A Walk in the Woulds

There are walks. There are woods. Then there are walks in the woulds. Like at southwest Washington’s Makarenko Park. Its 39 acres offer a great outdoor excursion and one of the most interesting historical backdrops in Grays Harbor County.

Unbroken by a single shaft of sun, the morning is cool when my good dog Kimber and I arrive at Makarenko Park. The park is located in the City of Cosmopolis in Grays Harbor County, Washington.

Kimber noses what is doubtless a delightful smorgasborg of outdoor scents while I grab her halter and leash. “Heel!” I say. She comes running. Sits at my left side. I snap her into her leash. Off we go.

Would you guess that this park was once home to “living works of art” a la the famed Spanish Riding School, home to the world famous Lipizzaner stallions? That its history includes a Russian military major and former cavalry officer?

Strolling around this conifer-ringed park in the morning calm, peace descends like a curtain. The one-mile park course is mostly level and well-shaded. It’s also rich in “awes” for those with sharp eyes and ears.

Makarenko Park’s one-mile walking trail rings the perimeter+ of this soccer field.

Varied thrushes tune up for choir practice. A barn owl swoops silently overhead. Kimber senses it long before I do and tries to give chase.

Meanwhile, purple asters and lupine elbow yellow cinquefoil and scarlet mountain paintbrush for Best Dressed honors. Dewy and cool, the air is redolent with rich red earth and growing things.

I would stay here all day if I could. Except for the marauding mosquitoes. They whir past my ears like a squadron of blood-thirsty Hueys.

Mosquitoes notwithstanding, there’s something therapeutic and restorative about a walk in the woods, isn’t there? Something you don’t get at the office, the mall or the gym. In a movie theatre or restaurant. On-line.

Is it the quiet? The solitude and serenity? The chance to think, unhurried and undistracted? The kaleidoscopic bursts of flora and fauna around virtually every corner?

Four turns around the park later, the sun comes out. I shed my wind breaker. Pour out some water for Kimber. Grab the Frisbee and get ready for a game of fetch.

What would Maj. Makarenko do on a morning like this? I wonder as Kimber chases the mini ‘flying saucer’ and brings it back. And:

Would the Major exercise his horses here, in this daisy-clad meadow ringed by conifers? Would his house have burned down if a sturdier fire department was close by? What would Cosmopolis be without Makarenko Park?

Intrigued by this quiet, picturesque park – my favorite in the entire county – I researched and wrote a story on it for local media awhile back. You can read that story at: ‘Horse Around’ in History at Cosmopolis’ Makarenko Park.

Call it a walk in the woulds.

Don’t Forget the Stick

posted in: Holidays, Just for Fun | 10

“This day just keeps getting better and better,” I muttered as I-5 traffic ground to a standstill. I was driving husband Chris home from the Seattle VA.* Both his hands were in splints.

“The patient.” (It’s actually WORSE than it looks.)

Then we had a flat tire. In crush hour traffic. While the anesthetic was wearing off. Grumbling stomachs reminded us it was way past lunch. Was that thunder? AAA changed out the spare tire and we limped home. It took hours longer than usual.

A few days later, July spilled over the Olympic Peninsula like icing on a cake. Rhododenrons lit up fences like neon signs. I skipped around the house belting out I’m  Proud to be an American as we prepared for Independence Day.

Those plans soon went up in smoke. Chris  had July 4 off for the first time in over a decade. But his hands were still problematic. And our adult kids were either working or battling the flu. The sky spat mizzle. Gray clouds marched by like pachyderms on parade. A client had just stiffed me for a tidy sum (long, boring story).

“What a waste of a holiday,” I grumped, Eeyore-like, as my plans wilted like damp confetti.

“Let’s go to the lake for a picnic,” Chris suggested. “You drive. We’ll bring Kimber.” Kimber’s our three year-old border collie.

Kimber and her stick and Lake Quinault.

“Fine,” I sniffed, so not into the holiday.

We drove north to the Olympic Rain Forest and Lake Quinault. It’s a favorite local hiking site.

Upon arrival, Kimber raced to the lake and immediately went stick-scouting. She found a choice alder branch, picked it up and trotted over to me. Dropping the stick at my feet, Kimber cocked her head in that irresistible way dogs have like, “Well, you gonna throw that for me, or what?”

“You gonna throw that thing or not?” Kimber the Wonder Dog wants to know!

Kimber chased that stick most of the afternoon. Whenever I sat down, up she trotted with her stick, tail wagging like a windmill in a hurricane. Grinning from ear to ear.

“You gonna throw that thing or not?” Kimber still wants to know!

Here I was grousing about a “wrecked” holiday and Kimber was having the time of her life.

“Will you throw it already?!” asks Kimber. Look at that concentration!

My good dog was fully immersed in the moment, joyously chasing a waterlogged stick.

In Walking With God, author John Eldredge writes about a fishing trip that didn’t go the way he wanted:

Then I remembered something that God has been teaching me this summer – it’s not what he isn’t giving but what he is giving. We can get so locked onto what we don’t have, what we think we want or need, that we miss the gifts God is giving. Really, though the river had proved to be everything I hoped the creek would be – solitude, beauty, wild fish on a dry fly – I sulked halfway back to the car because I didn’t get my creek.”

Like John, I was so focused on what God seemingly wasn’t giving over the holiday, I missed what He was giving. Until Kimber reminded me. With a simple stick.

Indeed, once I stopped sulking about what I thought I didn’t have and settled into enjoying what I did have, the Fourth turned out to be  one of the most restful and relaxing holidays ever.

