Sunrise, Silver Hairs & a Lookout

Going from sea level to 7,000+ feet overnight may not require bottled oxygen, but it’s like going from whole to skim milk “cold turkey.” Especially if you’re hiking to an old  fire lookout opposite the north face of Washinton’s Mount Rainier.

Looking north along the trail to the Mount Fremont Fire Lookout, Mount Rainier National Park.

Starting out of Sunrise, elev. 6,400-ft., this 5.6 miles RT hike snakes up Sourdough Ridge, drops slightly across a rocky slope, and then climbs to a hard left at Frozen Lake.
Just beyond the lake you can choose from enough junctions to rival I-5 off-ramps in downtown Los Angeles. Head north. 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!

Trail sign at Sunrise. Here we come!
Snaking our way to the Mount Fremont Fire Lookout.

Huffing and puffing up this steep, rocky trail, we’re entertaining thoughts like, “We’re official ‘AARPers’ now.  What in the world are we doing?”

From the trail to Mount Fremont.

 “Silver Hairs”

About a mile later we encounter several “silver hairs” from a geriatric hiking club.  They’re cruising up the trail like a herd of Triple Crown winners, barely breaking a sweat. We stow snide comments about our creaky knees and hollering hamstrings and continue to climb. 

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 we’re navigating a mine field.

Is this fun, or what?

We stop and swig from our water bottles.  Turning around, eye-popping vistas of Burroughs Mountain, a “small” mountain hugging Rainier’s haunches, Tahoma and Little Tahoma peaks and the cities of Tacoma and Seattle march into view. Mount Adams and cloud-collared Mount Baker are visible.  You can probably peer into Tokyo from here on a really clear day (you may have to squint).

“Wait. Is that Tokoyo?”

The Lookout

The steepest part of the trail is behind us.  Another mild mile or so and we mosey over to the fire lookout – a weather-beaten, flimsy affair that looks like it’ll collapse in a stiff breeze.  We perch atop a pile of boulders, excavate our lunch from the packs, and bivouac with the binoculars. We spot a herd of mountain goats grazing across the canyon and a bear fishing far down the valley. 

Soaking up the solitude and spectacular, cloud-capped scenery, we could happily spend the rest of our lives here with a few minor improvements –  like electricity and running water.

Made it!

Anyway, we can almost see into the next century and chat with the geriatric hikers who arrived way ahead of us.  They cheerfully refer to themselves as “old geezers.” But we have our doubts! We also meet a fellow hiker who manned the lookout for the National Park Service in 1977. What stories!

7,181 feet!

A Camaraderie of Lunatics

That’s the thing about hiking and hikers.  There’s a wonderful sense of camaraderie amongst back-country lunatics that usually springs into existence virtually ex nihilo. Total strangers gladly share maps, compass readings, trail mix, tips, and responses to the omnipresent question on everyone’s lips: “How much further?” 

People you’ve never laid eyes on before in your life become boon companions after a few miles or minutes of trail tales.

Mount Rainier wreathed in clouds.

On the return trip, someone points out a bear. This beaut’s the size of a Buick. We share the obligatory “cool!’ with fellow hikers and snap a couple pictures (Yogi looks like an ant, even on Zoom).

This ”we’re-all-in-this-together” kind of camaraderie is unique to the trail. It’s both wild and wonderful. Just like the hike to the Mount Fremont Lookout.

“Is this place great, or what?”

20 ‘Kid-Tested, Mother-Approved’ Outdoor CLASSICS

posted in: Book It!, Great Outdoors Month | 4

Looking for some awesome reads to inspire your kids to put down the devices and go outside? I’ve compiled a list of top outdoor titles for children ages third through ninth grade, roughly. Local librarians also weighed in.

We’ve read and enjoyed these titles as a family. All include strong characters, engaging plots, and superlative story-telling. All have stood the test of time. (You may detect a big canine bias here. Because everything is better with dogs. Including the Great Outdoors!)

So. Here, in no particular order, are my 100% unscientific, completely subjective recommendations for 20 awesome outdoor classics for older children:

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.

Sam Gribley is terribly unhappy living in New York City with his family. So he runs away to the Catskill Mountains to live in the woods—all by himself. With only a penknife, a ball of cord, forty dollars, and some flint and steel, he intends to survive on his own. Sam learns about courage, danger, and independence during his year in the wilderness, a year that changes his life forever.

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London.

Set in Yukon, Canada, this short adventure novel was published in 1903 and set in the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s, when strong sled dogs were in high demand. The central character of the novel is a dog named Buck. Abducted from his comfortable home and life as a pet, Buck must face and overcome the brutal realities of frontier life if he’s to survive.

