and Direct TV.

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A primo place to relax and unwind, Mountain Meadows Inn offers senior, military, and returning guest discounts. Best value in town.

If camping is more your speed, see my post on Mount Rainier Campgrounds.

10 Lesser-Known Washington State Parks Worth Scouting!

From sweeping beaches and towering evergreens to thundering waterfalls and meadows marinated in wildflowers, Washington State is home to incredible outdoor beauty. A big chunk of that beauty can be found within Washington’s state parks system.

There are over 100 parks throughout the state, including 19 marine parks and 11 Historical Parks.  Some of them are well-known. Others? Well, you have to look for them. Most in this list are on or near the coast. All require Discover Passes.

Here, in no particular order, are my top 100% unscientific, totally subjective picks for lesser-known but still awesome state parks of western Washington:

1.  Birch Bay State Park – Whatcom County

This park includes over 8,000 feet of saltwater shoreline and nearly 15,000 feet of freshwater shoreline on Terrell Creek. The Terrell Creek Marsh is one of the few remaining saltwater/freshwater estuaries in north Puget Sound. A natural game sanctuary sits at the park’s north end.

If you want to lunch on a pristine beach with sweeping views of the San Juan Island and the jagged spires of the North Cascades, this is the  place.

Birch Bay State Park is located between Bellingham and Blaine. Take exit 266 off the I-5. Follow the signs to the park. It’s a pretty drive. The park entrance is on Helweg, just off Jackson Road and past the Birch Bay Beachwood Grocery and Deli.

2. Peace Arch State Park – Whatcom County

Peach Arch State Park is located half in the Washington City of Blaine and half in Canadian British Columbia.

This is both a state park and a national historic site. The park features some of the most beautiful grounds and rolling green hills ever.

The arch straddles both U.S. and Canadian borders. It commemorates the long friendship between these two great nations and the longest undefended border in the world. On the U.S. side, you can find it in Blaine. It’s about as far north as you can get in Washington.

3. Cowlitz Falls State Park – Cowlitz County

Reposing beneath spiky blue ridges bristling with conifers, this park is out in the middle of no where! It’s located at the east end of Lake Scanewa where the Cispus and Cowlitz Rivers meet. The lake is humongous, with quiet aquamarine waters that stretch for miles. There’s a campground nearby. Both take several minutes to reach from the highway.

The day use-only area includes a small beach, swimming area, fishing options, a floating dock, and a few trails.

Cowlitz Falls State Park is located about 10 miles off Highway 12 near Morton. Worth the drive.

4. Lake Sylvia State Park – Grays Harbor County

Lake Sylvia

Five main hiking trails, 15,000 feet of freshwater shoreline, and all the cool scents your fur ball could ever want to sniff out! The park is quiet, restful, and thickly forested. Lots of options for fishing, canoeing, hiking, and exploring.

Located in the City of Montesano.

5. Cape Disappointment State ParkPacific County

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Nestled in a cove fronting the Columbia River on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, Cape Disappointment State Park includes craggy cliffs and giant boulders, Waikiki Beach, and the nearby Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. From the beach you can also see the historic Cape Disappointment Lighthouse overlooking the Pacific.

This park is located southwest of Ilwaco, Washington, on the bottom end of Long Beach Peninsula where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean.

6. Bottle Beach – Grays Harbor County.

This is a 75-acre state park with 6,000 feet of shoreline. It consists mainly of tide flats near the historic town site of Ocosta. Bottle Beach doesn’t get the big waves or expansive sandy beaches you’ll find in Westport, but you’re also much more likely to have this beach to yourself. Or almost.

Tip: Watch those tides! Dogs allowed from mid-October through February.

7. Larrabee State Park – Whatcom County

Fragrance Lake at Larrabee State Park.

Larrabee State Park is Washington’s first state park. Located near Bellingham, it’s known for postcard-perfect views of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands.

It offers boating, paddling, fishing, shellfish harvesting, diving, teeming tide pools and hiking. Tip: Hike to Fragrance or Lost Lakes. Great trails with awesome views and scenery!

8. Millersylvania State Park – Thurston County

Deep Lake at Millersylvania State Park.

A gem of a state park just south of Olympia, Millersylvania’s 842-acres offer camping, swimming, fishing, kayaking, boating, bicycling, picnicking, birding, and beautiful Deep Lake, with its 3,300 feet of freshwater shoreline.