On the shores of Lake Quinault…

Along these lines, John writes:

“Father, forgive me. Forgive my demanding posture that life has to come to me on my terms. Oh Lord, how many gifts have I missed? Forgive me. That posture is ugly and narrow. I pray for a more gracious posture, to be open and grateful for what you are giving at any time. I pray to be yours.”

In other words: Don’t forget the stick.

*He was being treated for Dupuytren’s Contracture. The treatment is pretty painful, but necessary. If left untreated, hands become unusable.

Greatest Patriots Ever

posted in: Holidays, Just for Fun | 6

There’s just something about Independence Day+, huh? Maybe it’s the summer sun. The chance to get outside and soak up some rays with friends and the fam. Fireworks. History. Patriotism. And one humdinger of a birthday party!

We’re doing something a little different today in honor of the holiday: “hiking” down a list of the 18 Greatest American Patriots Ever.

Granted, any attempt to compile a list of the greatest American patriots, plucking a handful of people out of 200+ years of U.S. history is, of course, ridiculous. So naturally we’re going to dive right in. With both feet. But first, a few qualifiers.

I am not including the Founding Fathers. That’s because Ben, Tom, George, James, John, et. al. are pretty much no-brainers here. (Besides, anyone can do that). I’m going for more of a “color-outside-the-lines” look of patriots whom you may or may not have heard of. Capiche?

Of course, the salient question here is, “What’s a ‘patriot’?” And there’s the rub. Ask 100 people that question and you’ll get 100 different answers. So I’m not even going to try to answer that. Besides, it’s my list. My criteria.

It includes those who majorly advanced or protected freedom. Ditto life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Demonstrated fidelity to essential liberty and founding principles. Went above and beyond the call of duty in service to their county. Ordinary people who attempted or accomplished something extraordinary for their country. Those who got outside themselves, took a stand, and/or sacrificed for their country. Patriots are those who fought, composed, rescued, competed,inspired and/or otherwise dared for their country, in a wide variety of diverse contexts – often against the tide.

Although the context of those who appear in this list varies widely, each of these patriots – some well-known and others mere dust motes on the canvas of history – all exhibit elements of boldness, tenacity, selflessness and loyalty to something greater than themselves: America.

So, without further ado, here’s my highly subjective, purely unscientific list of 18 Greatest American Patriots Ever. In no particular order, they are:

1.Clara Barton – Founder of the American Red Cross. One of the most honored women in U.S. history, Barton began teaching school at a time when most teachers were men. She was among the first women to gain employment in the federal government. Barton risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field during the Civil War. At age 60, she founded the American Red Cross in 1881 and led it for the next 23 years. Her understanding of the needs of people in distress and the ways in which she could provide help to them guided her throughout her life.

2. Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain – hero of Gettysburg. Professor of Rhetoric and Natural and Revealed Religion, Bowden College, Maine. Four-time governor. Medal of Honor winner. You may know Chamberlain best for his famous line in the 1993 Turner Classics movie, Gettysburg: “Bayonets!” (If you haven’t seen that movie, here’s a tip: do.)

But Chamberlain made another speech. It may not be as fiery as the one delivered to the 20th Maine on Little Round Top, but it’s just as crucial. Maybe moreso (“Here we judge you but what you do, not by who your father was.”):

3.Margaret Cochran Corbin – “The first American woman to take a soldier’s part in the War for Liberty,” Margaret fought alongside her husband in the American Revolutionary War. On November 16, 1776, while they were stationed in Fort Washington, New York, the fort was attacked by British and Hessian troops. When her cannoneer husband was killed, Margaret continued loading and firing the cannon by herself. She was an excellent shot. The British noticed and soon targeted her with their own cannons. Margaret was critically wounded. The British eventually won this battle, but hers was the last cannon to stop firing.

Margaret never recovered from her wounds. She was the first woman to receive a pension from the United States government as a disabled soldier.

4.Crew of Apollo 13 (James Lovell, Fred Haise, Jack Swigert) and Mission Control. True to the indomitable American spirit, they proved that “Failure is not an option.” Also the entire crew of Apollo 11 and Mission Control.

5.Franklin Graham – probably our best hope for a modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

6.Nathan Hale – American Revolutionary officer who attempted to spy on the British and was hanged. He is supposed to have said before his death, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

7.Francis Scott Key  – Lawyer and poet. He also wrote a famous tune…

8.Laodicea Langston – A courageous young girl of about 16 years, the South Carolinian provided valuable information to the Whigs and harassed the enemy during the entire Revolutionary War. An expert shot and rider, her patriotism to the American cause was so great, it earned her the pseudonym “Daring Dicey.”

9. Abraham Lincoln. Don’t make me explain this.

10 & 11. Sybil Ludington and Israel Bissell – Hate to tell you, but The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere we all learned in grade school is an historical myth perpetuated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Revere was arrested on the road to Concord.  But on the night of April 26, 1777, 16 year old Sybil Ludington mounted her horse, Star, and rode to alert American colonial forces to the approach of the British. She covered more than twice the distance that Revere did.

Twenty-three year old Israel Bissell warned more colonists than anyone else, riding so hard on the first day that his horse dropped dead under him. Bissell galloped through Massachusetts, Connecticut, and into New York. He rode for four days without rest and covered more than 300 miles.