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

An American classic—and Pulitzer Prize–winning story—that shows the ultimate bond between child and pet.

Dove, by Robin Lee Graham with Derek L.T. Gill.

The true story of a sixteen year-old boy who sailed his 24-foot sloop around the world. Five years and 33,000 miles later, he returned to home port with a wife and daughter and enough extraordinary experiences to fill this bestselling book, Dove.

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.

Paul and his sister Maureen live on Chincoteague Island with their grandparents. They help their grandfather raise and train ponies and dream of owning a pony of their own some day. How can they make their dream come true? A Newbery Medal winner.

Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls.

Fourteen year-old Jay Berry Lee never thought he’d see a tree full of monkeys in the Cherokee Ozarks of Oklahoma. But the animals have escaped from a circus. There’s a big reward for anyone who finds them, and Jay’s family needs the money. But first he has to catch them. 

Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss.

When the Robinson family is shipwrecked on a remote island, they build a new home with everything they need to survive in their tropical paradise. An oldie but a goodie.

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

A Newbery Medal Winner, this classic is about an Eskimo girl lost on the Alaskan tundra and how she survives. A riveting story, with top-notch writing.

The Little House Series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The nine books in this classic series tells the story of the author’s real childhood as an American pioneer. Cherished by generations of readers, the series offers a unique glimpse into life on the American frontier and the unforgettable family who lived them.

Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry.

The sea took Maftu’s mother when he was a baby. So he feared and avoided the sea until everyone branded him a coward. Unable to bear the taunts any longer, Maftu sets out to conquer his fear and face the sea in his canoe. He’s alone except for his little dog and pet albatross. A storm lands him on a desert island. This is the story of how Maftu’s courage grows and how he finally returns home.

Gentle Ben by Walt Morey.

The Alaskan wilderness is a lonely place for Mark Andersen, especially after the death of his brother. But Mark finds a friend in an Alaskan brown bear named Ben. The two form a special bond, but the townspeople are determined to destroy it. It is only through the strength of an enduring friendship that Ben—and Mark—have a chance of being saved.

Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat

A Cree Indian boy and a Canadian orphan living with his uncle, the trapper Angus Macnair, are enchanted by the magic of the great Arctic wastes. They set out on an adventure that proves longer and more dangerous than they could have imagined.

Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard.

Before Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows, there was Big Red. It’s a classic boy-and-dog story of adventure and friendship in the wild mountains of Pennsylvania. Big Red is the first of three books Kjelgaard wrote about Irish Setters.

Little Britches book series by Ralph Moody.

An autobiographical account of Ralph Moody’s early life in the vicinity of Littleton, Colorado. Grit, courage, and ingenuity are needed to make a life and build a home in this wild frontier. The book was the basis for a 1970 Disney movie starring Steve Forrest, Vera Miles, Ron and Clint Howard and released under the title, The Wild Country.

Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan

Set in the late nineteenth century and told from young Anna’s point of view, Sarah, Plain and Tall tells the story of how Sarah Elisabeth Wheaton comes from Maine to the prairie to answer Papa’s advertisement for a wife and mother. Before Sarah arrives, Anna and her younger brother Caleb wait and wonder. Will Sarah be nice? Will she sing? Will she stay? A Newbery Medal winner. If you enjoy Laura Ingalls Wilder books, you’ll love this!

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell.

Don’t make me explain this.

Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight.

Lassie is young Joe’s beloved collie and constant companion. But when Joe’s father loses his job and hard times ensue, Lassie must be sold. Lassie escapes her new owner returns home to Joe three times, until she’s finally taken to the remotest part of Scotland. The journey home is far too long for a dog to make alone. But Lassie isn’t just any dog.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Ahoy, matey! All aboard for this quintessential pirate story, featuring a hidden treasure map, a young boy, and cut-throat mutineer Long John Silver.

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

A 1988 Newbery Honor Winner, this is the first book in the Hatchet series. It begins when the small plane Brian is flying in to visit his estranged father crash-lands in a lake in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. Brian has to survive on his own with the only tool he has: a hatchet given to him by his mother. The tool proves invaluable. A compelling, engaging read.

Also by Gary Paulsen: Haymeadow: Fourteen-year-old John Barron spends the summer taking care of the family sheep in the haymeadow. He’s alone, except for two horses, four dogs, and 6,000 sheep. John must rely on his own resourcefulness, ingenuity, and talents to survive this summer in the haymeadow. And Winter Dance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod. Paulsen and his team of dogs endure snowstorms, frostbite, dogfights, moose attacks, sleeplessness, and hallucinations in the relentless push to go on.

Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds, by Joy Adamson.

Set in Kenya, this compelling true story chronicles the mutual affection and bond between an orphaned lion cub, Elsa, and the Adamsons, who loved her enough to let her go. Powerful, poignant, and timeless.

Probably the most moving and inspiring “animal story” I’ve ever read. For my full review, click here.

Other noteworthy outdoor classics for kids:

Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen

Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson

Where The Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls

For more recommendations, see The Ultimate Outdoor SUMMER READING LIST.)

What would you add?

Best in the West – California Beaches

We’re halfway through Great Outdoors Month! Hard to believe, huh? But wait. We’ve got plenty of cool outdoor opportunities still on tap. Today we’re doing a whirlwind tour of some of the best beaches in southern California.

Ready? Set? Let’s go!


Huntington State Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach – Huntington Beach

World-class beaches. Superb surfing. Average annual temperatures from the mid-60s to about 80 degrees. Occasional rain showers averaging less than 12 inches a year. Oh yeah.

Located across Pacific Coast Highway from HB State Beach is the 114-acre Huntington Beach Wetlands, operated by the Department of Fish and Game. Great hiking along four multi-use trails into nearby Bolsa Chica State Beach. Pro tip: Check out Ruby’s Diner on the Huntington Beach pier.

Dog Beach

The only beach in Huntington Beach where you can take your dog. 

Mother’s Beaches

Nestled inside choice beachfront real estate in Huntington Beach’s Huntington Harbour, this network of five small, mellow beaches features playgrounds, grass, bathrooms, picnic tables, and warm, gentle water without big waves. Mother’s beaches are shallow, sheltered, and maintained by the city as part of its parks system. Just right for moms with little ones. Our favorites were Seabridge Park and Trinidad Island.

Corona del Mar State Beach

Great swimming, surfing and diving at this half-mile long sandy beach framed by cliffs and a rock jetty that forms the east entrance to Newport Harbor.

Laguna Beach

Seven miles of picturesque sand and surf located midway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Great hiking options!


Point Loma and the Point Loma Peninsula

There are no real “beaches” in Point Loma. But if you’re in San Diego, the Point Loma Peninsula is a must-see. Featuring Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, the Cabrillo National Monument, Shelter Island, Harbor Island, and stunning views of the San Diego skyline. A family favorite since just after the earth’s crust cooled.

Mission Bay Park

If I had a nickel for every time I sailed or picnicked at Mission Bay, I could retire to the south of France. Tomorrow.

This is the largest aquatic park of its kind in the country. MBP has27 miles of shoreline, 19 of which are sandy beaches with eight official swimming areas.

Silver Strand State Beach and  Coronado Cays Park

Known as “the Strand” by locals, this state beach perches on a narrow seven mile spit of sand that protects San Diego Bay from the sea. Swimming, overnight camping, bike paths, surf and sun.

The Cays is just down the road from the Strand. Six spacious beach acres with almost no trees. Includes a playground, baseball diamond and tennis courts. Nice option for a family picnic.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

This reserve is one of the wildest 1,500 acres of land on the southern California coast. It remains pretty much as it was before San Diego was developed — including the maritime chaparral, the rare Torrey pine, miles of unspoiled beaches, and a lagoon vital to migrating seabirds. Great ocean views and hiking along craggy bluffs overlooking the Big Blue.

La Jolla Shores & Cove

“La Jolla” means the jewel, and this small beach tucked between sandstone cliffs is one of the best. Located in north San Diego, it’s also one of the most photographed beaches in southern California. Warm, crystal clear water with visibility that sometimes exceeds thirty feet.

The Cove teems with hordes and masses come summer. That’s why a winter visit may be just right. (Caveat: parking is at a premium on any sunny day – which is pretty much most days in San Diego. Either arrive early or plan to spend extra time trolling for a parking spot.)


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What would you add?

Do You Remember Elsa?

Have you ever re-discovered a book from your childhood that still has the power to move and profoundly impact you, even a half century after your initial read? If so, then you’ve found a true classic.


Joy Adamson’s Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds is such a book.

Evocative and compelling, Born Free is the remarkable true story of Elsa, an orphaned lion cub raised by Joy Adamson and her husband, George. At its core, Born Free is a love story. With great sensitivity and precision, Adamson chronicles the mutual affection and bond between a magnificent lioness and the humans who loved her enough to release her to the Kenyan wilds where she was free born.

It’s probably the most moving and inspiring “animal story” I’ve ever read.

Joy Adamson wrote three books about African lions: Born Free, Living Free, and Forever Free. I read them all. Born Free is my favorite.