A network of fam-friendly trails cross-hatches the park. Many are either nameless, poorly marked, or both. So a really, really stupid hiker can easily get lost. After getting turned around, it only took me about 20 minutes of aimless meandering to find my way back to the main trail.

Located in Thurston County ten miles south of the state capitol, Millersylvania State Park was constructed almost entirely by hand in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it on a sunny summer weekend. But it’s perfect for a mid-week visit during the off-season, when wild geese are calling and fall colors are putting on a floor show.

9. Rainbow Falls State Park – Lewis County

Rainbow Falls. A sweet collection of easy, brief trails can be found right across the street.

Nestled in rustic Lewis County about 16 miles west of Chehalis, Rainbow Falls State Park is only 139 acres. But it includes camping, fishing, horseback riding, bicycling, hiking, and 3,400 feet of freshwater shoreline on the main stem of the Chehalis River.   

The park’s main network of trails are brief, easy strolls. Crowded with conifer skyscrapers and quiet, the trails bear names like “Oxalis Loop,” “Deer,” “Woodpecker” and “Hemlock.” They’re well-shaded, with a few mild ups and downs. You can stroll the entire Perimeter Trail of about 1.5 miles in under an hour.

The small but fast-flowing Rainbow Falls canters down the Chehalis River. Good fishing nearby. There’s a dirt parking lot at the falls. Cross the street to access the park’s network of uber easy trails.

10. Tolmie State Park –  Thurston County

This is not a pic of Tolmie State Park. This is from one of the trails in Rainbow Falls State Park. But you get the idea.

Tolmie State Park is a 154-acre, marine day-use park with 1,800 feet of saltwater shoreline on Puget Sound. It’s close to the state capitol of Olympia, but feels like you’re in the boondocks.

The park is set on a spit in a cove and is backed by a forest. Besides three+ miles of hiking trails, Tolmie State Park has a nice beach and calm waters for little ones to wade. The park fills quickly on busy summer weekends but can be quiet during the week.

What would you add?

‘One Small Step…’

posted in: Just for Fun | 6

“That’s one small step.”

Just four short words. Followed by a few more. And we recognize them instantly.

Public domain

Today is the 50th anniversary of one of the most notable achievements in human history: landing a man on the moon.

It’s remarkable. Transcendent. Historic.

I remember the day. I was nine years old.

Mom herded us kids into the living room to the old black and white stereo/console. “This is an historic event!” she exclaimed. “No one has ever done this before!”

“Done what?” I asked, not quite sure what all the hubbub was about.

“Neil Armstrong is about to walk on the moon!” Mom crowed, brown eyes flashing.

I had no idea who “Neil Armstrong” was.

But everything came to a standstill. I’ll never forget those grainy images from the moon. Armstrong’s iconic comments. Walter Cronkite whipping off his glasses and kind of shaking his head in awe, astonishment, and pride. My siblings and I watched, mouths agape, not fully comprehending the enormity of the moment. That took a few years.

What American astronauts and their team achieved on July 20, 1969, was, to put it mildly, an epic achievement. It set the gold standard of what good ‘ole American ingenuity, stick-to-it-iveness and know-how can accomplish.

It’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that the Apollo 11 crew of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were part of a bigger team. Like the entire crew at Mission Control in Houston. Thousands of additional employees and support personnel. Naval personnel who retrieved the space capsule after splashdown, etc.

All eyes were on the same ‘brass ring’: successfully landing a man on the moon. And bringing him home.

July 20, 1969

We did it. Beginning with a single small step.

You may not be headed to Tranquility Base. Or Fra Mauro. But what “small step” can you take today toward your ‘brass ring’? Maybe it’s:

  • Finding a new trail
  • Exploring a new park, beach, mountain, canyon, or desert
  • Losing weight
  • Getting more exercise
  • Eating healthier
  • Spending more time with family
  • Learning a new skill or hobby
  • Reaching out to a lonely neighbor
  • Start writing a book
  • Finish writing a book
  • Saying “I’m sorry”
  • Trying a new recipe, author, composer, or hair style
  • Planning for retirement
  • Offering or receiving forgiveness
  • Taking the first step to mend a broken relationship

A big goal for me this summer is exceeding last year’s high water mark related to our library’s annual Summer Reading Program. I read 156 books last summer. I just finished book #113.

