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Hiking in Tick Country

With a bit of awareness, preparation and vigilance, hiking in Washington's tick country can be incredibly awarding and enjoyable. Learn how to avoid ticks and get rid of them, the right way.
Hiking in Tick Country

Western black-legged ticks can be found in Washington. From left to right: nymph, adult male, and adult female. Photo courtesy Calif. Dept. of Public Health

Disgusting. Creepy. Disease-ridden. Nuisance. There is no end to the derogatory feelings we have about ticks. However, with a bit of awareness, preparation and vigilance, hiking in Washington's tick country can be incredibly awarding and enjoyable.

Tick prevention starts by covering up

Minimizing your exposure to ticks begins with your clothing. Ticks tend to latch on in grassy areas above the cuff of your pant-leg and move upward, looking for dark places to burrow. Here are a few tips for hikers:

  • Wear pants and long sleeves -- no shorts! The best choice is convertible pants with a flap over the zippered legs -- this is an excellent tick trap.
  • Tuck your shirt into your pants. Tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Wear light colors, so you can identify the ticks more easily as they climb.
  • Don a cap with a flap behind the neck, if you have one.

What to wear hiking in tick country
Long pants, gaiters, light colors and a hat are all great choices for preventing ticks. Photo by David Hagen
There is a lot of discussion about tick repellents. Hikers report that DEET works great for mosquitoes, but not so well for ticks. Permethrin is a better choice for ticks; several brands of clothing are made with Permethrin-infused fabric, or you can buy a spray. Do note that these are pesticides and thoughtfully consider if and how you want to use them.

During and after your hike

Stick to the trail. Ticks like to hang out in shaded, grassy areas. Sticking to an established trail is good prevention, but certainly is not fool-proof. This is one more great reason to keep dogs, who are tick-magnets, on leash.

Tick check frequently. Hikers in tick country will want to do regular tick checks during the day. Brush those bad boys off or crush them between your fingers, but don't worry that they are going to burrow in immediately. Ticks like to cruise around for awhile before they take a bite.

Post-hike tick check. After your hike you'll want to do a thorough check. One hiker we know changes into a complete set of new clothes back at the trailhead. She puts all of her hiking clothes in a garbage bag and seals it, then does a full body check. Favorite tick burrowing sites include the scalp, waist and other dark places where they can hide.

Back home, take a shower. Consider filling up a bathtub or washbasin and tossing in your hiking clothes. Ticks will float up to the surface. Crush them or flush them down the toilet; note that they can survive a wash and rinse cycle.

Check your backpack. Don't forget to give your backpack a full check too. Leave it outside rather bringing it in your home.

Tick First-Aid: five steps to remove a tick

If a tick has found a place to burrow in on your body, don't panic. Chances are very slim that you will end up with Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The Pacific Northwest is a "low risk" area for Lyme and spotted fever is extremely rare. But you do want to get the tick out quickly and completely.

How to check for and remove ticks on your dog

If you hike with a dog in tick country, prevention and tick checks should be a regular part of your routine.

Follow these five steps for the best way to remove a tick:

    1. Use an antiseptic or alcohol wipe to clean the area around the tick.
    2. Grasp the tick with tweezers (or fingers) as close to the skin as possible.
    3. Pull straight and steady. Do not twist or yank. You do not want to leave the tick's head and legs under the skin.
    4. If parts do remain under the skin, pinch the skin up and try to scrape the remains away. Use a sterilized needle if you have to dig anything out.
    5. After you finish, use another antiseptic or alcohol wipe to clean the area.

      If you are concerned about disease, save the tick for testing in case you get sick. Watch for symptoms of rash or fever, and if you have concerns, visit your doctor.

      The Spokane Regional Health District has an excellent one-pager that covers most of the content in this blog.

      You can also send your ticks to the Washington Department of Health for study.

      Hikes with known tick issues

      Some hikes require extra tick-prevention measures. Don't let ticks scare you off from the wildflowers or other great springtime wonders, but do be careful and read recent Trip Reports to see if ticks have been spotted in the area.

      • Columbia River Gorge: Lyle Cherry Orchard, Columbia Hills State Park
      • Central Washington: Umtanum Canyon and Ridge, Yakima Skyline
      • Eastern Washington: Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge (in spring)

      Columbia Hills State Park
      A few ticks may make their home in the grassy trail in Columbia Hills State Park as it nears Dalles Mt Ranch. Photo by Bob and Barb.

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          Ticks

          Posted by Searching for DL at May 01, 2013 10:09 PM
          Although lyme disease is not common in Washington. There is a hot spot in the Siskyu Mountains of Southern Oregon, near Ashland.

          I got infected with lyme disease while hiking in the mountains above Ashland. Luckily we detected the bullseye rash and I got treated early.

          Happy Trails!

