We asked Joan Burton, guidebook author of Best Hikes with Kids: Western Washington and the Cascades!, what she recommends for getting kids out on trail this time of year. She suggested three great spring hikes along rivers featuring lots of family-friendly activities, from wildlife-spotting to stone-skipping.
Old Sauk River
Location: North Cascades - Mountain Loop Highway
Distance: 6 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 150 ft
A lowland level walk along the Sauk River is easy enough for kids, yet exciting and beautiful for all ages in springtime. The old forest trail winds along the river bank with views of rushing white water just melted from snow banks and quiet backwater ponds.
The new trail has a gravel surface and is wheelchair accessible. It is possible to make any of several loop trips along this popular Wild & Scenic River. Old trees, Salmonberries, Thimbleberries, and ancient cedar stumps shade the trail, recently rebuilt by WTA crews.
Springtime flowers that children will enjoy include trillim, queen’s cup, violets, twinflowers, bleeding heart and ground dogwood. Have your kids watch for pollywogs and tadpoles in the ponds along the Sauk, but hold their hands alongside white water views.
Location: Olympics -- East
Distance: 10.6 miles
Elevation: Gain: 2300 ft
Another beautiful river walk, this one in the Olympics, is along the mostly level Duckabush River. Children will enjoy finding rusting relics of logging days, throwing stones, dipping feet, and playing by the river’s edge.
At 2 1/2 miles, climb to a ledge called the Little Hump where you may find such spring flowers as fawn lilies, chocolate lilies, Indian paintbrush and more. Some Eastern Olympic plants and animals, such as the Olympic marmot, were isolated by the last glacial age, and are unique and endemic here.
Continue up another mile to Big Hump, where you and the kids can savor views up valley toward the beautiful Eastern Olympics and down valley toward the Cascades.
Location: Chinook Pass - Enumclaw or Hwy 410 area
Distance: 14 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1600 ft
Here is a lowland trail through magnificent old growth forest. Walk past melting snow waterfalls along the Greenwater River up to two small woodland lakes, which may still be snow-covered.
Knobby cliffs on either side of the trail are lined with moss, trillims, ferns, and yellow violets. The cliffs are reminders of volcanic activity here millions of years ago.
The first Greenwater Lake has a river running through it, keeping its water fresh and the ducks busy. At 2 miles come to Upper Greenwater Lake, featuring a beaver lodge and possible campsites.
It's only a few days until the long Memorial Day weekend, and you either:
- a) already have camping reservations for your family.
- b) don't have camping reservations. You need reservations to go camping? That's crazy!
- c) don't plan on camping. You just want to get outside a day or two with your family.
Jump below to choose your own adventure, one that gets your whole family outside for a great start to summer.
a) You already have camping or cabin reservations
Good for you for planning ahead. Now, you just need to check the weather, pull together your car camping and hiking essentials and find a few snow-free hikes nearby.
- Check the weather. Rain, sun, and even a little snow may be in the mix.
- Make your car camping checklist.
- Find a hike: follow in the footsteps of parents filing trip reports and use our hiking guide to find seasonal hikes near where you're staying.
b) You don't have camping reservations
Reservations aren't your style, or maybe this weekend just snuck up on you. No worries. You've still got options, but you've got to be a little flexible.
- Option 1 - Last-minute camping: You can try to sneak your family out of town early and secure a camping spot at a first-come, first-served campground. If you try for one of the National Forest campgrounds that don't accept reservations, then your plan B can be dispersed camping. But first you need to check conditions and check in with a ranger.
- Option 2 - Overnight: This is the chance you've been waiting for to take your family on a short, lowland or coastal backpacking trip! Yes, the weather might be a little damp. But you're Pacific Northwesterners, and you're going prepared with rain gear and extra warm, dry clothes for everyone.
- Option 3 - Day Hike: You just want to do a little hiking. Skip to c)
c) Take your family day hiking
Who needs to camp this early in the season? You'd rather take the three-day weekend to take a rambling picnic close to home or seek out the far-away hikes on your list with enough time to catch a movie and weed the garden.
- Catch some sun. Visit Lenore Caves or one of the other great desert trails, where temperatures are more likely to reach into the 70's.
- Take a river walk and look for wildflowers and wildlife.