I first read Born Free in 1969, nine years after it was first published. I was in the fifth grade. Entranced, I read it over and over. There’s something timeless and transcendent about the story that’s difficult to put into words.

I lost track of Adamson and Elsa over the years. But I never forgot the extraordinary story of a free born lioness and the humans who loved her. I recently located a library copy of Born Free. Finally.

Elsa and “Born Free” author Joy Adamson.

Opening the Forward to the Fortieth Anniversary Edition (2000), I was startled to learn that Joy Adamson was stabbed to death by a disgruntled former employee in 1980. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt like I’d lost a best friend I’d never met. So it was with a mixed sense of sadness and reverence that I sat in a sun-soaked living room in a far corner of the Olympic Peninsula nearly thirty years after that sad event and re-opened a book that profoundly impacted my life, especially with regard to animals.

Lavishly illustrated with black and white photographs, Elsa’s story is still an unforgettable one. So is Adamson’s prodigious writing talent. Her breezy, bucolic style recalls another formidable literary talent who writes so evocatively about her life in Kenya: Isak Dinesen. Like Dinesen, Adamson’s descriptions of her life as the wife of a senior game warden in East Africa have a luminous quality that is almost melodic.

My favorite photo from the book. Joy Adamson and Elsa.

I read Born Free cover to cover in one sitting. Here’s a key line, from page 109:

“Her (Elsa’s) good-natured temperament was certainly due in part to her character, but part too may have come from the fact that neither force nor frustration was ever used to adapt her to our way of life. For we tried by kindness alone to help her to overcome the differences that lie between our two worlds.”

The Adamsons and Elsa succeed beyond all expectations.

Re-reading the last chapter, The Final Test, the same intense sense of sadness and loss these pages evoked in me five decades ago bubbled up again from some deep internal well. It was as if Elsa and her human pride had never left, patiently waiting 50 years for my return to their story.

Recording Elsa’s success in finding her own wild pride and mate, Adamson writes:

“We returned to camp alone, and very sad. Should we leave her now, and so close a very important chapter of our lives?”

The Adamsons decide to wait “a few more days” to make sure Elsa has been accepted by the pride.

In the final elegiac paragraph, Adamson returns to her “studio” by the river to continue writing the story of Elsa, “who had been with us until this morning.” Sad to be alone, the author writes that she tries to make herself happy “by imagining that at this very moment Elsa was rubbing her soft skin against another lion’s skin and resting with him in the shade, as she had often rested here with me.”

I cried. Again.

And that, friends, is the mark of a true classic.

Elsa on Camp Bed Photo Credit.

This post originally appeared under the title Born Free: Timeless and Transcendent After All These Years, on the author’s bookish blog, PAWPourri.

Exploring Washington’s Singing Cispus

Continuing our series on 30 West Coast Ways: Celebrating Great Outdoors Month in Washington, Oregon and California, we’re exploring two lesser known (but still cool) outdoor sites in the great state of Washington.

Mount Rainier so dominates Washingtonian geography that worthy nearby locales are easily overlooked. But when summer throngs clog the Queen of the Cascades, solitude and serenity can be found just a few miles south of the great Mountain along the Cispus Area Loop. Tucked into this off-the-beaten path road are two outdoor sites worth seeing, the Cispus Loop and Layser Cave.

1. Cispus Loop

Located near the small mountain burgh of Randle, in Lewis County, the 29 – mile Cispus Loop is a scenic back country drive with lots of local color and solitude. The sometimes bumpy road winds along the serpentine coils of the singing Cispus River past campgrounds, wildflower meadows, hiking, fishing, and choice picnic sites.

2. Layser Cave

One of the most significant archaeological sites in western Washington. Named for the U.S. Forest Service employee who discovered it in 1982, the prehistoric cave dates back some 7,000 years. Located on the Cispus Loop.

 A short jaunt down the trail is Layser Cave, a prehistoric cave named for the U.S. Forest Service employee who discovered it in 1982.  It’s a .25 mile walk off a dirt road. The trail offers a magnificent view of the Cowlitz River Valley. The cave itself dates back more than 6,660 years.  It’s a pretty cool outdoor find, and another glimpse into the mystery, majesty and magic that surround the Mountain. On a quiet summer morning, you can almost hear it sing.

Cispus Loop FYIs:

  • Make allowances for Cispus Road. It’s bumpy, windy, and not in the best shape.
  • The cut-off to the Cispus Learning Center is about 17 miles past Morton off Highway 12 East.
  • Randle is about a half hour south of Mount Rainier.

