Washington State Parks recently launched a new mobile app (for Android and iPhone devices) in celebration of their centennial. The app features park amenities, maps and directions; events and weather alerts; and GPS mapping features.
With more than one hundred state parks, Washington has one of the largest state park systems in the country. Nearly every state park offers some hiking, and many feature miles of overlooked trails full of wildlife, plant-life and landscapes. The new app is one more tool to help you explore them.
Weekend bonus: Washington State Parks is offering fee-free days this weekend, on April 27 and 28, which means you can try out the parks for free before investing in them with a Discover Pass.
Three steps to your next great State Park adventure:
- Download the free app.
- Grab your Discover Pass.
- Use WTA's guide to 10 favorite state parks and 10 lesser-known gems to get started.
Share your experiences
- Already using the app? Let us know how you like it in the comments below.
- Take a great hike in a State Park using the new app? Be sure to tell your hiking community about it by filing a Trip Report.
Starting today, a string of low tides in Puget Sound and along the Pacific Coast bring opportunities to discover an ecosystem usually inaccessible to those who like to keep their feet on solid ground. It's a great way to get outside and explore nature in springtime, whether you choose a city beach or a hiking trail along the coast.
I lived near some of the best tide pooling beaches for a dozen years and never explored them. Then one day at Lincoln Park in West Seattle my young son and I stumbled upon volunteer beach naturalists from the Seattle Aquarium during a low tide. Since then, I take my kids tide pooling a few times each year. We usually go to the same beach, but every time we go there are different creatures to find.
Keep sea creatures, marine environments and your family safe
Plan your trip by consulting NOAA's Tide Predictor online or by carrying a tide table (especially when exploring the Pacific Coast where you could become trapped by a returning tide). For maximum viewing, time your visit for an hour before low tide.
The beach naturalists showed us some cool things -- my son was hooked! They also introduced us to good beach etiquette. Here are my take-aways for you:
- Always step carefully during low tide, avoiding sea creatures like anemones that lie at or just below the surface of the sand. For this reason, I highly recommend leaving kids and toddlers at home until they can understand the impact their actions have on the marine environment.
- Do not collect. While beachcombing and collecting may have been one of your treasured childhood memories, the culture has changed as biologists have witnessed the effect of these actions on the intertidal marine environment. Please do not take home shells or animals; they are all integral components of the ecosystem.
- Touch gently, or simply look. Low tides can be stressful for the sea animals.
- Know your tides. Watch for the incoming tide and for rogue waves, especially on the coast. You can find a tide table for dozens of different locations from NOAA.
Your guide to tide pools and easy-to-get-to beaches
If you want to get started, but don't know where to go, I have put together a guide to three excellent tide pool hikes. I've also listed 13 city beaches, from Olympia to Whidbey Island, that are known for the tide pooling. Have fun!
Want a cool way to visit Olympic National Park while also helping the park's flora and fauna? Consider volunteering in the native nursery that is growing plants for the Elwha River restoration project or on a citizen science project monitoring marmots in the high country of the Olympics.
Transplant seedlings to restore the Elwha River valley
With only 60 feet of Glines Canyon dam all that remains of dam removal on the Elwha River, the river valley restoration is now underway. Sign up to spend two days in the Olympic National Park native plant nursery propagating seedlings that will be used to revegetate the newly exposed reservoirs.
- What: A tour of the Olympic National Park native plant nursery, orientation to the Elwha Revegetation Project, and transplanting work. We will work from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, with a lunch break during that time. Remember to bring your lunch, water, and gardening gloves.
- When: Friday, June 7 and 14; Work from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, with a lunch break during that time.
- Where: Matt Albright Native Plant Center, Sequim, WA
- Post-gardening hike: At the end of the day, visit the Elwha Dam Overlook trail that leads to a viewing platform above the former site of the Elwha Dam and Lake Aldwell reservoir. The trail is just past Port Angeles heading west, about a 45 minute drive from Sequim. This 0.25 mile trail is very easy and accessible for all levels. The first 200 yard section of the trail is even wheelchair accessible!