- Explore more ideas for family-friendly hiking destinations from the coast.
- Safety Tip: find snow-free hikes and get tips on which trails to avoid until the snow is gone.
by Tami Asars
Bird: Watch for red-breasted sapsuckers at the top of conifers
Captain Obvious had some fun naming this bird. Not surprisingly, this colorful bird with a breast of brilliant red feathers is known for sucking sap from the wells it drills in living trees.
In spring, the females lay 4 to 7 snow-white eggs that eventually produce naked and helpless little chicks. Both parents play a role in feeding and protecting the young and in 26 to 28 days, the fledglings are ready to leave the nest.
Interestingly, hummingbirds have developed a symbiotic relationship with sapsuckers and rely on their holes for feeding sources.
This spring, when you hear a pecking sound high in the conifers, look closely. Often you’ll see a hummingbird hovering nearby, waiting for its turn at the feeding tree.
Beast: Keep your ears perked for the warning call of the pika
“Eeeeepp!” This is the warning call of a small mammal called a pika, and is commonly heard near talus slopes. This rock-dwelling rodent, closely related to the hare, is 6 to 8 inches long with a round body and little ears. Pikas are active day and night, and do not hibernate.
In summer, pikas work on building a “haystack,” a pile of grasses, heather and wildflowers on which they feed through the cold winter months. Drying their haystack is key to keeping it preserved, so if you look closely, you may see a pile drying in the sun.
If wet weather comes along, they move it to a drier location.When they aren’t working on gathering food, they are often guarding their tunnels, keeping a close eye out for predators.
Bloom: Bitterroot add a touch of color to hikes amongst Washington’s sagebrush
The fragile, colorful and unexpected blooms of the bitterroot plant shout “spring is here” from hilltops in arid desert climates.
The root, bitter unless cooked (hence the name), was usually eaten with berries or meats for meals by Native Americans who depended on this plant for an extremely nutritious food source. It was claimed to sustain an active person for a whole day. Medicinal uses included infusions of the root to help relieve heart pain, to counteract the effect of poison ivy rash and even as a treatment for cold sores.
Today, the plants are used for landscaping in rock gardens or seen growing wild in Washington’s dry scabland and sagebrush areas.
This article originally appeared in the May+Jun 2013 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Join WTA to get your one-year subscription.
"Washington Trails Association has a huge impact on health and happiness in our state -- one hike at a time." -- Cristie A., Everett
Thanks, Cristie. And thanks to each and every hiker -- 446 in all -- who joined her in making a gift to trails during The Seattle Foundation's GiveBIG event on May 15. Your amazing outpouring of support truly will help stretch our impact this year.
Your gifts will help clear, repair or build 35+ trails in the next 30 days
More about that in a moment. But first we can't help celebrating the fact that WTA ranked #7 by number of donations out of 1,300 participating nonprofits. You gave an astounding $55,805 to trails -- putting WTA at #27 by amount received.
The 24-hour online event raised a staggering $11.1 million to help make our region a better place to live, work and play. An additional $1 million matching pool will "stretch" these dollars even further and we're eagerly awaiting word from The Seattle Foundation about how much your gifts will be matched by GiveBIG sponsors.
Your GiveBIG contributions will help WTA go where we're needed most, right now.
In the next 30 days, WTA will be working to clear, repair or build more than 35 different trails across the state -- places like Lake Serene near Stevens Pass, Marmot Pass in the Olympics, and the Wonderland Trail at Rainier. Your generosity has increased our ability to say "yes" when a land manager asks for our help to repair winter storm damage.
Your generosity keeps WTA a strong voice for hikers
You'll keep us advocating for State Parks during the special legislative session in Olympia, advocating for King County trail funding, working to keep access to trailheads open. And, as always, your gifts will keep the great ideas for hiking coming your way on our website.
More thanks to GiveBIG sponsors
Memorial Day is always a scramble for day hikers, backpackers, and car campers. The criteria of a crowd-free location, trails without snow and decent road conditions easily stymies even the most experienced hikers. Below are a few tips for staying safe and ideas of where to hike, backpack and camp.