I’m on target to meet my goal. But I may need to hit the after-burners. One book – one page – one paragraph, sentence and small step – at a time.

One page at a time…

What’s today’s “small step” for you?

Image credit – Moon Landing. NASA. Public Domain.

The Secret to Fishing

My fishing line carved out a perfect arc in the thin morning air, flung out the Panther Martin, and cratered a few inches below the jade-green surface of Rush Creek. I sat, cross-legged, on the grassy creek bank beneath fluttering aspen and an achingly blue Sierra sky, waiting for a brown trout to bite.

Fishing Walker Lake in the High Sierras, 1989.

As a kid, I never really liked fishing. I went out with Dad and my brothers because it was part of “vacation.” An annual ritual or a rite of passage. But I never liked it much. For one thing, I rarely, if ever, caught anything. The hours of soundlessly waiting, taut with the anticipation of a telltale tug on the line while clouds of mosquitoes filled up on every blood vessel I possessed, wasn’t my idea of fun. I came home tired, cranky, and itchy.

Back then, I thought “fishing” was about catching fish. Selecting the lure or bait. Baiting the hook. Tossing out a line. Waiting for fish to bite. Setting the hook. Reeling it in. Landing it. (This can be harder than it sounds. Trust me.) Cleaning, filleting  – a Guy Job relegated first to Dad and later to my husband Chris. (There are some things this girl just won’t do.) Butter and a sizzling frying pan.

Image result for fish frying

But after being eaten alive by mosquitoes at about every fishing hole on the West Coast, I swore off fishing. For years. Until the late 1980s.

Husband Chris and I made the eight-hour trek north from our home in Los Angeles to the Eastern Sierra Nevadas, just above Bishop, California. He convinced me to join him for the annual spring trout opener. We took a week’s vacation to fish the area, which includes the four lakes on the June Lake Loop: Gull, June, Silver and Grant.

One morning we fished Silver Lake. Got skunked.  Same story everywhere else along the loop. Except when we fished Rush Creek. The the largest stream in the Mono Basin, Rush Creek runs around the quartet of lakes on the June Lake Loop. The creek is quiet and pristine in early May. And full of fish!

We caught our limit on our second fishing day at Rush Creek. But it was that first fish-less day at Rush Creek that’s etched into my memory.

No phones. No voice mail, calendars, appointments or status updates. Nothing but a sparkling sapphire sky. The creek skipping over boulders, prancing through shadow and sunlight. The soft caress of a May breeze, newly thawed and galloping hard off Tioga Pass.

It was at Rush Creek that I first learned what fishing is and isn’t “about.”

Fishing isn’t about catching my limit. Being annoyed about getting “skunked.” It’s about being In The Moment. Drinking in the solitude and serenity. Watching an early morning sun pucker gray-green mountains. Basking beneath a sparkling sapphire sky. Listening to a creek skip over boulders, prance through shadow and sunlight. Feeling the soft caress of a conifer-crisped breeze.

It’s about learning to gratefully receive the gifts that are being given – nature, family, friends, faith – instead of sulking over the ones I thought I wanted – like a full string of fish – but didn’t get.

The secret to fishing? It’s Not About the Fish.

Image credit – pan fried fish. Wikimedia Commons.

Image credit – Fishing Rush Creek.  Pinterest

Roaming Ruby

“The forecast is for clear and sunny, with temperatures in the low 70s,” husband Chris observes. “How ’bout Ruby Beach?”

It’s a spur-of-the-moment idea. But I don’t need convincing. It’s been over two weeks since our last hike. We both have itchy feet.

Sea stacks at Ruby Beach.

Indeed, optimum hiking season doesn’t last long in the Pacific Northwest. Like, blink, and it’s gone. Hello wet and rain.


So on those rare, redolent days when the sky pours out an infinite bowl of blue, Chinook breezes flutter the frocks of evergreens and the sun sits high on the horizon like a giant fried egg, it’s time to get outside and hike!

The drive north to Ruby Beach is one of the most scenic in Washington State. You duck in and out of the lush Olympic National Park. Pass the Hoh Rain Forest. Beeline for the coast, with its craggy sandstone cliffs, rocky sea stacks and piles of bleached driftwood littering the sand like prehistoric skeletons.

Driftwood litters the shores of Ruby Beach.