12.Tim Murphy Saratoga rifleman. Revolutionary War hero and the most famous marksman of his day. In 1777, Murphy was one of 500 hand picked riflemen to go with General Daniel Morgan to Upstate New York and help stop General John Burgoyne and his invading British Army. Tim not only helped defeat the British, but was a major contributor to the victory.

As the battles around Saratoga raged, the British, having been pushed back, were being rallied by Brigadier General Simon Fraser. General Benedict Arnold (still a good guy at the time of Saratoga) rode up to General Morgan, pointing at Fraser and shouted ” . . . that man on the gray horse is a host in himself and must be disposed of.” Morgan gave the order for his best marksmen to try and take Fraser out.

Timothy Murphy climbed a nearby tree, took careful aim at 300 yards, and squeezed off a shot. General Fraser tumbled from his horse, shot through the midsection. He died the next day. Another British Senior officer, Sir Frances Clarke, General Burgoyne’s chief Aide-de-Camp, galloped onto the field with an important message. Murphy’s second shot dropped him. He was dead before he hit the ground!

These two unerring shots did more than anything else to shatter the morale of the British and to turn the tide of the most important battle of the Revolution.

13.Navajo Code Talkers – served with the United States Marine Corps in WWII:

14. Jesse Owens – World-class athlete and Olympic legend. The first American track and field athlete to win four gold medals in a single Olympiad (Berlin, 1936). During a time of deep-rooted segregation, Owens not only discredited Hitler’s master race theory, but also affirmed that individual e6cellence, rather than race or national origin, distinguishes one man from another. Post-Olympics, Owens devoted his life to helping others.

15. Thomas Paine – of Common Sense fame. If you want to know more about this writer and prodigious beer drinker, read To Try Men’s Souls, by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen.

16. Ronald Reagan.

17. Harriet Tubman – legendary “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. She never lost a passenger.

18. John Wayne – the epitome of “true grit.”

Who would you add?

+ I don’t do “Happy 4th of July.” I celebrate Independence Day. When the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1776 and the 13 colonies declared themselves no longer a part of the British Empire. Independence Day goes to the heart of what it means to be an American. This holiday is not about a day on the calendar. It’s about an idea. An experiment in freedom, liberty, and self-governance.

15 Fast Facts About Mount Rainier

posted in: Mount Rainier, National Parks | 8

Mount Rainier from Mazama Ridge

The Mountain is out.”

No words sound sweeter to the ears of a Rainieraholic like me. It’s a favorite phrase in the local lexicon, because any day Mount Rainier is out means cloudless blue skies from here to eternity. And it’s going to be a good day!

Regal Mount Rainier looms over Eunice Lake along the trail to Tolmie Peak.
Mount Rainier from the Mazama Ridge Trail.
Mount Rainier from the Naches Peak Trail.

Why is this snowy colossus so special? Read on for 15 fast facts about Mount Rainier.

  1. Mount Rainier is one of the largest and most dangerous volcanoes in the United States.
  2. The highest peak in the Cascade Range, Rainier’s summit is 14,411 feet above sea level amid some of the thinnest air in the nation.
  3. Mount Rainier is the tallest singular peak in the contiguous United States, with more than 25 miles of permanent ice and snow wrapped around it.
  4. Established in 1899, Mount Rainier National Park comprises over 235,000 acres, 97% of which are designated “wilderness.” 
  5. Mount Rainier is a stratovolcano that last erupted in 1894.
  6. Rainier soars almost a mile and a half above the Puget Sound basin. Her glistening crown stretches nearly three miles above sea level into the sky.
  7. Mount Rainier’s snowy skirts cover approximately 100 square miles or nearly one-third of the total area of the park.
  8. Located in an essentially temperate coastal region, Mount Rainier has been called “an arctic island in a temperate sea.” 
  9. Rainier’s glaciers contain enough snow and ice to provide nearly 200 years of water use by the city of Seattle.
  10. Mount Rainier boasts the largest single peak glacier system in the contiguous United States. 
  11. Standing nearly 250 feet higher than Mount Shasta, her closest rival in mass and grandeur, the Mountain is overwhelming, both in size and sculpture.
  12. From Mount Rainier’s summit one looks down upon several other mountains: The Tatoosh Range to the south; Mount Wow to the southwest; the Mother Mountains to the northwest; and upon all the ridges of the Cascade Range.
  13. A giant among giants, the Mountain reigns as mountain sovereign of the Pacific Northwest.
  14. Naturalist John Muir said of her: Of all the fire mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest…
  15. More than two million people visit this spectacular mountain every year (over half of them are from Washington State). About 10,000 try to climb it.  A little more than half succeed.

What would you add?

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

As Great Outdoors Month winds down, we thought we’d wind up with four fire lookouts from Mount Rainier National Park.

These trails are in a class by themselves. They’re among the most challenging day hikes in the park. But the rewards include serenity and solitude, outrageous wildflower meadows, crystal-clear lakes and streams, and superb mountain vistas that beggar description.

We’ve hiked them all. More than once.

Here in no particular order, is a quick overview of the trails to Mount Rainier’s fire lookouts. Hike any of these and you’ll feel like you’ve just scraped the sky:

  1. Tolmie Peak (Mowich Lake/NW Corner)

With a couple pristine mountain lakes, lush forests, and soaring evergreens hugging shaggy peaks, this trail is scenic and not terribly strenuous. It’s all uphill from Mowich Lake to a rickety fire lookout perched at 5,940. It looks like it’ll collapse in a stiff breeze. The lookout peers over beautiful Eunice Lake and offers some of the best in-your-face views of Mount Rainier in the whole park.