Weather and spring safety tips
Check the weather
- This weekend forecasts call for relatively cool and showery weather, mixed with sunbreaks throughout much of the state. That means great flower, forest and dramatic cloudscape photos -- and experiencing the true meaning of “rain” forests on the coast. It also means you'll want to make sure to pack your rain gear and take measures to keep your campsite comfortable in cool, drizzly weather.
- If you're seeking warmth and the sun, you may want to head to east of the Cascades into desert and coulee country, where showers are less likely and temperatures are likely to reach into the 70's.
- Check the National Weather Service website to ensure you're prepared for whatever conditions you might encounter.
Check conditions and consult a ranger
- Snow is still the name of the game in the high country, and hikers can easily encounter slick and dangerous conditions on snowy slopes and from overhanging cornices. All of that snow has to go somewhere when it melts too. Rivers and creeks are running at their peak levels right now.
- Read WTA's Spring Hiking Tips to refresh what you need to bring in your pack and how to stay safe under these conditions.
- Always check with a ranger before heading out. Give them a call, or, even better, plan to stop by a station on your way out of town.
Hiking and backpacking
Wildflowers still adorn the southern slopes of the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side, making for spectacular day hiking:
- The popular Dog Mountain is covered in wildflowers right now.
- Day hikers will enjoy the meadows and views of the relatively unknown
Support the resource that gets you hiking and protects trails
South Cascades: Mount Rainier and Mount St Helens
- Most of Mount Rainier National Park is under snow, but not the Carbon River area. A wilderness walk-in campground is open (after a 5-mile hike) at Ipsut Creek, which provides ample opportunities to explore this lovely area. For a day hike, try the trail up to Ranger Creek Falls and Green Lake.
- One volcano down the chain, the South Coldwater Lake trail at Mount St. Helens is often one of the first places in the Monument to melt out. (You'll need to check snow levels, at 3,500 feet at last account, and get a backcountry permit to overnight here.)
- Driveway Butte near Washington Pass can be an excellent early season hike (be the first to write a trip report this season). There's likely still snow at the top, but it is worth the effort.
- Another early favorite of backpackers is Thunder Creek, a long and gentle trail through old growth forest where a few eager folks have already started backpacking.
- Or how about East Bank Baker Lake with awesome views of Mount Baker and Shuksan (though you may need to endure a few motorboats on the lake).
Savvy Memorial Day hikers seek the sunnier southern and eastern slopes of the Central Cascades. The wildflowers are really showing their stuff here. As long as you stay below the snowline, there are lovely day hikes and overnights to be found:
- There are many options in the Icicle Creek area near Leavenworth, including two ways to ascend Icicle Ridge: the gentle Icicle Ridge trail or the Fourth of July Creek butt-kicker. A recent trip reporter had this to say about Fourth of July Creek, despite running into a lot of rain: "Best wildflowers I've seen, so many species, all at their peaks. Swaths of balsamroot and lupine, and the lupine was so fragrant. Different species at each elevation: orange paintbrush, penstemon, Lewisia, Jacob's ladder, mahonia, phlox, desert parsley, columbine, avalanche lily, and more."
- Alternatively, off of Blewett Pass, try a hike or backpack up Ingalls Creek. It features a raging creek, abundant wildflowers and plentiful backcountry campsites starting a few miles in.
Wildflowers are still going strong in the desert steppe country.
- Check out one of the ten great desert hikes.
- Follow in the footsteps of trip reporters as they seek out wildflowers and sunshine, recently spotted at Breezley Hills, Black Canyon, Steamboat Rock, and farther north, the Whistler Canyon Trail.
Strategies for last-minute camping on Memorial Day weekend
Camping can be tricky this time of year, though most campgrounds are opening in advance of the Memorial Day weekend. You can still try to reserve a spot, but if you go into the weekend without a reservation, then a first-come, first-served campground and dispersed camping areas are for you.
Here are some tips for finding a great spot:
- If you have the flexibility, the best course of action is to arrive a little earlier than Friday night for campgrounds that do not accept reservations, like most of the campgrounds in Olympic National Forest .
- Go farther afield and check out areas with lighter usage, like the Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, which only have first-come, first-serve campgrounds on them.