- To sign up: Contact Jill Zarzeczny (Jill_Zarzeczny@nps.gov Tel: 360.565.3047) Elwha Revegetation Project, Olympic National Park.
Hike the Olympics and monitor marmots in action
Olympic National Park is now accepting volunteer applications for the fourth season of Marmot Monitoring. Each year small groups of volunteers visit designated survey areas to gather timely and vital information about population presence and distribution. Tracking and monitoring these changes allow wildlife managers to evaluate the population’s status on an ongoing basis.
Volunteers must be capable of hiking to and camping in remote areas, be comfortable navigating off-trail and be able to work on steep slopes. Most survey trips involve a 5-20 mile hike with a significant elevation gain to the survey area. Volunteers then camp out in or near the survey areas and search for marmots two to four days.
A limited number of day hike assignments are also available for the Hurricane Hill, Klahhane Ridge and Obstruction Point survey area trips. To ensure safety, volunteers must travel and monitor with a partner. Up to six individuals may travel in the same group, breaking into smaller groups to visit individual survey areas. Volunteers ages 13-17 must be accompanied by a responsible adult.
Training for volunteers will consist of one training day, featuring both classroom and field training. Volunteers are responsible for their own transportation. Camping fees will be waived at Heart O’ the Hills and other front-country sites for the evening before training. Park entrance and backcountry fees will also be waived for volunteers.
How to apply by the May 1 deadline:
- Watch the video (below) and learn more about the program.
- Decide when you and your group are available. Volunteers will likely be in the field for up to a week beginning on August 7, August 14, August 21 or September 5.
- Fill out the application by May 1. (The 2013 application deadline is May 1, but may close earlier if enough eligible volunteers have been accepted, or last longer if some trips remain unfilled.)
- Still have questions? Learn more about Olympic Marmot Monitoring program at the park's website.
The San Juan Islands are a treasure trove of hiking trails and natural wonders. But it can be a logistical challenge to get regular trail maintenance volunteers onto the San Juan Islands, so Washington Trails Association recently hopped a ferry to Lopez Island to train the local Lopez Community Trails Network (LCTN) in leadership and trail skills. The training emerged from a partnership between WTA, LCTN, the San Juan County Parks and the Bureau of Land Management.
"What a wonderful group of people to work with," says Arlen Bogaards, WTA's Northwest Regional Manager. "They opened their homes and community to us, and made us feel welcome and part of their tight knit and inclusive community."
The training was held in Odlin Park, an 80-acre San Juan County Park with beach access and 30 campsites. Participants practiced skills like trail sighting, trail layout and turnpike construction, in addition to hands-on trail building.
Bogaards also fielded questions about our work and advocacy for hiking trails and wild lands around the state. Lopetians are no strangers to rallying for a cause. The local community was instrumental in getting 400 acres of BLM land at Iceberg Point designated as part of the 1,000 acres in the San Juans designated as a new National Monument.
"This was a truly remarkable experience," says Arlen Bogaards, "One that I hope we can repeat."
Today marks the start of National Park Week, and to celebrate, the parks have waived entrance fees Apr. 22-26. With three amazing National Parks here in Washington and a week of good weather predicted, it's the perfect time to explore the parks.
As a bonus, Washington State Parks will be celebrating alongside their national counterparts by offering fee-free days on April 27 and 28.
Where to go in Mount Rainier National Park
Play in the snow: Still want to play in the snow? Mount Rainier's still got plenty of it (16 feet are currently on the ground at Paradise). Go play in the snow or squeeze in a late-season snowshoe (checking weather and avalanche conditions and with the rangers before you head out).
The Mazama Ridge snowshoe starts at the Paradise visitor center, following the Stevens Canyon Road - and if you're lucky enough to have a clear day, views of the mountain are stupendous. Depending on conditions, avalanche danger on this trail is moderate on the climb to the ridge, but otherwise low.
Hike: Explore the Carbon River Road, a former road-turned-pedestrian path in the northwest corner of the park. From the guard station, it's five miles of hiking or biking to the Isput Campground, with a few side trails, like the one to Green Lake to check out along the way.