Eunice Lake from the trail to Tolmie Peak.

The trail starts near Mowich Lake – which is a treat for the eyes in itself. The trail hugs the lake initially, then meanders about 1.75 miles to Ipsut Pass, elev. 5,100 feet. There’s a spur trail at this point which offers tremendous canyon views on a clear day. (It was socked in when we were there. We had to use our imaginations.)

From the spur, follow the signs and bear left for about 0.8 miles to Eunice Lake. This is a good place to stop for a snack or swig from your water bottle. You can approach the lake from several trails. Its mirror-like aquamarine waters are worth the stop.

Eunice Lake. Can you spot the fire lookout in the distance?

Continue uphill, sometimes steeply, for about .8 mile until you reach the lookout, which is perched on the spine of a rugged ridge.

Tolmie Peak fire lookout! Worth the climb!

Perhaps the toughest part of this adventure is the “road” to Mowich Lake. Seventeen fun-filled miles of unpaved, rutted, badly wash-boarded road with a drive time of about 45 minutes, one-way. Believe you me, you’ll be as glad as a bear in a honey factory when you finally hit the dirt parking lot at road’s end at Mowich Lake.

Note that this area is rustic. The campground at the lake does not allow campfires. The only water is what you pack in or filter from the lake. Pit toilets only.

Getting there: From Puyallup, drive 13 miles east on State Route 410 to Buckley. Turn right (south) onto SR 165 and proceed through Carbonado. Just beyond the Carbon River Gorge Bridge, bear right onto Mowich Lake Road. Follow the road about 17 miles to its end and find the trailhead on the left (north) side of the road, near Mowich Lake.

2. Shriner Peak (Ohanapecosh Area)

Shriner Peak Trailhead.

The Shriner Peak Fire Lookout Trail is known as “the loneliest trail in the park.” The trail is tough and unforgiving. It’s not recommended for beginners. You better be in decent shape before tackling this adventure. But if your legs are up to it and you remember how to breathe, the rewards at the top are worth every hamstring-yammering step.

One of the reasons this trail is so challenging is because it’s all uphill, without any real breaks – or chances to catch your breath. It’s also at altitude. You begin in the shade and roam through an impressive stand of sword fern. But it doesn’t last long. You are soon out in the open, in shade-less terrain and direct sun. Be sure to wear a hat. Use sunscreen and bring plenty of water. Sturdy footwear is a must.

Don’t forget to look behind you from time to time during your climb. On a clear day, the views of the Nisqually Valley, which are at your back, are awesome.

At roughly two miles up, there’s a rocky outcropping on the left. The panoramic view of Mount Rainier is one of a kind. Stop here to shoot some photos or video or grab a snack. You can also take a gander at Mount Adams and the Tatoosh. Both are visible in the clear blue yonder. This is also a good place to stuff your lungs back into your chest before tackling the next stretch of hamstring-hollering climbing.

See? Told you it was worth the effort (a little further…).

You’ll soon round another rocky ridge, after which you dip slightly into sparsely shaded meadows for about a nano-second. Then you start into switchbacks on up to the top, at 5,846 feet.

From the crest of Shriner Peak. Trail goes to a couple of primitive camp sites.

It was in the upper 80s/low 90s when we hiked this trail in late June. We started early and took it slow, huffing and puffing from shade patch to shade patch. We made the lookout in just under four hours.

Made it!

Yes, Shriner Peak is a tough climb. But oh, the rewards! We had the whole summit to ourselves. (Everyone with brains was at Paradise.) If your legs are up to it once you make the lookout, walk a short stretch down a narrow path to the camp sites. They’re primitive, but you can find a rock or log to rest your howling hoofers while enjoying some of the most beautiful views on God’s green earth. You’ll need the rest for the hike back. Your knees will thank you.

“On a clear day…”

Getting there: From Enumclaw, drive east 47 miles on SR-410 to SR-123 at Cayuse Pass. Stay right to merge onto SR-123 (Cayuse Pass Highway). The parking area is on the right about 7.5 miles south of that junction. The trailhead is on the east side of the road.

If coming from Ohanapecosh/Packwood area, drive north about 11.5 miles on SR-123 to the parking area on the west side and find the trailhead on the east side. It’s not too far past the Stevens Canyon Entrance. There’s room to park on the left, just past the trail head sign. Pass the turnout, park, and walk back to the sign. Cross the road. Hit the trail and start climbing.

3. Gobbler’s Knob (Longmire area)

This is really a hike-within-a-hike. It can be divided into two parts: A four-mile trek from the terminus of the Westside Road on the west side of the park near Longmire, and a two-mile-ish hike to the Knob. It’s a 12 miles RT trek anyway you slice it if you want to take in the sweeping vistas from the lookout atop Gobbler’s Knob.

From the Westside Road closure, continue on a graveled road on foot for about 3.8 miles. It’s uphill, but the incline is gentle and skirts Tahoma Creek and thick forest.

Mount Rainier from Round Pass.

There’s a parking lot (wide space) and a bike rack near the juncture for Round Pass. The trailhead to Lake George is just ahead, on the left. Take it. 

Lake George

The next 0.75 mile climbs about 500 feet to the Lake George basin. This is a great lunch stop. The lake in a beautiful bowl under crisp mountain skies.

A back patrol cabin is a stone’s throw from the water.