- Try dispersed camping on National Forest land, a great way to find a little solitude and practice your Leave No Trace ethics. Dispersed camping means there are no toilets, no picnic tables, no trash cans, no treated water, and no fire grates. Typically, dispersed camping is not allowed in the vicinity of developed recreation areas such as campgrounds, boat ramps, picnic areas or trailheads. (For the best information on dispersed camping opportunities, contact the ranger district offices.)
- Try your first backpack. Try packing a little lighter and consider converting your camping plans into a short backpack with an overnight.
When I went camping as a kid, purifying water meant either boiling it for at least one minute or using those unpleasant iodine tablets. Those options are still available of course, but now we have several other ways to treat our water in the wilderness.
UV rays and gravity filter: alternatives to boiling or iodine
The SteriPen Ultra is the newest UV treatment device from the Hydro Photon folks in Blue Hill, Maine—and the first to let you know if your water is safe or not by actually smiling or frowning at you. USB-chargeable and weighing a scant 5 ounces, it treats a liter of water in 90 seconds, and can treat up to 50 liters of water per charge.
The easily-interpreted display shows battery state, treatment countdown, and either a smile or a frown to tell you whether you had the microbe-killing lamp completely submerged in the water for long enough to do its job. I appreciated the compact simplicity of the Ultra, and my hiking friends admired its sleek design.
Tired of pumping all that water with those tried-but-true hand pump filters? The new Platypus GravityWorks 2.0 will deliver 1.5 liters of pump-free water in 60 seconds, and the basic setup weighs just over 7 ounces. It took me some experimentation to figure out the simplest setup, so be sure to get acquainted with it at home before you take it on the trail.
As one of your Ten Essentials, you should always carry a water filtration device. These are just a couple of the current options available for ensuring you have safe, clean drinking water on all of your backcountry adventures.
This June 1, rally together with hikers across the nation to celebrate National Trails Day –- a single day reserved for trails everywhere. Like any other day, we'll be hauling our dirt-encrusted shovels to the trailhead and turning the gritty trail-duff with our grub-hoes – but this time, we'll be doing it with thousands of other volunteers across the country.
This year, spend National Trails Day (June 1) giving back to the trails that give you access to your favorite natural spaces. Consider signing up for one of the following WTA work parties in regions across the state.
Cougar Mountain, for youth and families (Issaquah Alps)
Enjoy a day in the great outdoors with your family! Youth and parents alike will enjoy digging around in the dirt to improve tread and drainage on one or two trails in the area.
Pratt River (I-90 near Snoqualmie Pass)
This new trail through shady forest just weathered its first winter. Lend a hand getting rid of mud holes, fixing drainage and repairing rock walls to make sure this trail performs like new.
Ape Caves (Southwest Washington)
Learn how to build trail on this cool new route that will link the Ape Caves Trailhead with a scenic vista featuring Mount St. Helens’ southern flank. When you return to hike this completed 1-mile trail later this year, you’ll be able to pick out the section of trail that you built with your hands! Volunteer for the weekend or just for the day.
Beckler Peak (Skykomish District)
The first part of Beckler Peak Trail follows an old road bed through old-growth forest. Help convert it from feeling like a road to more like a trail, for a more pleasurable hiking experience. Use natural materials and trail construction techniques to help narrow and define this section of trail.
South Fork Skokomish (Hood Canal)
The Skokomish River has such a bad habit of changing course, taking old sections of trail with it. So our battle to rebuild and harden an important Olympic Peninsula trail continues. Help out for the weekend or just for the day.
Excelsior Pass (Mount Baker area)
It’s no wonder this hike is so popular since its expansive views of the North Cascades are so easily accessible. But with popularity also comes wear and tear. Join this work party to help clear and repair the trail to Excelsior Pass to prepare it for hordes of summer hikers.
Liberty Lake (Eastern Washington)
Just 30 minutes outside of Spokane, this 7.5 mile loop trail is undergoing some major improvements. As a result, hikers will be able to easily enjoy destinations along the trail, including a beautiful waterfall and large cedar grove. Help cut back brush, level tread and realign the trail.
On Tuesday, May 14, the Forest Service closed Glacier Creek Road (Forest Service road 39) to vehicle traffic at mile 1.0 (Thompson Creek) due to a washout at mile 2.7. There is no estimated repair or reopening date at this time.