Where to go in Olympic National Park
Hike the Hoh: Explore the temperate rainforest of the Hoh River Valley. Walk the short interpretive Hall of Mosses loop or any number of miles along the Hoh River. Massive trees, enormous ferns and a chance of encountering elk will make you feel like you're in another world.
Hike a rail-turned trail: Enjoy scenic views of Lake Crescent and the surrounding Olympic Mountains while hiking the historic and family-friendly Spruce Railroad Trail, which travels along the lake’s north shore.
Where to go in North Cascades National Park
Hike Thunder Creek: In Day Hiking the North Cascades, Craig Romano calls the Thunder Creek trail "one of the deepest, wildest, and most accessible wilderness valleys in the North Cascades National Park Complex." Even better, you can hike this trail -- up to a 12-mile roundtrip -- right now.
A short family loop: If you're stopping in at the North Cascades Visitor's Center, stretch your legs on the Skagit River trail, 1.8 mile loop leading through the forest, past the Newhalem Creek Campground and alongside the river.
Tips for safe hiking in spring
- Rapidly-changing weather, lingering snow, rain, rising rivers, mud, blown-down trees and bad roads are all potential spring hiking hazards. Use our tips for spring hiking, and learn how to handle them.
- Every hiking party should carry the Ten Essentials, including maps, a compass and a refreshed First Aid kit. Throw in some extra clothing (especially rain gear) and extra food and water.
Sara Kiesler recently signed up for her first day of trail maintenance with Washington Trails Association, and then she blogged about the experience. From carpooling to learning about a cross-cut saw, read what it's like the first time you put on a green hat with WTA. Thanks for your hard work, Sara!
by Sara Kiesler
Almost four years ago to the day, I arrived in Seattle after an epic adventure traveling across the country with two purposes in mind:
- I wanted to give back to the world using my media and journalism experience in some way, and
- I wanted to hike the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
I was able to commemorate both purposes this past Sunday (March 31) by giving back to the trails through a WTA work party.
Carpooling to the party on a favorite mountain
Chris and I signed up for a Tiger Mountain Trail Party, not knowing entirely what we were getting ourselves into but enthusiastically looking forward to it. Early Sunday morning, we put on our new gloves (which we bought only after asking around for quality used ones first), put on some old jeans, and met up with our ride share partners Bob and Betsy on the North side of Seattle.
The stars were in our favor to be in the majestic evergreen Issaquah Alps, as it was the sunniest and warmest day of the year thus far.
The trail up to Tiger Mountain may very well be one of the most traversed in all of the country. Its proximity to Seattle and liberal usage by everyone from horseback riders to mountain bikers to hikers and trail runners has made it a popular favorite. I have hiked its sister trails, West Tiger #3 and West Tiger #2 (epic views at that one), but realized I had never been to the trail we were about to volunteer at—how exciting!
Having fun getting the work done
After arriving at the High Point exit trailhead, we learned the importance of carrying tools the proper way, wearing helmets and safety goggles, and the sense of camaraderie and humor shared by all the WTA staff and volunteers. Many other newcomers to trail parties were in our crew. The staff even put on a somewhat creepy bunny mask to celebrate Easter and passed around chocolate candy and donuts. After a short time, we were off to repair the damaged trail.
And damaged it was. Roots were hanging out all across parts of the trail, a giant muddy pit stretched for 20 yards, side trails were being formed due to trail damage and multiple ramps/steps needed to be added. We definitely had a full day of work ahead of us, but everyone pitched in and made it happen. I learned so much about how to make a rock step (and use a shovel to pry a giant rock out of a pit), moving ferns to a new home to cover unwanted side trails, and using the trail's natural slopes to send runoff in the proper direction. I also learned that you can never have too many buckets, and not all rocks are willing to give in to a sledge hammer.
One of the most exciting moments of the day was being the only person who got to use a gas-powered drill to put rebar into wooden steps in order to build reinforcements. I still can't believe they trusted me with that thing!