Just a little further, a little higher…

Head past the northern tip of Lake George. Bear right at the Goat Lake junction. You may huff and puff, covering an 800-foot elevation gain in less than a mile from the Goat Lake junction to the lookout. Keep your eyes peeled for wildflower meadows.

Small tarn below the Gobbler’s Knob lookout.

Keep climbing past a tannin-rusted tarn on the right. Continue to a rocky outcrop and the lookout. On a clear day, the superb view includes Adams, Hood, and St. Helens to the south and east, the Olympics to the west, and Lake George. There’s a big snowy mountain front and center with choice views of Sunset Amphitheater and the Tahoma Glacier.

We hiked this trail in mid-September. Aside from the two park rangers who were renovating the patrol cabin, we saw just three other hikers the whole day.

View from the front porch of Gobblers Knob lookout.

As is the case with all the fire lookout hikes in the park, you have to work to get to Gobbler’s Knob. But the scenery and serenity are worth it. Allow a full day.

Getting there: From Elbe, head east on State Route 706 for about 14 miles to the Nisqually Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. About 0.9 miles past the entrance, turn left onto unsigned Westside Road and continue to its closure 3.2 miles up.

4. Mount Fremont (Sunrise area)

Starting out of Sunrise, elev. 6,400-ft., this 5.6 miles RT hike winds up Sourdough Ridge trail to Frozen Lake. Head north and pick up the Mount Fremont trail. It skirts Frozen Lake and climbs up the ridge in a long, 1.3 mile straight line – no switchbacks!

Mount Fremont fire lookout.

The trail levels out later and winds through a shale-strewn mine field. Naw. Not really. But with saw-toothed volcanic formations on one shoulder and a sheer drop-off on the on the other, it feels like you’re navigating a mine field.

View from trail to Mount Fremont fire lookout.

Turn around for eye-popping vistas of Burroughs Mountain, Grand Park, Redstone Peak, Skyscraper Mountain, Berkeley Park, Tahoma and Little Tahoma. Mount Adams and cloud-collared Mount Baker may also be visible.

Getting there: From Enumclaw, follow SR 410 east for 43 miles until you reach Sunrise Park Rd/White River Rd. You’ll enter the park at the White River entrance. At the White River Campground entrance, make a slight right. Keep climbing for about 5 miles. The road switchbacks to become Sunrise River Road. Continue about 10 miles to its end at the Sunrise Visitor Center and the parking area.

Now. Which “skyscraper” do you want to hike first?

Top 10 Kid-Friendly Trails at Mount Rainier

From loop trails and waterfalls to alpine aeries and meadows marinated in wildflowers, Mount Rainier National Park is an awesome place for family hiking. But some trails are more kid friendly than others. What are the best Rainier trails for kids?

The answer varies depending on you and your child(ren). Factors to take into consideration include age, physical shape, and whether or not you and your children are used to hiking, especially at altitude. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend these trails for very young children. But we’ve hiked all of these when our kids were ages six years and up.  

Here are ten of our family favorites, in no particular order:

1. Naches Peak Loop Trail

Mount Rainier from Naches Peak Loop Trail.

Distance: 3.5 miles RT

Rating: Easy/Moderate

A popular trail with big rewards, this relatively easy loop trail has it all: pristine mountain tarns, kaleidoscopic wildflower carpets in season, beautiful sub-alpine meadows, a towering peak, and oh, yeah, jaw-dropping views of that snowy colossus in the distance.

Highlights:

  • A gentle climb above Tipsoo Lake
  • Eye-popping vistas + killer views of the Mountain
  • Elev: 5,4000 feet+ – one of the first to close when the snow flies; one of the last to melt out in the spring
  • An option for hiking down to Dewey Lake.

Good for older children who are used to hiking.

2. Silver Falls

Rainbow at Silver Falls.

Distance: 3.5 miles RT

Rating: Easy

Located on the Mountain’s southeast flank out of Ohanapecosh, Silver Falls is one of the best-known waterfalls cobwebbing the park. An easy loop trail through a spectacular old growth forest.

 Highlights:

  • Out of Ohanapecosh or the Stevens Canyon Entrance on the southeast side of the park, at a much lower elevation than trails out of Paradise or Sunrise.
  • One of the first trails to melt out in spring.
  • One of the most popular trails in the park.
  • No major uphill climbing.

A good option for families with young children who are used to walking.

3. Sheep Lake – near Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Distance: 4.2 miles RT

Rating: Easy/Moderate

A great choice for rookie hikers or families with kiddos who are good hikers, the trail to Sheep Lake includes sweeping vistas, towering trees, scores of wildflowers, and a splendid emerald-green lake lolling under an infinite blue sky!

Wildflowers at Sheep Lake.

Highlights:

  • Climbing for the first mile or so, but the grade is gentle and not steep by Rainier standards.
  • It’s outside park boundaries by a stone’s throw, so dogs and horses are allowed on the Sheep Lake trail, which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail.
  • First mile is rocky and exposed. Wear a hat. Bring plenty of water.
  • Ringed by jagged mountains, Sheep Lake offers smooth-as-glass reflections of the quiet, conifered landscape and open skies. A great lunch stop.

4. Nisqually Vista

Nisqually Vista Trail – June. Tatoosh Mountains.

Distance: 1.2 miles RT

Rating: Easy

This is a pleasant paved nature trail winding through a beautiful alpine meadow near the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise.

Highlights:

  • If you don’t have the time or energy for longer, higher trails at Paradise, this is a perfect one-stop Rainier hiking experience.
  • Sharp-eyed children may spot mountain goats near the Nisqually Glacier.
  • Great photo opps!