We whiz past Kalaloch (“clay-lock”) and Beaches 1, 2, 3, and 4 until we hit the brown sign indicating, “Ruby Beach, Next Left.”

Meanwhile, near Kalaloch…

Crown Jewel

Ruby Beach is a crown jewel of Olympic National Park. Famous for its reddish sand and large rock islands known as sea stacks, Ruby Beach is one of the most well-known and heavily visited beaches along the Olympic coastline. That means crowds. Especially during peak season. It’s why we usually save this beach for the off-season.

Ruby Beach, WA.

But sometimes extemporaneous adventures are the best, aren’t they?

Between sea stacks at Ruby Beach.

On the Beach

We grab our backpacks, hike down to the beach and splash through a feeder creek. Then we head north. A few minutes from the trailhead, crowds thin and vanish. We have the entire beach to ourselves.

A sharkish spit of sand slashes the shore’s ankles, severing the beach into flashing runnels and firth. Buck-teethed and slick, slivers of cloud shiver wet and shining overhead. The beach is shingled in mist, rinsed and weltered. In morning hibernation, the sun wakes up around noon.

You have to hike for it, but you CAN find some uncrowded spots at Ruby Beach.

Airborne Ballet

“Look at that!” Chris murmurs. Binoculars in hand, he points to a thick stand of evergreens. A trio of bald eagles dips and soars in an intricate airborne dance.

Can you spot the bald eagle?
Lunch stop!


You won’t see that off a southern California beach, our old stompin’ grounds. In fact, Ruby Beach is Exhibit A in why Washington beaches aren’t like southern California beaches.

Not like California beaches!

Washington beaches:

  • Are rugged, with concrete-like sand that’s often littered with driftwood, downed logs and pebbles.
  • Riptides abound.
  • Are hemmed by towering conifers, not palms, condos or asphalt.
  • The water is pretty cold.
  • Access usually means a hike.

For example, to get to Ruby Beach you hike down a 1.4 mile out-and-back trail and pick your way over downed logs.

Tide pools teem with life!

Post-eagle dance, we eat lunch on an obliging hunk of driftwood, swigging from our Camelbaks. I suck in huge chunks of salt-spiced air. Crashing breakers sing a nautical tune. We about-face and head south to a rocky escarpment rising from the beach like a medieval rampart.

This unusual rock formation is about 1.5 miles south of the Ruby Beach trailhead.

Too soon, afternoon recedes like an outgoing breaker on the beach. An anemic sun flavors Destruction Island raspberry, tangerine and lemon.

“Sometimes spur-of-the-moment plans are the best,” Chris observes.

The water’s not too bad… once you get used to it!

“They certainly are,” I agree. We snap some final pictures and head for the truck. But we’ll be back to re-roam Ruby Beach. Count on it.

Ruby Beach and sea stack from trailhead.

Located in Jefferson County about 25 miles south of Forks, Kalaloch and Ruby Beach are some of the most visited areas of Olympic National Park. Both are located on the southwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula. They are accessible directly off of Highway 101 (directions).

We’ll be back!

The Best of Whatcom County, WA

Tucked into the northwest corner of the Evergreen State, Whatcom County’s 2,503 square miles are known for serene, stunning Northwest beauty. The county is bordered by Canada on the north, Okanogan County on the east, Skagit County on the south, and the Strait of Georgia on the west. It features some of the most scenic real estate in the state. 

Here are eight great places to visit in Whatcom County:

1. Whatcom Falls Park

Whatcom Falls is the go-to spot at Whatcom Falls Park.

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

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

There’s also a popular leash-free zone for dogs at the south end of the park near Lake Whatcom. Whatcom Falls Park is located at 1401 Electric Avenue in the Whatcom Falls Neighborhood.  There are two entrances to Whatcom Falls Park.  To access the sports field and upper playground, use the entrance at 1401 Electric Ave.

Continue hiking north. Brave a busy street crossing and you’ll find beautiful Bloedel-Donovan Park where the lapping waters of Lake Whatcom kiss the shore.

2. Lake Whatcom

Lake Whatcom

You can easily walk to Lake Whatcom from Whatcom Falls Park. They’re within shaking hands distance in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

Welcome shade along Lake Whatcom!

It was in the upper 80s when we hiked from the falls to Bloedel Donovan Park and Lake Whatcom. Talk about a welcome, refreshing sight on a warm May day! We plunked our Camelbaks down on a picnic table near the water’s edge and watched ducks and geese frolic in the water while munching our lunch.