Located off U.S. Highway 12 near the Lilliputian mountain berg of Randle in east Lewis County, the Cispus Area Loop offers campgrounds, picnic areas, fishing, and some primo hiking opportunities such as trails to Angel and Curtain Falls (aka: Covel Creek Falls and Phantom Falls).

But that’s another story. Join us for more of Great Outdoors Month as we head to California for some fun in the sun and sand!

Olympic Adventure: the Quinault Rain Forest Loop

Ready to adventure through so much green you’ll think you’ve landed in the Emerald City? How about rollicking waterfalls, towering conifers, twittering song birds, laughing creeks, and shoreline views of one of the largest lakes on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula?

Look no further than the Rain Forest Loop Trail at Lake Quinault. (See slideshow, below.)

The Quinault Rain Forest Loop is part of the lush Olympic Peninsula.

Some say start and conclude this hike at the Rainforest Nature Trail Loop, off South Shore Road at about .2 miles. You can do that. But for broader, richer rain forest adventure, start from the Gatton Creek trailhead off South Shore Road past the Lake Quinault Lodge. Take an immediate right at the Gatton Creek Campground sign onto a short gravel road. Park at the trail head. Hike clockwise.

The trail parallels the laughing waters of Gatton Creek on the left for about a third of a mile or so. Then it meanders away to the right. Watch for newly cleared blow down and mud here early in the season.

Keep an eye out for Gatton Falls on your left. When you hit the first kiosk at the trail juncture, veer left. Mosey about two minutes to the bridge over Gatton Falls. This is a good place to take pictures. Do an about-face. Return to the loop over a mild uphill. Then get ready to do some climbing and navigate some switchbacks. But take heart. Although this trail has some ups and downs, the grades are gentle and the climbs are relatively brief. Also note that the trail can be rocky and muddy in places as well as narrow. In early spring, you may run into wayward creeks gurgling down the center of the trail. Be prepared.

Heading away from Gatton Falls, the trail twists and turns about a half mile or so toward Cascade Falls. Cross a couple wood plank foot bridges and wind your way toward Cascade Falls. Cascade Creek cavorts over rocks and boulders on your right. You’ll hear the falls before you see it. Veer left at the next trail sign kiosk. Continue and climb toward the bridge over Cascade Falls. A good photo spot.

Cross some more bridges and head toward Cedar Bog. You’ll know you hit it when you’re on the wood-planked boardwalk over wet, marshy ground studded with yellow-tipped skunk cabbage.

There are a couple benches about midway along the bog boardwalk. Take a water or snack break here or just enjoy the solitude. In early spring, keep an eye out for white tongues of Trillium, pink Nootka rose and yellow cinquefoil. Listen to wrens, varied thrush, and other songbirds. You’ll also pass several downed trees with root balls the size of SUVs.

A few more ups and downs after crossing Willaby Creek and you connect with the Rain Forest Loop Trail. You can turn left or right. Both options take you to the trailhead and the parking lot, which has bathrooms. (Note: A $5.00 parking fee or a Northwest Parking Pass is required at the Rain Forest Nature Trail lot for stays over ten minutes. Park personnel do check.)

Head north out of the lot toward the stop sign. Cross the South Shore Road and head toward Willaby Campground. Pick up the Lakeshore Trail out of the Willaby Campground. Head north along the shore. Lots of good photo opps here! Don’t forget to turn around for more!

The Lakeshore Trail is mostly level, but watch out for tanglefoot and fallen logs strewn about near the water. The footing can be hazardous and slick in wet weather. Head toward the Lake Quinault Lodge, a little over a mile. Pass the lodge on your right, the Quinault ranger station, and staff housing toward Falls Creek Campground. Cross the bridge over the creek. Head toward South Shore Road.

If you have the time, check out the Quinault Cemetery for an interesting detour. The marker is on the right side of the South Shore Road. Just follow the paved road up the hill. The cemetery is small. About an acre. This detour will add about half a mile or so to your total miles, but it’s pretty and quiet.

Post-cemetery, continue north on the South Shore Road about half a mile until you reach the Gatton Creek Campground sign. You’re back! Bonus points: If Gatton Creek Campground is open, stop in for pleasant picnic lunch on Lake Quinault. It’s directly across the street from the trailhead, has bathrooms and picnic tables near the lake.

Trail notes: This pleasant loop is versatile, offering numerous options for lunch stops, turn-arounds, photo opps and spur trails. You can hike the trail in chunks as short as half a mile or as long as 6.5 miles if you hike round-trip. Much of this trail also offers shade by the truck load. The vegetation is thick and lush. Festooned in moss, towering conifers like Douglas Fir and Western red Cedar form a dense overhead canopy. So this trail is pleasant even on a warm day.