5. Bench and Snow Lakes

Mount Rainier reflected in Bench Lake.

Distance: 2.6 miles RT

Rating: Moderate

Sapphire ovals set between jade green hills and emerald foliage, Bench and Snow Lakes are a Mount Rainier “must-see.”

Highlights:

  • Starts on the south side of Stevens Canyon Road, 1.5 miles beyond Reflection Lakes.
  • Enough ups and downs to thrill any step-aerobicizer – but they’re short.
  • A hard, fast climb from the trail head which levels out on “The Bench,” a broad plain hosting killer views of the Mountain.
  • The walk down to Bench Lake is short and steep and usually muddy. Snow Lake is an easier approach.

Bench Lake is a good turn-around spot for little legs.

6. Grove of the Patriarchs

Distance: 1.3 miles RT

Rating: Easy

This easy, 1.3 mile walk winds along the aquamarine waters of the Ohanapecosh River, ending in a splendid loop of soaring conifers that unhinge any jaw. Think Emerald City. Times ten.

Highlights:

  • Some of the grove trees are hundreds of feet tall and up to 1,000 years old.
  • One of the most crowded trails in the entire park.
  • Arrive early to avoid trail traffic jams, particularly on busy summer weekends.
  • You can complete the loop in under an hour, but a hike through this “green cathedral” is worth much more.
  • You can combine this hike with the Silver Falls hike.

Note: The Grove of the Patriarchs parking lot is small. It fills up early on bright, sunny weekends in summer. Bathrooms, a drinking fountain and picnic tables are located at the parking lot, a short drive from the Steven’s Canyon entrance.

7. Carter and Madcap Falls

Distance: 5.0+ miles, RT

Rating: Moderate

The trail to these two falls, one right after another, winds through an old-growth forest along the Paradise River. (Check with park rangers before heading out to make sure the foot bridge is in.) Carter Falls is semi-hidden behind foliage. If you continue up the trail, Madcap Falls breaks into the clear just a stone’s throw ahead.

Carter Falls was named for Henry Carter, a guide who built the first trail to the Paradise Valley. Past Longmire, near Cougar Rock Campground. Best for children who are experienced hikers and can safely negotiate the rickety foot log bridge crossing the river.

8. Narada Falls

Narada Falls.

Distance: A few hundred feet

Rating: N/A

Narada Falls drops nearly 170 feet from the parking lot viewpoint to the rocks below. For the full effect, hoof it down the short dirt trail to the lower viewpoint. On a warm summer day, children will enjoy the mist and the rainbow arc at the base of the falls.

On the Longmire-Paradise Road, about 14 miles from the Nisqually entrance. Tip: the parking area has picnic tables + a ‘comfort station’ that’s heated in winter!

9. Trail of the Shadows

Distance: Less than a mile

Rating: Easy

This interpretive trail of about .7 miles starts right across the street from National Park Inn in Longmire.

On the veranda at National Park Inn, Longmire.
The Trail of the Shadows is just across the street.

Highlights:

  • Mostly level
  • A net elevation gain of about 55 feet.
  • You can hike the entire loop in about 30 minutes.
  • This interpretive trail is a great introduction to Mount Rainier’s rich history as well as a nice option for families with young children.

Best season is June to November, but this trail is accessible much of the year except when snow levels drop below 2,750 feet. .

10. Panorama Point/Skyline – for hardy young hikers

Skyline Trail.

Distance: 5.5 miles RT

Rating: Moderately Difficult (recommended for ages 10 and up, and only if strong hikers)

This steep, rocky trail out of Paradise lives up to its name with jaw-dropping in-your-face views of Mount Rainier, the Nisqually Basin, the Tatoosh Mountains and beyond. You’ll want to be in good shape before tackling this puppy.

Highlights:

  • An elevation gain of about 1,625 feet.
  • Starts at Paradise behind Jackson Visitor Center. The trail is paved for the first half mile or so.
  • The Upper Skyline trail option above The Point is about as close as you can get to the Mountain with an ice axe or strapping in to crampons.

You’ll find a “short cut” from Panorama Point along the Lower Skyline Trail. It includes a hazardous trek through a steep snow shelf, lopping off about a half mile from your hike. Park rangers don’t recommend it.  The upper trail adds a climb of about 300 feet, but it’s safer. The upper trail joins the lower route eventually and winds through a rocky “moonscape” past Sluiskin Falls back to Jackson Visitor Center.

Always remember to check the weather forecast before hitting the trail and hike within your abilities. For more, see my post on How to Hike Safe and Sane.

Pretty & Pert Porter Falls Offers Hiking Hat Trick

You wouldn’t think a trio of foaming falls are tucked away in an emerald forest just a few minutes off a busy highway. But they are. The Porter Falls Trail starts at the Porter Creek Campground. The campground is near the rural town of Elma, Washington and about four windy miles off Highway 12 through the Lilliputian town of Porter.

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

The Porter Falls Trail is an easy, mostly level out-and-back trail of about a mile and a half RT. There’s a short stretch of uphill, but it’s brief. This family-friendly trail is pert and pretty. It’s a nice walk through a thick old growth forest draped with moss, ferns, and lots of shade.

The rocks near the falls are reportedly very slick when wet, so exercise due caution as indicated.

For an additional hike, back-track up the dirt road about half a mile from the campground and pull into a small unpaved parking area on your right. It has a Discover Pass required sign. Park here and hike around the Porter Trail, another loop trail of about a mile or so.