Lake Whatcom offers a beautiful lunch spot.

Lake Whatcom is approximately 10 miles long and 1 mile wide at its widest. Its carefully manicured lawns and playgrounds are fringed by a truckload of additional outdoor opportunities including motor boating, swimming, fishing, and hiking.

From Lake Whatcom and Bloedel Donovan Park, you can do an about-face and retrace your steps back to Whatcom Falls Park. It’s an easy walk. Take a brief detour around Sudder or Derby Ponds on your way back.

For a complete list of Whatcom County Parks, click here.

3. Birch Bay State Park

This park includes over 8,000 feet of saltwater shoreline and nearly 15,000 feet of freshwater shoreline on Terrell Creek. The Terrell Creek Marsh is one of the few remaining saltwater/freshwater estuaries in north Puget Sound. A natural game sanctuary sits at the park’s north end.

The state park adjoins the Birch Bay Beach and Tidelands Access Area. This 60 acre undeveloped wildlife conservancy protects heron nests and other local wildlife.

If you want to lunch on a pristine beach with sweeping views of the San Juan Island and the jagged spires of the North Cascades, this is the place.

Beach at Birch Bay State Park.

Birch Bay State Park is located between Bellingham and Blaine. Take exit 266 off the I-5. Follow the signs to the park. It’s a pretty drive. The park entrance is on Helweg, just off Jackson Road and past the Birch Bay Beachwood Grocery and Deli. A Discover Pass is required.

4. Hovander Homestead Park

Lily pond along the Hovander River Trail.

With its big red barn, cow pastures, farmyard animals, gently rolling hills, historic buildings and farm implements, this 350-acre park preserves the rich history of Whatcom County pioneer farming.

Tip: In early May, the lilacs draping the old Hovander house are at peak bloom.

The homestead also includes a Fragrance Garden, observation tower, and the Hovander River Trail.

5. Semiahmoo County Park

Located on Semiahmoo Parkway on Semiahmoo Bay, Semiahmoo County Park offers jaw-dropping views across Semiahmoo Bay the Strait of Juan de Fuca into Whiterock, Canada. Picnicking within a stone’s throw of crashing ocean breakers. A superb, easy public walking path out to the Semiahmoo Spit terminating in sweeping views of Mount Baker, the Semiahmoo Resort, and U.S., Canadian, and Washington State flags snapping smartly in a crisp blue breeze.

Flags at Semiahmoo Resort.

The park isn’t large. But if you’re in the area, it’s a must-see.

6. Lynden

Downtown Lynden, WA. I kid you not.

A few miles north of Bellingham, this sweet little town is So. Darn. Cute. Proud of its Dutch heritage, Lynden features wind mills, colorful wall murals, Dutch bakeries and restaurants and all things Hollandish.

A walk down Lynden’s Main Street is like stepping back into the Old Country. I half-expected a little Dutch boy to appear around the next bend, holding the sea back with his finger in a dike.

7. Blaine

With its two-lane road through downtown, quaint shops and restaurants, upscale residences and beach-hugging real estate, Blaine is about as far north as you can get in Washington State and still remain in the U.S. It borders Canada. It also reminded me of the beautiful southern California town of Coronado.

Blaine features another must-see: the famous Peace Arch, which is both a state park and a national historic site. The arch straddles both U.S. and Canadian borders and commemorates the long friendships between these two great nations and the longest undefended border in the world.

U.S. Side of Peace Arch

Located half inside Washington State and half inside British Columbia, B.C., the park features some of the most beautiful grounds and rolling green hills ever. Mighty impressive.

8. Stimpson Family Nature Reserve in Sudden Valley

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.

You can lop 1.2 miles of your RT by eliminating the 1.2 mile loop trail around Geneva Pond. But then you’d miss this sweet pond (more like a lake). The trail parallels the pond along a ridge before dropping down to shore level. There’s a fine, smooth stone bench on the west end of the placid pond where you can take a breaker and soak in some serenity. We met just one other hiker on this loop before rejoining the mail trail.

Quiet Geneva Pond is a highlight of this loop trail.

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.

Note: Cougars have been sighted in this area. So keep your head on a swivel.