Closed road leads to popular Heliotrope Ridge Trail
The road leads to the Heliotrope Ridge Trail, which WTA crews have worked on the last three years. Hikers who had Heliotrope in their plans this summer may need to turn to other spectacular Mount Baker hikes, like Skyline Divide Trail, for volcano views and August wildflowers. If the road to the trailhead remains inaccessible, hikers may miss out on one unique feature of the trail, the chance to get up close the icy blue foot of Coleman Glacier.
Because Heliotrope Ridge Trail climbs so close to the volcano's glaciers, it is a major jumping off point to several popular routes for climbers aiming for the summit of Mount Baker.
"It's just terrible news for climbers," says Karen Daubert, WTA's executive director, a hiker and climber who has been up Mount Baker from Heliotrope Ridge three times.
Road's future is uncertain
The Bellingham Herald reports that 18 inches of asphalt had fallen away:
"It's still moving," Jim Mitchell, roads manager for Mount Baker Ranger District, said of the washout.
He said the cause could be heavy rainfall or Glacier Creek, which is running high, undercutting the slope on which the road sits.
"We don't really know how it started yet," Mitchell said.
Citing, in part, a lack of funds, Mitchell told the Herald that vehicle access will be restricted, and that no fix to the road is planned at this time.
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest road budget in free-fall
Funds available to maintain and repair roads on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest have been in free-fall the last few years. Road maintenance dollars declined from $680,000 last year to $250,000 this year.
In 2009, road funding for the forest hit $1.4 million and has been heading downward since.
As parks and trails in King County have been developed for recreation over the past dozen years, area residents have come to rely more and more on these lands for hiking, trail running, mountain biking and equestrian use. Levy funds have contributed significantly to the development of the Grand Ridge, Cougar Mountain and Soaring Eagle trail systems, among others.
Now the King County Council has approved a property tax levy to fund King County Parks through 2019. This measure will be going to King County voters in August.
Levies have been a critical element of the funding mix for King County Parks. The 2013 King County Parks Levy will fund ongoing maintenance on recreation facilities in King County Parks, as well as planning and implementation of potential new trail connections in the South Sound. This is a continuation of a current levy, not new money. If approved, this levy would replace two voter-approved measures that will expire in 2019. Raising 18.7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value -- or about $56 on a property valued at $300,000 -- the levy will raise between $59 million and $70 million annually.
WTA volunteers have worked hard to maintain King County trails over the years, and we've enjoyed a strong relationship with the County. This levy is essential to maintaining and improving the vital trail systems throughout the King County Park system.
YES on the King County Parks Levy
WTA strongly supports this lid lift, and we encourage WTA members to vote YES when you receive your ballot in the mail, likely in mid-July. Everyone who loves King County Parks will be grateful that you did!
by Sarah Kirconnell
Looking for a quick meal for an easy overnight? Garden Veggie Couscous is a fast, light fill-you-up dinner that can be fixed in the freezer bag, insulated mug or one pot methods.
Pack in a quart freezer bag
- 1 cup freeze-dried vegetable blend
- 2/3 cup couscous
- 1/4 cup shelf-stable parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp. dry milk
- 1 Tbsp. low-sodium bouillon powder
- 1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
- 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. onion powder (not onion salt)
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1 packet or 1 Tbsp. olive oil
Freezer bag method:
Bring 2 1/2 cups water to a near boil. Place bag in a cozy, add in water and oil, stirring well. Seal tightly and let sit for 10 minutes.
Insulated mug method:
\Bring 2 1/2 cups water to boil. Add dry ingredients to a large mug, stir in water and oil. Cover tightly, let sit for 10 minutes.
One pot method:
Bring 2 1/2 cups water and oil to boil, add in dry ingredients, stirring. Take off heat, cover tightly and let sit for 10 minutes.
Find freeze-dried Just Veggies at grocery stores and REI, or Mountain House freeze-dried vegetables
at REI. Get olive oil and parmesan cheese packets online at packitgourmet.com
Share your variations
If you have a similar backcountry recipe or try this one and give it your own spin, tell us about it in the comments below. What worked? What didn't? Which method do you use?
Sarah Kirconnell is the author of Trail Cooking Made Simple. For more trail-worthy recipes for your next adventure, visit trailcooking.com.