To Porter Falls!

Unless you’re working on your tan, you may want to leave this brief, mildly uphill loop trail for a cloudy day. It meanders through an open clear cut with sweeping views of tree-studded ridges bristling with conifers. It’s also quiet. If you hike the Porter Trail on a Tuesday afternoon in June, as we did, you’ll probably have the trail to yourself. But the loop is all out in the open, through a major clear-cut, littered with decapitated logs bleached silver by the sun. Read: NO SHADE.

Plan accordingly. Leashed dogs okay.

To reach the trailhead, drive Highway 12 west to Porter Creek Road, which goes right through the small town of Porter. Red’s Hop N’ Market which also serves as the post office is located near the right turn onto Porter Creek Road. The trailhead is across the road from Porter Creek Campground which is about 4.5 miles from Highway 12.

3 Top Day Hikes in NW Oregon

posted in: Great Outdoors Month, Oregon | 0

If you’re scouting some awesome West Coast-hugging hikes offering stunning mountain vistas, pristine beaches and everything in between, here, just in time for Great Outdoors Month, are our top three day hikes from Astoria to Tillamook:

Fort to Sea Trail – near Warrenton, OR

Rating: Moderate

Distance: About 13 miles, round trip

Elevation Gain: 659 ft.

Yes, it’s kind of a long trail if you do the whole thing, starting at the Fort Clatsop Visitor Center out to Sunset Beach and back. Dotted with wooded pasture and small lakes, the trail includes hoofin’ it through deep forest up and over Clatsop Ridge. But the ridge isn’t that steep. Really. Besides. Where else can you cross under Highway 101, pass the oldest Presbyterian Church in continuous existence west of the Rocky Mountains, and chug through a real, live cow pasture – with real, live cows – en route to the beach? (I am not making this up.)

The Fort to Sea trail is a beautiful hike, well worth the time. Unless you’re the Roadrunner, plan on a full day. Leashed dogs okay.

Saddle Mountain – near Seaside, OR

Rating: Moderate

Distance: 4.3 miles, round trip

Elevation Gain: 1,968 ft.

This popular out-and-back hike to the highest point in NW Oregon includes a commanding panorama from the ocean to Mount Saint Helens and hillsides flush with wildflowers.

The last half mile or so is steep, exposed, and not exactly acrophobe-friendly. Wear a hat. Use sunscreen. Bring plenty of water. One other thing. The cable guards along the final portion of this trail are there for a reason. Use them. (You’ll understand if you tackle this trail on a windy day.)

Tillamook Head National Recreational Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance: 12.50 miles, round trip

Elevation Gain: 3,293 ft.

Located near Cannon Beach, this trail climbs, dips and switchbacks, but not severely. The longer trail winds through a thick forest and hugs the coast most of the way, offering stunning peek-a-boo views of the Pacific.

Starting at the northern trail head near Seaside, the trail concludes at Indian Beach in Ecola State Park. The park is worth a day trip in itself. Leashed dogs okay.

We hiked this trail in November. Not exactly a stroke of genius. You could hang meat in the winds catapulting off the water onto the headland. At least we were properly outfitted.

Anyway, don’t forget to take a gander at the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. It reminded us of the Chateau d’If (you’ll get that if you’re up on your Alexandre Dumas.)  You can cheat and try to snag a view from Indian Beach if you brought binoculars and 20/20 vision. But the best view is from the overlook off the main trail on the headland.

Camp 18 Restaurant – Elsie, Oregon. Near Seaside-ish.

Throwin’ this in for free.

First off, this restaurant is out in the middle of pickin’ nowhere. I mean, it’s not quite at the Edge of the World. But you can see it from the dining room.

The food is adequate. But the décor – both inside and out – is a hoot and a half. Think humungous log cabin, tall timber, mini-museum and northwest logging. Did I mention the fireplace and life-sized, wood-carved bears?

On your way to and from the Oregon Coast via State Highway 26. Between Portland and Seaside / Cannon Beach.

 Are we there yet?

20 Ways to Celebrate the Sunny Season, PNW Style

Hello SUMMER! 

School’s out! Pacific Northwest skies have finally stopped drooling. The thermometer is flirting with “warm.” And it’s time to Get Outside. Continuing our series on Great Outdoors Month, here are 20 ways to celebrate this sunny season:

Visit one of the most spectacular subalpine meadows at Mount Rainier National Park by hiking the Summerland Trail.

Summerland!

Fly a kite!

Check out Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and Waterfall Corridor. Stunning natural beauty. Roaring waterfalls. Hiking trails. Picnicking, parks, history, photo opps galore! For more, see; 5 Most Under-Rated Sights in NW Oregon You Really Should See.

‘Multnomah Falls is the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest with more than 2 million stopping by each year to take in the views.’

Enjoy fresh produce! Watermelon and peach juice dribbling off my chin. Tart blueberries. Cherry pie fresh from the oven. Mango-pineapple smoothies! Oh yeah!

Eat an ice cream cone. Better if you get two and share one.

Explore the solitude and serenity of Washington’s Cispus Loop. Some great waterfall hikes here! Also Layser Cave, one of the most significant archaeological sites in western Washington.

– Make s’mores!

– It’s the perfect season for combining two summer staples: warmer weather and picnicking. Check out some tips from Real Simple magazine for your Picnic Packing Checklist.

Visit a flower garden. Find a bench in the shade. Sit down. Close your eyes and inhale the floral perfume. You might start at the Hulda-Klager Lilac Gardens, a national historic site and nonprofit botanical gardens located in Woodland, Washington.