8 Mount Rainier Hikes for Solitude Seekers

It’s a hiking fact: the most beautiful hikes are usually the most crowded. This can present a conundrum for hikers who want gorgeous scenery as well as solitude. But you can score both with a little homework and some advance planning on these eight trails at Mount Rainier National Park.

Here, in no particular order, are my picks for the 8 Best ‘Lonely’ Trails at Mount Rainier for hikers seeking solitude. Some require serious effort, which is why they tend to be “lonely”:

  1. Paul Peak – Mowich River area (NW side)

Unlike most trails at Mount Rainier, this one starts with a steep downhill of about 1,100 feet to the Mowich River Valley. You don’t get any Big Views of the Mountain from this trail. But you do get lush ferns and wildflowers, and a front row seat at the crashing Mowich River. A great picnic or turnaround spot.

  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: About 6.2 miles RT
  • Elevation Gain: 900 ft
  • High Point: 3700 ft.

Read more

2. Mildred Point – Longmire (SW side)

Mount Rainier from Mildred Point.
  • Rating: Strenuous
  • Distance: About 9.0 miles RT
  • Elevation Gain: 3,200 ft
  • High Point: 5,935 ft

A tough climb topped with big views of the Mountain, the Mildred Point hike begins on the southwest side of Mount Rainier National Park off the trail to Rampart Ridge.

Read More…

3. Forest Lake – Sunrise (NE side)

Forest Lake may be one of the best kept secrets in the park.
  • Rating: Moderately Difficult
  • Distance: 5.0 miles, RT
  • Elevation gain: 1000 ft.
  • High Point: 6,800 ft.

Peering into Huckleberry Basin from Sourdough Ridge, you’d never guess that a world-class wildflower meadow, gurgling creek and glassy tarn are tucked into the conifer-clad valley below.  Indeed, the Huckleberry Creek Trail to Forest Lake Camp may be one of the best kept secrets in the park. 

Read more…

4. Palisades Lakes – Sunrise Point (NE side)

The Palisades escarpment reflected in the cool waters of Palisades Lake.
  • Distance: 7.5 miles RT
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet

A popular trail that skirts seven lakes, this trail is named for a rocky escarpment which towers over the lake near the end of this hike. A good alternative to Sunrise’s more crowded trails.

Read more…

5. Stevens Creek to Maple Creek Camp – Stevens Canyon (SE side)

  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: About 3.5 miles, RT
  • Elevation gain: 557 feet

Part of The Wonderland Trail, this little-known connector hike begins with a descent through every imaginable shade of green. The 1.7 mile walk to Maple Creek Camp includes several small waterfalls and a fern forest. It’s quiet and secluded. The fall colors are outrageous! The “cardiac climb” out is steep, but short.

Kid-friendly. Buggy during the summer, esp. near the water.

From the Stevens Canyon Entrance on Highway 123, continue west 10.8 miles on Stevens Canyon Road to the Box Canyon Picnic Area. It’s on the left. The trail starts at the east side of the parking lot.

6. Owyhigh Lakes (SE side)

Governors Ridge and Owyhigh Lakes.
  • Rating: Moderately Difficult
  • Distance: 7 miles, RT
  • Elevation gain: 1350 feet

Legend has it that the lakes on this hike were named after Yakima Chief “Owhi.” He loaned horses to Theodore Winthrop (after whom the Winthrop Glacier was named), when Winthrop trekked across the Cascades in the mid-1850s. 

This trail doesn’t offer views of the Mountain. But you’ll find secluded lakes and meadows marinated in wildflowers. Jagged Governors Ridge and Tamanos Mountain rise above the lakes to the east and west, respectively.  Like Paul Peak, it also starts with a sharp downhill.

7. Green LakeCarbon River Entrance (NW corner)

  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: 10.8 miles, RT
  • Elevation gain: 1000 feet

A winding, uphill hike through a magnificent old-growth forest to one of the most serene lakes in the park. In the northwest corner, beginning at the Carbon River entrance.

We hiked this trail in late September. It was so quiet, you could practically hear moss grow.

8. Packwood Lake Trail

  • Rating: Easy
  • Distance: 9.2 miles, RT
  • Elevation gain: 600 ft.
  • Highest Point: 3,200 ft.

Although outside park boundaries, this hike through deep forest to a calm lake is close enough to make the list. This gentle path winds through a splendid old-growth forest inside the Goat Rocks Wilderness. The lake hops into view through the trees at about 4.5 miles, as does Wizard Island.

