As 2019 glides into 2020, we’re taking a quick look back at some of our favorite hikes from the past year.
2019 included awesome “old faithful” standards at Mount Rainier National Park. Also some new trails to thundering waterfalls and sparkling lakes. Meanderings on Bainbridge Island, nature reserves, and a world-class zoo! All right in our own PNW backyard (more or less)!
So without further ado, here are our Top 10 Trails of 2019. (All are in Washington State. Note that state parks require a Discover Pass.) In no particular order:
1.Berkeley Park, Mount Rainier National Park.
Distance: 7.8 miles round trip (RT)
Located on the east side of Mount Rainier out of Sunrise, this stunningly beautiful hike winds along the serpentine coils of Sourdough Ridge past the rocky, stark “moonscape” terrain near Frozen Lake. About a mile past Frozen Lake the trail dips into a lovely alpine valley latticed with rollicking wildflowers, laughing Lodi Creek, and chirping hoary marmots.
We hiked this trail in September. It was a bit brisk as we started out in the morning from the Sunrise parking lot, elev. 6,400 ft. But this wasn’t our first Sunrise rodeo. We dressed in layers and peeled them off one by one as the day warmed up.
Mount Rainier was wreathed in clouds for much of this day hike. But the Queen of the Cascades peeked out of her foggy mantle occasionally.
A great out-and-back hike to a rugged wilderness camp nestled in a splendid subalpine forest under craggy mountains. The hike out is steep. Take your time.
2.Comet Falls/ Van Trump Park, Mount Rainier National Park.
Distance: About 4.0 miles RT to Comet Falls; 6.0 miles RT to Van Trump Park viewpoint
Rating: Moderately Difficult/Difficult
Pouring over a rocky lip like Chenin Blanc out of a Venetian glass, this falls cascades 320 feet to its base above Longmire. It’s one of the highest falls in the park.
The trail climbs steadily for the first 1.8 miles. You’re nearing the falls when you hit a sign that says – duh – “Comet Falls 200 feet.” This refers to the first clear view of the falls through a thick forest. Keep going for a clearer view. Also at this spot is tri-tiered Bloucher Falls, plunging a total of 124 feet.
The trail is steep and stair-steppy in places. If your idea of “exercise” is 12-oz curls of Bud, you may want to think twice about this one. Or work up to it. (Probably our favorite waterfall.)
This hike is really two hikes in one, if your legs are up for a challenge. Continue climbing after Comet Falls past Mildred Point. The trail is steep and stair-steppy. But the reward is worth the effort. The end of the maintained trail at 5,800 ft. offers breathtaking in-your-face views of the Kautz Glacier, Mount Rainier, and on a clear day, Mount Saint Helens, Baker, and Adams.
Mind your knees on the descent! Don’t even think about trying this 2 for 1 combo without trekking poles, sturdy boots, and plenty of water.
The Comet Falls trailhead is located four miles east of Longmire on the road toward Paradise. Parking space is limited and often full. There’s no additional parking nearby. Either arrive early or have an Option B.
3. Whatcom Falls Park and Lake Whatcom, WA
Located in the City of Bellingham, the largest city in Whatcom County, this county park includes multiple waterfalls, picturesque ponds, marsh and song birds, picnicking, and a playground. Ditto a vast network of hiking trails that braid around Whatcom Creek. Trails are mostly brief, level, and easy, with lots of shade. Also a sweet little waterfall and stone bridge that was built by the WPA in 1939-40.
If you continue hiking north and are willing to brave a busy street crossing you’ll find beautiful Bloedel-Donovan Park, where the lapping waters of Lake Whatcom kiss the shore. There’s also a popular leash-free zone for dogs at the south end of the park near Lake Whatcom.
Whatcom Falls Park is located at 1401 Electric Avenue in the Whatcom Falls Neighborhood.
4. Stimpson Family Nature Reserve in Sudden Valley
Distance: 4.5 mile loop trail
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 loop trail around Geneva Pond. But then you’d miss this sweet pond (more like a lake). Indulge and enjoy!
You don’t need to be a world class athlete to take this loop trail, which is 4.4 miles RT if you include the pond. But you should be in decent shape. It includes some ups and downs. Bring plenty of water, especially on a warm day.
There’s a small dirt parking lot at the trailhead that can accommodate maybe a dozen cars. Vault toilets at the lot. There’s a sign with a trail map at the trail head, just before the beaver pond.
5. Bloedel Nature Reserve on Bainbridge Island.
This beautiful reserve ranks among the top 100 “greatest gardens” of the world and is “one of North America’s 10 best botanical gardens.”
From the Bloedel web site:
Bloedel Reserve is a wonder of nature, created by the imagination, vision, and a passionate love of the natural world shared by our founders, Prentice and Virginia Bloedel. Working with the rugged geography of the land, they artfully transformed a rough-hewn Northwest forest into a harmonious series of curated gardens, structural features, and distinctive landscapes, with nature as canvas and paint.
Internationally-recognized for the inspirational beauty of its refined gardens, natural landscapes, and preserved forests, Bloedel also excels in environmental stewardship of its 150 acres. …there’s something new to discover in every season: ever-changing landscapes, guided walks, expert lectures, summer concerts, special seasonal events, and more.
We visited the reserve in November. A bit brisk, but the fall colors were amazing!