Build a sand castle.

Swim. In the ocean. River. Pool. Water sprinklers.

Sign up for and participate in your library’s Summer Reading Program. Need some suggestions? See: 20 Kid-Tested, Mother-Approved Outdoor CLASSICS.

Grab the sleeping bags, camp stove and cooler for a good ‘ole fashioned camp out. Not sure where to start? Check out: The Best Campground at Mount Rainier?

Take a road trip. Like Oregon’s Mount Hood Scenic Byway.

What’s summer without a barbecue? Fire up the grill. Throw on some burgers, hot dogs, ribs or corn on the cob. Mix up some potato salad. Stir up some ice-cold lemonade. Grab a plate and load up. Put your feet up and catch some rays. Yeah, baby!

Turn. Off. The. TV. Put down the mobile device. Lose the ear buds. Stow the phone. Disconnect and Get Outside.

How are you celebrating the sunny season?

15 Great PNW Trails To Get Your Heart Going & Your Mind Slowing

Panorama Point/Skyline Trail, Mount Rainier National Park.

Walking is a natural activity with many health and mental benefits. So is hiking. Hiking offers all the health and other benefits associated with walking. Think of hiking as walking with attitude. In the Great Outdoors.

Here are 15 Pacific Northwest trail options to get you started.

WASHINGTON

Sheep Lake: About 4.2 miles RT. Climb for the first mile or so on this out-and-back trail, but the grade is gentle and not steep. A great choice for rookie hikers or families with young children. Just outside Mount Rainier National Park boundaries at Chinook Pass.

Located just outside Mount Rainier National Park boundaries, the trail to Sheep Lake is a gem of a hike.

Anderson and Watson Lakes: About 6 miles RT. North Cascades, in the Mount Baker area. A series of lovely backcountry lakes surrounded by stunning North Cascade peaks in the Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness.

Indian Henry’s via Kautz Creek (West side): 14+ miles RT (with Mirror Lake option)

Rating: Strenuous

It’s a lot of miles up The Ridge That Just Won’t Die, and it’s pushing the envelope for “day hike.” But if your legs are up for a challenge, this trek to a rustic patrol cabin nestled atop a picturesque mountain meadow is one of the finest back country hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.

Back country patrol cabin, Indian Henry’s, Mount Rainier National Park.

It includes eye-popping vistas, dense forest, gurgling streams, lush mountain meadows, craggy peaks and outrageous wildflower fields. There are even a few choice lunch spots where you can clamber onto some rocky outcroppings, survey the Cowlitz River Valley, and stuff your lungs back into your chest.

After climbing the Ridge From Hell, the trail emerges along the south flank of Mount Ararat. It meanders through a series of meadows and up another ridge before descending to the ranger cabin in the meadows of Indian Henry’s.

Be sure to visit Mirror Lake, about a mile past the log cabin. The spur trail is well marked and worth the extra effort.

Steamboat RockCentral Washington, Grand Coulee. About 6 miles RT. This hunk of rock in Banks Lake is a distinct example of massive Ice Age floods 15,000 years ago. Explore the geology and admire the unparalleled views. Discover Pass required.

Quinault Rain Forest, Olympic Peninsula

Quinault River-Pony Bridge-Enchanted Valley5 miles RT. On the Olympic Peninsula in Olympic National Park. The trail to Pony Bridge begins at the end of Graves Creek Road. Moss draped trees, a rushing river. Keep an eye out for bear and elk. Lots of options for turn-arounds.

OREGON

Portland area: Holman Lane Loop Hike 2.3 miles. Quick loop at the southern fringes of Forest Park.

Gresham: Jenne Butte Hike3.3 miles. Hike around a forested cinder cone with two summits.

Lake Oswego: William Stafford-Kincaid Curlicue Hike 3.4 miles. Walk to the William Stafford Stones and then on part of the Iron Heritage Trail.

Fairview-Troutdale: Blue Lake Park Loop Hike – 2.0 miles. A pleasant loop in a popular park with a natural area on its west end.

Corvallis: Avery Park Loop Hike – Leafy loop around a bend in the Marys River.

Located near Salem, Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park includes the spectacular Trail of Ten Falls.

Silver Falls State Park – Located roughly half an hour from Salem, Silver Falls State Park is known as the “crown jewel” of the Oregon State Park system. It is magnificent! About nine miles round trip, the Trail of Ten Falls is a must-see, even if you just section hike.

IDAHO

Silver Creek Preserve – This easy, mostly level trail starts below the visitor center and meanders through tall, marshy grass, lush trees, and along Silver Creek. Keep an eye out for wildlife! The trail itself is longer than 5 miles, but has plenty of opportunities to turn around.

Roosevelt Ancient Cedars LoopIn North Idaho. A one-mile loop trail from the lower cedar grove takes you to vista points above the Lower falls where both Lower and Upper Granite Falls may be viewed. Continue another 1/2 mile and you will arrive at the upper cedar grove, home to cedar trees that are between 800 and 2,000 years old…

Mineral Ridgethe 3.3 mile Mineral Ridge National Recreation Trail loop winds along the shores of beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene. Elev gain: 700 feet.

Fourth of July Lake3.6 miles. A moderately trafficked out and back trail nestled in the Sawtooth National Forest near Stanley, Idaho. Featuring a lake and a scenic meadow. Dogs and horses okay.

Now. Who’s ready to lace up and get started?