          Good Post

          Posted by Sir-Hikes-A-Lot at May 02, 2013 05:13 PM
          Please take this article seriously and don't take tick bites lightly. As someone who has been living with Chronic Lyme Disease since 2004 I know first hand the seriousness of this disease. I did not pick up Lyme in WA but in Northern California while hiking the PCT.

          Yes, Lyme is uncommon in WA but I promise you it is here. Plus, as climate change ramps up and warmer temps become permanent, Lyme will start to spread to regions that were previously absent of the disease. So in the meantime why not practice good tick etiquette, right?

          As far as what works best for ticks, I find Permethrin to be a far better choice than DEET. When ticks come in contact with Permethrin they normally fall off or can even die. On the flip side, I've had ticks climb over areas sprayed/rubbed in with DEET and they keep on cruising as if nothing was there. Plus, DEET is far more toxic than Permethrin.

          There is a great documentary on Lyme Disease called "Under Our Skin." Here is the Youtube trailer if interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5u73ME4sVU

          This doc is available on Netflix or you may be able to find it for free on the internet.

          Chronic Lyme is a very controversial topic and I know there will be those that this post offends, but as someone who went from thru-hiking shape to having there body shut down and not be able to hike for 12 months in a very short period of time, I promise you it's real. And for anyone out there who is suffering from Chronic Lyme, know that help can be found and it will get better. Although I am still occasionally symptomatic I am able to live a normal, productive, and active life.

          Cheers!

          Lyme disease isn't as rare here as you'd think

          Posted by bunpoh at May 09, 2013 09:56 AM
          I also wanted to add that I picked up a tick bite last year on Icicle Ridge that I didn't notice until about a week later. The tick was long gone, but the bite was hard, hot and swollen, and within a few weeks began to spread, though it never got bigger than a few inches and didn't develop into a full bulls-eye. I then quickly developed all the classic lyme symptoms, including severe knee pain that I first noticed hiking, abdominal pain, fatigue and fever. Went straight to the doctor, who wasted no time giving me a full course of the correct antibiotic, and within a few weeks I had fully recovered. So be careful out there, and please don't be bashful about going to the doc straight away if you do get a bite, even here in Washington State. It may save you a lifetime of disability.

          Where are they hiding?

          Posted by MadMapper at May 09, 2013 06:17 PM
          Hi all. I’m curious as to whether anyone ever sees ticks in western WA. I’ve lived and hiked prolifically here since 1980. I go off trail frequently and end up squirming through thickets and crawling under blowdown, the kind of activities I’d expect to put me at risk. But in all that time I’ve only encountered two ticks: one in the Salmon River drainage (Idaho) and the other along the Teanaway north of Cle Elum. I do spend the majority of my time west of the crest. When I was a kid I lived on the east coast and ticks were an almost everyday occurrence during the summer, so yes, I know what they look like! Not to downplay the seriousness of the issue, just thought I’d take an unscientific survey of others’ experiences to find out where and when I need to be wary, particularly in western WA.

          Happy hiking.

          Re: Where are they hiding

          Posted by Susan Elderkin at May 08, 2013 01:40 PM
          While most ticks in Washington are found on the east slope of the Cascades, Eastern and Central Washington and the Columbia River Gorge, there are ticks in Western Washington. Searching the past year's trip reports, hiker reported them at Sharpe Parke near Puget Sound, Kelly Butte near Mount Rainier and East Bank Ross Lake in the North Cascades. Hiking in Western Washington doesn't necessarily require vigilance about checking for ticks, but a strong awareness is always a good idea.

          You can see all of the trip reports where hikers have reported ticks here: http://www.wta.org/go-hikin[…]ow_adv=1&filter=Search.

          Worst tick year yet, actually...

          Posted by bunpoh at May 09, 2013 09:46 AM
          At the NW Hiker's forum, there are scads of tick reports right now. See:

          http://www.nwhikers.net/for[…]ostorder=asc&highlight=

          As one hiker put it, "Yes, I would have to agree, in our area at least this is the worst tick year in the 33 I've lived here."

          There are ticks at Mt Erie

          Posted by Just a hiker at May 09, 2013 06:17 PM
          Near Anacortes. Whether they are a disease vector I don't know. I remember from years ago on a climbing course one guy did find a tick burrowed in at his sock line and a few folks just found them clinging to clothing.

          I don't recall if Dog Mt in the Columbia gorge is eastern or western Washington but besides the poison (oak, ivy, something), there were also ticks but still a great hike.

          Ticks in Denny Creek area

          Posted by cdherter at Jul 28, 2013 07:28 PM
          I've been hiking the Denny Creek trail for two decades, quite a bit of off trail exploring as well. In all that time, I never came across ticks...until today. I found one on my son shortly after arriving home. So, guess I'll be using "tick measures" from now on. So sad...

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