A nice lower-elevation hike that melts out early in the spring. Leashed dogs okay.

From Packwood follow US 12 to Forest Service Road No. 1260 (Snyder Road) and continue 6 miles on paved road to the parking area at the trailhead. Start on Trail 78. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

We’ve hiked all of these trails. I can’t guarantee you’ll have these trails all to yourself, particularly during peak season. But they’re more likely to be less crowded than some of their better-known, well-worn counter-parts, especially at Paradise

As ever, the best way to avoid jam-packed trails at the park is to hike during the off-season, typically before July and after Labor Day. For more tips on avoiding summer congestion, see my post on

10 Tips for Avoiding Summer Congestion at Mount Rainier National Park

It’s summertime and the living’ ain’t easy if you’re trying to wedge your way into Mount Rainier National Park. That’s because this spectacular park sees upwards of two million visitors a year, mostly in the summer.

Sure, park trails are melted out now. Temperatures are on the rise. Wildflowers are in full bloom. But if you choose a clear, sunny, postcard-perfect weekend in July or August to visit the park, get ready for long lines and waits.

Here are ten tips* for avoiding summer congestion at Mount Rainier:

  1. If possible, avoid visiting the park on busy summer weekends. Visit on week days. We hiked Paul Peak on the NW side  on a Tuesday in July. We encountered less than a dozen people on the entire hike. Ditto hiking Crysta Lakes. On a Wednesday.
  2. Arrive in the early morning or late afternoon. Crowds and long lines are the norm by late-morning.
  3. If you encounter long lines and waits at entrance gates, check out nearby communities like Elbe, Ashford, or Packwood.
  4. Try hiking trails that are close but outside park boundaries, like Sheep Lake, Glacier View, or the Cispus Loop. (Note: Parking lots at popular trailheads like Comet Falls or Grove of the Patriarchs are very small. Either arrive early or have a Plan B .)
  5. Use an annual park or interagency pass or have the correct payment in cash to reduce your wait at the entrance gate. Credit card transactions take longer. So does making change. You can also save time by buying your pass online through and printing the pass before you visit.
  6. Check road status for closures or other delays that may affect your travel plans.
  7. Check Twitter for congestion updates. The park tweets weekend and holiday wait time information to help with your trip planning.
  8. Check the park’s web site for current trail conditions and other info.
  9. If the park’s busy SW entrance near Ashford is jammed, try the southeastern entrance near Packwood. It’s usually a shorter-wait alternative on busy weekends during July and August.
  10. Do your homework. Know which trails are uber popular and likely to be uber crowded during the summer season. Like:
Silver Falls, on the SE side of the park, is one of the most heavily trafficked trails at Mount Rainier.

Save these heavily-trafficked trails for the off-season if you can. Instead, try some more challenging/lesser known trails such as:

Mount Rainier from Mildred Point.

Also see: Skyscraping: A Hiker’s Guide to Four Mount Rainier Fire Lookouts.

Additionally, as one of the most spectacular trails in the state, Tolmie Peak is likely to resemble crush hour traffic in Seattle during July and August. You might want to save that for the off-season, too.

Tolmie Peak

We hiked Summerland in late September last year. There were plenty of people on the trail. But not anywhere near the throngs and masses you’ll encounter during July and August. Located across the street from the Summerland trailhead, the parking lot here is also quite small. Arrive early or have a Plan B.

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

Following our hike to Summerland, we zipped up the road to Sunrise. It was all but deserted. We snagged a picnic table. Fired up the cook stove. Ate dinner with a virtually private sun set show over the Mountain.

Sun set at Sunrise

The same was true of our Mazama Ridge and Skyline hikes. Also in late September. Post-hikes, we set up the cook stove and had dinner at the Paradise picnic area. There were only three other cars in the entire lot.

Sun set at Sunrise.

My top tip for avoiding long lines and waits at Mount Rainier National Park? If possible, schedule your trip for the off-season, typically before July and after Labor Day.

I’ve been hiking at Mount Rainier since the 1960s. My favorite time to visit? Mid-September to mid-October, weather permitting. Less stress, hassle and heartburn. Bonus points: the Mountains pulls out all the stops in donning her fall finery. And the crowds have thinned considerably.

*Adapted from Avoid Summer Congestion.

NPS photo: Full parking lot at Sunrise, Mount Rainier National Park.