Getting There

From Hoquiam, travel north on US Highway 101 for 38 miles. Turn right at milepost 126 onto South Shore Road (1 mile before Amanda Park). Proceed for 1.3 miles to the Rainforest Nature Trail Loop trailhead (elev. 240 ft), on the right. Water and restrooms available. Continue on South Shore Road past the Lake Quinault Lodge until you hit the sign for Gatton Creek Campground. It’ll be on your right. Take an immediate right at the sign into a gravel roundabout. The Gatton Creek Trailhead is straight ahead. Park near the trailhead sign and you’re good to go.

RT: About 6.5 miles.*

Average hiking time: That depends on you. An experienced hiker can polish off the loop in a couple hours or so. But why rush? Take your time. Allow about four hours to soak up the serenity and enjoy your Olympic adventure.

* Some sources peg round trip mileage at about 4.0 miles. We added up the mileage as noted in chunks at on-site trail kiosks.

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Top Hikes of Olympic National Forest: Lena Lake & Jefferson Lake


Distance (RT): 7.0 miles

Rating: Moderate

Elevation gain: 1,610 feet

Dogs okay

If you only have time for one day hike in Olympic National Forest shouldering the Hood Canal, put Lower Lena Lake and Jefferson Lake at the top of your list. You can visit both in one day.

The Lena Lake trail head is located in the lush Olympic National Forest off Highway 101. About seven miles round trip, this out-and-back trail switchbacks through a splendid old growth forest drenched in a zillion shades of green. The trail is rocky in places, with plenty of toe-catchers, tangle foot and other trip hazards. Wear sturdy boots and step lively.

In the early portion of the trail, you’ll hear Lena Creek cantering downhill until a long traverse takes you away from the big stream. You’ll cross two bridges. At about three miles you’ll wind down to “Lunch Rock.” A popular rest or picnic stop, this flat rocky outcrop overlooks crystal-clear Lena Lake. You’ll likely hear plenty of “Oh wows!” and “This is beautiful!” “Sure was worth it!” at this point.



Hooray for summer! ‘Tis the season for outdoor barbecues, ice cold lemonade, watermelon juice dribbling down your chin, swimming and hiking and soaking up some rays.

For many of us, summer is also a time to enjoy the great outdoors and catch up on our reading – especially outdoor reading.

Continuing our month-long salute to Great Outdoors Month, here, in no particular order, are fifteen of some of the best outdoor and nature stories ever (based on my 100% unscientific and totally subjective opinion):

Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds, by Joy Adamson. Set in Kenya, this compelling true story chronicles the mutual affection and bond between an orphaned lion cub, Elsa, and the Adamsons, who loved her enough to let her go. Powerful, poignant, and timeless.

Born Free is probably the most moving and inspiring “animal story” I’ve ever read. For my review, click here.

The Haymeadow, by Gary Paulsen

Fourteen-year-old John Barron spends the summer taking care of the family sheep in the haymeadow. He’s alone, except for two horses, four dogs, and 6,000 sheep. John must rely on his own resourcefulness, ingenuity, and talents to survive this summer in the haymeadow.

Winter Dance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, by Gary Paulsen.

Paulsen and his team of dogs endure snowstorms, frostbite, dogfights, moose attacks, sleeplessness, and hallucinations in the relentless push to go on.

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen.

Thirteen year-old Brian is on his way to Canada to visit his estranged father when the pilot of his small prop plane suffers a heart attack. After crash-landing in a lake, Brian finds himself stranded in the remote Canadian wilderness with only his clothing and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present before his departure. A gripping tale of determination and survival.

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell. Don’t make me explain this.

Scrub, Dog of Alaska, by Walt Morey.

After a runt sled dog is raised by a young boy, the dog’s cruel owner demands his return. Morey’s descriptions of outdoor adventures and the struggle to survive in the wilderness of Alaska are first-rate.

From Sunrise to Paradise: The Story of Mount Rainier National Park, by Ruth Kirk.

Lavishly illustrated, this beautiful, informative book tells you just about everything you need to know about the park. It explores the mountain’s geological and glacial origins, its history, ecological health, and the century-old stewardship of Mount Rainier National Park. Stories from Native people, climbers, scientists, tourists, park rangers and volunteers are included.

A Year in Paradise, by Floyd Schmoe.

Written by the first naturalist at Mount Rainier National Park, this eloquent, articulate book is chock-full of appreciation for the region’s natural history and beauty. This delightful first-person narrative offers an informative portrait of Mount Rainier through the seasons.

A Walk Across America, by Peter Jenkins.