The Bloedel Reserve is located at 7571 NE Dolphin Drive, Bainbridge Island.
Semiahmoo County Park in Blaine, Washington is a must-see if you’re in the area. The Semiahmoo Spit Trail is a short, flat, paved trail with sweeping views of Mount Baker and the Semiahmoo Resort, where U.S., Canadian, and Washington State flags snap smartly in a crisp blue breeze.
We visited this county park in May. A great place for solitude and a pleasant picnic along the water, with to-die-for views of Canada just across the bay.
Distance: About 5.5 miles RT + .6 mile loop around the lake
Fragrance Lake is in Larrabee State Park, Washington State’s first state park. The Fragrance Lake trailhead is on Chuckanut Drive, directly across from the main entrance to Larrabee State Park.
The popular trail is relatively steep. You don’t have to be part mountain goat to navigate it. But it wouldn’t hurt.
If your hamstrings are up for it, the trail levels out near the lake, which includes great picnicking sites and splendid, serene views! The lake brims with birdsong and jumping fish. Beware the skunk cabbage and mosquitoes in summer, tho! Whoo-eeie!
As long as you’re here, might as well take the short loop trail around the lake. Watch out for caved-in or otherwise rickety foot bridges. There were several when we hiked this trail in May.
From Mount Vernon head north on I-5 to exit 231, then navigate the roundabouts to head north on State Route 11/Chuckanut Drive. At approximately 15 miles, turn left into main entrance of Larrabee State Park, or look for trailhead parking on the right. From Bellingham, head south on SR 11 for 7 miles.
8. Cathedral Falls – Lewis County
Distance: 3.3 miles RT
Located in western Washington’s Lewis County, the Cathedral Falls trail was one of those spur-of-the-moment deals. Headed to Mount Rainier National Park in May, we pulled off the highway at Taidnapam Park to explore.
In the process we discovered this hike to this magnificent waterfall, plunging 250 feet over a rock outcropping over the trail. You can actually hike behind the thundering waterfall. How cool is that?
Bonus Points: We had the entire trail all to ourselves. All morning.
The Cathedral Falls hike is considered one of the beautiful hikes in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It’s located just east of Morton. Get directions here.
9. Porter Falls – Grays Harbor County
Distance: About 3.6 miles RT
The Porter Falls Trail out of Southwest Washington’s Capitol Forest is a bit of a misnomer. It’s actually three falls within a stone’s throw of each other. None are going to dethrone Niagara Falls. But it’s a nice lunch stop, with plenty of shade and laughing water slucing over rocks and boulders to join the Chehalis River.
The easy, mostly level trail of about a mile and a half one way is pleasant. There’s a short stretch of uphill, but it’s brief. This family-friendly trail is a nice walk through a thick old growth forest draped with moss, ferns, and lots of shade.
10. San Juan Island Overlook – Larrabee State Park
This spur trail is an off-shoot of the trail to Fragrance Lake located in Larrabee State Park (see # 7, above). I’m including it because it offers eye-popping views of the San Juan Islands off a short spur trail.
Look hard and you can peer across the water into Canada!
We were here in May and: Oh, my!!!
Wait. Did I say “ten”? Okay. I fibbed. There are so many more trails and adventures from 2019, both near and far, short and long. But I would be majorly remiss if I left out one of the most glorious hikes of the year: Owyhigh Lakes, from the east side of Mount Rainier National Park. (Yes, it’s plural. There are two lakes.)
11. Owyhigh Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park
Distance: 7.5 miles, RT
This lightly trafficked, out-and-back trail winds through towering stands of primeval forest to two subalpine lakes high above the White River Valley. Sparkling like twin sapphires, the lakes repose in a quiet meadow beneath the snaggle-toothed summit of Governors Ridge.
If you’re fortunate enough to hike this gorgeous hike during peak wildflower season (mid-July – August) as we were, get ready for a riot of Renoir pastels as the park’s world-famous wildflower fields erupt a kaleidoscopic palette of petals. Their blooms splash the meadows every imaginable hue, from purple lupine and scarlet paintbrush to yellow cinquefoil. And every shade in between.
We enjoyed them all during an August hike to these splendid lakes nestled at Mount Rainier’s eastern flank.
Owyhigh Lakes can be accessed from the north via White River Road (Sunrise Road), or the southeast via State Route 123. We’ve done this hike from both directions and recommend access from the north.
From Enumclaw follow SR 410 east for 37.5 miles to Mount Rainier National Park turning right onto the White River Road. Continue for 3.5 miles to trailhead on your left—parking on your right.
12. Woodland Park Zoo – Seattle
Forget the Space Needle. If you’re willing to brave Seattle traffic snarls, much better adventures are to be had at the Woodland Park Zoo! We loved it!
This was another “spur of the moment” stops. We nipped in here on our way home from a week-long hiking trip in Bellingham and Whatcom County.
It was warm and toasty. Thankfully, the zoo not only has excellent exhibits and educational opportunities, it also has lots of shade! And a carousel! Woo-hoo!
Our “inside the outdoors” year wouldn’t be complete if I left out our May visit to this wonderful zoo!
If you’re in the area, don’t miss the Woodland Park Zoo! You’ll get way more bang for your buck than at the Space Needle. (With parking, it’s about $100 for two.)
For zoo hours, prices, and directions, click here.
What trails or outdoor adventures are you looking forward to in 2020?