A disillusioned young man sets out on a walk across America. Along the way, Jenkins learns lessons about his country and himself that resonate to this day — and will inspire a new generation to get out, hit the road and explore.

The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen’s Race to the South Pole, by Roland Huntsford.

A brilliant dual biography detailing the great race to the South Pole between Britain’s Robert Scott and Norway’s Roald Amundsen. You may want to bring a sweater. Maybe two. Or three.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, by Jon Krakauer.

In 1996 the climbing world and everyone else was stunned by the terrible news: eight people died when they were caught in a blizzard on Mount Everest during attempts to descend from the summit. This is Jon’s gripping, epic account of the May 1996 disaster.

The Ledge: An Inspirational of Friendship & Survival, by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan.

The true story of a Mount Rainier adventure-turned tragedy when climbing friends Davidson and Mike Price plunge through an ice bridge into a glacial crevasse while descending Rainier. Price dies from the fall. Trapped on a narrow frozen shelf, deep below daylight, Davidson desperately battles crumbling ice, snow that threatens to bury him alive, and crippling fear of the inescapable chasm below. Alone, with almost no equipment, Davidson must choose between death or a nearly impossible climb out.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America Along the Appalachian Trail, by Bill Bryson.

The “easy way” to hike the Appalachian Trail. Just plain fun.

The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford.

I first read this in grade school. I re-read it last summer. It’s still a keeper.

This is the story of two dogs and a cat who travel 300 miles through the Canadian wilderness searching for their beloved masters. It depicts the suffering and stress of an arduous journey, together with the unwavering loyalty and courage of the three animals.

Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls.

Billy is growing up poor but proud in the backcountry of the Arkansas Ozarks. He desperately yearns for a pair of coonhounds so he can go hunting. Penniless but determined, Billy works odd jobs to earn enough money to buy two fine hunting dogs, brother and sister ‘Ole Dan and Little Ann. Ann is the brains. Dan is the brawn. The book follows their lives from pups to champion coon dogs, and ultimately, to their tragic deaths.

I can never read this without tissue.

What would you add?

Inside the Outdoors at San Diego’s Mesmerizing Mission Bay

If you love the Great Outdoors, San Diego is The Place! Besides a fantastic climate, America’s Finest City offers tons of recreational opportunities you can enjoy outside, year round. Like swimming. At Mission Bay.

Located in Pacific Beach, Mission Bay Park is the largest aquatic park of its kind in the country. With about twenty-seven miles of shoreline, the park consists of over 4,600 acres in roughly equal parts land and water. It includes nineteen miles of sugar-white sand beaches with eight locations designated for swimming. It has boat docks and launching facilities, sailboat and motor rentals, jet skiing, paddle boarding, kite surfing, bike and walk paths, basketball courts and playgrounds, picnic tables – all inside the outdoors.

“How ‘bout a trip to Mission Bay this weekend?” Mom suggested when I was in junior high, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Our neighbor, Frank, had a sailboat. “Frank is taking the boat out on Saturday” Mom explained.“ I was usually first in line for Frank’s fifteen foot sailboat, Sunshine.

The fam at Mission Bay, 1972. I’m on the far left. (Don’t tell anyone, okay?)

“Cruising and sailing are two different things,” Frank explained later.

“Whaddya mean?” I asked.

“To go cruising, most folks require a sailboat with a head, a galley, and bunks. A thirty or forty-footer with electronics for navigation and entertainment, refrigeration and a galley, and an engine for light wind.” And all kinds of electronic thing-a-mah-jigs, doo-dads and gizmos. “Not so with sailing,” Frank flung an arm at Sunshine. “All you really need is a hull, mast, rudder, and sail.”

We pile out of the car near the Hilton San Diego on East Mission Bay Drive, about a mile from Sea World. I inhale the sharp sting of salt air. Sea gulls squabble over a discarded Big Mac. A sharkish spit of sand slashes the shore’s ankles, severing the beach into flashing runnels and firth. A hopeful flight of pigeons lifts off from the lawn, necklacing a row of palm trees before re-settling a few yards away. Buck-teethed and slick, slivers of cloud shiver wet and shining overhead. Mission Bay is shingled in mist, rinsed and weltered. In morning hibernation, the sun will waken before noon.

Mission Bay at sunset. Max Pixel.

Sailing on Mission Bay with Frank as a junior high and high schooler, I learned there’s nothing quite like the moment when a sail catches the wind and takes it captive. Awakened from its sluggish stupor, Sunshine responded like Secretariat heading into the final turn of the Belmont Stakes. Catapulting forward, the sailboat split the bay’s watery seams like a hot knife through butter. I could reach out and touch the water as it flowed past, feel every puff of breeze. Sense every change in trim.

My nautical abilities still rank somewhere between potted plant and brick. But at least we never sank. Or capsized. Then never fails to renew my faith in a merciful God. Or the mesmerizing beauty of a San Diego summer day inside the outdoors at Mission Bay!

Join us next time as we zip north again for a couple of really cool hikes in Washington’s lush Olympic Peninsula.

How’s your Great Outdoors Month going?

Sail boat photo credit

Mission Bay Park photo credit – Flickr. Chad McDonald.

San Diego’s Mount Helix: Close to the Heart

As a kid growing up in sun-splashed San Diego, I savored family traditions, especially those that revolved around the holidays. For example, one Christmas tradition was piling the fam into the car for weekly jaunts around the neighborhood to view residential Christmas light displays. (This was before the days of three-dollar+-a-gallon gasoline.)

“All aboard!” Dad hollered, climbing behind the wheel of our 1973 Buick Le Sabre, aka: The Blue Bomb. Mom, my three siblings and I buckled up and prepared to “oo and ah” at the latest strands of multi-hued lights necklacing the neighborhood.

Mount Helix has been voted “Prettiest Part of East San Diego.” With views like this, you can see why!

We often snaked up and around Mount Helix, a private, non-profit park that’s a San Diego landmark in East County. Named after a snail in the area, the helix aspersa, the park sits atop a noble hill and includes an outdoor amphitheatre. The view from the top, underneath a pristine white cross, is one of the best in the county. (“Mount Helix” was a “mountain” back then. This was pre-Washington/Real Mountain days.)

Right after “Balboa Park,” a re-visit to picturesque Mount Helix was high on my list of outdoor must-sees when visiting my sister a few years ago from our now-home state of Washington. (For more on Balboa Park, see: Beggaring Description: San Diego’s Balboa Park.)

Looking west from atop Mount Helix, 2016.

It was maybe thirty years or so since my last visit to this lovely park and amphitheater perched atop a noble knoll in East San Diego. I remembered its stunning vistas and breathtaking panoramas from the mountains to the sea.

Mount Helix Amphitheater.

It’s not just me. I hear Mount Helix was recently voted “Best Place for a First Date” and “Prettiest Part of East San Diego.” So there!

As we exited the car in the teeny-tiny Mount Helix parking lot one Tuesday afternoon in 2016, memories bubbling up from some deep internal well. I spotted my old high school (“All hail blue and gold!”) from the summit. Recalled Sunrise Easter services. Outdoor musical productions. Friends and teachers from long-ago high school and college days (“Whatever happened to…?”). An entire valley glittering with dancing Christmas lights. Thirsty Santa Ana breezes teasing parched San Diego summers.

If you look close, you may spot my alma mater in this pic. It’s the large white building in the center-right.

Rays of golden sunshine dance a tango with eucalyptus leaves in a tangle of light and shadow. Stucco and glass and red-tiled roofs pepper the valley below. The insect whine of traffic on Highway 8 sounds in my ears.

“Beautiful day!” quips an elderly passerby. He gestures heavenward.

“Sure is,” I reply. “I can’t get over that blue sky!”

White-haired and tweed-capped, the visitor explains that he lives in a part of the country famous for soaring evergreens and drooling gray skies. I cock my head, bird-like. “Where are you visiting from?”

“Washington,” he replies. “The Olympic Peninsula. It”s beautiful. Always green,” he smiles. “But it rains a lot.”

“It sure does!” I rejoin, explaining that I’m a native San Diegan transplanted to Washington about two decades back. “I’m here visiting the old homestead for a couple weeks,” I say. Turns out Mr. Tweed and I live within about 90 minutes of each other.

Sometimes the world seems as big as a golf ball.

Looking back, there was something bittersweet about that spring visit to Mount Helix. The “mountain” hadn’t changed. But I had. I surveyed the valley from atop its craggy brow, peered into yester-year and remembered how good it all was. And wondered if I’d ever be back.

Looking toward the Cuyamaca Mountains from Mount Helix, 2016.

The Mt. Helix Park Foundation is the non-profit organization responsible for preserving and enhancing the Park, amphitheater and cross memorial on top of the “mountain.” (This is southern California. Humor these folks on the “mountain” thing, okay?)

“On a clear day…” which is most days in San Diego!
Near the Mount Helix parking lot.

Mount Helix Park is located at 4901 Mt. Helix Dr. in La Mesa, California. It’s a lot closer in my heart.

Join us next time for more of 30 West Coast Ways: Celebrating Great Outdoors Month in Washington, Oregon and California!