A lesson in cross-cutting to close out the day
Finally, just before we called it a day after 8 hours of volunteering on the trail, we got a lesson from WTA's Jim the sawyer (pronounced soy-yer like Tom Sawyer). He unsheathed a 117-year-old saw, and taught us how to heave and ho it back and forth between two people across a half-rotting log to get a feel for the team work needed to use such a simple and awesome machine in wilderness lands. There were lots of technical terms that Jim taught us for the work we were doing, but alas, in my tired brain they all slipped out the other end.
All in all, a very productive and fun day. We definitely plan to go again, and maybe even plan a trail work vacation someday on one of the multi-day backpacking trips WTA leads.
(Special bonus at the end of our Tiger Mountain Trail Party: The Department of Natural Resources provided us with two certificates that, with the addition of a third ((aka one more trail party volunteer day)) we will get a free Discover Pass to many of the Washington State parks. Considering that mine was somehow misplaced when transferring it recently, this is excellent news!)
Sara Kiesler is a former journalist and current communications professional at Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. After moving to Seattle from Florida in April of 2009, she spent her first seven months of funemployment hiking a new trail every weekend. Her partner Chris Rodgers recently encouraged her to start a blog of their hikes together, which she hopes grows to include more WTA Trail Parties. You can reach her on Twitter at @sarakseattle.
If you're a hiker who has started to feel the pull of the backcountry, a short, early-season backpacking trip may satisfy your craving for overnighting in the outdoors. Don't mind facing down a little rain or mud in search of wildlife, coastal wilderness and solitude? Then consider heading to the Olympics this spring on one of these four great backpacking trips.
Before you go
- Check Trip Reports and with the Olympics rangers about trail and road conditions. Many trails may not be cleared by trail crews (like WTA) yet, and the local rangers will be able to alert you to any issues on the trail you're interested in.
- Go prepared for springtime conditions like mud, wild weather and potholed roads. Also, spring melt-off can make Olympic rivers a hazard this time of year. Watch your step around banks and don't be afraid to turn around if a creek or river ford
- Whether you're trying backpacking for the first time or not, it never hurts to brush up on your backpacking basics: what to pack, what to eat, and on-trail best practices.
- Research the rules, regulations and tidetables on the peninsula. Dogs are only allowed on leash in the Olympic National Forest (see: Slab Camp Creek) and you may need a backcountry reservation or permit.
Where to go: river, forest and coast
Location: Near Forks
Round Trip: 10.6 miles (2-3 days)
Elevation: 300 ft gain
Hike It: Read recent Trip Reports and get more info in our Hiking Guide
As you hike through the lush forest, with curtains of moss draping from tree limbs along the trail, take some time to think about just how many shades of green you see. It's quite impressive! The trail offers open views of the Hoh river and snowy peaks. Campsites dot the trail at 2.3 miles, 4 miles and 5.3 miles. Enjoy the sounds of rushing water and a symphony of bird songs. Tthis trail is in Olympic National Park and does not allow dogs.
Toleak Point - Third Beach to Oil City Traverse
Location: Olympic Coast
Round Trip: 17 miles (2-4 days)
Elevation Change: 3000'
Hike It: Read recent Trip Reports and get more info in our Hiking Guide.
A March 25 Toleak Point hiker advises waterproof boots and gaitors:
"I took the ranger's advice to "embrace the mud" rather than skirt the mud pits and further widen the trail. The scenery CANNOT be beat, nor compared to more easily accessible beaches to the south! Sea stacks all along the route, tidepools when the tide's low, eagles, deer, and sea lions were present."
Experience one of the wildest - and most beautiful - stretches of coastline in the contiguous United States on this 17 mile traverse. But beware: this isn't just any leisurely beach walk. The going is tough. You'll be climbing ladders with your backpack on, scrambling along muddy headland trails, waiting out high tides and fording creeks. Up and down you'll go on this demanding trail. But it is entirely worth it for the ocean sunsets, the unexpected encounters with wildlife, the incredible sea stacks and the constantly crashing surf. This trail is in Olympic National Park and does not allow dogs.
Ozette Triangle: Cape Alava - Sand Point Loop
Location: Olympic Coast
Round Trip: 9.4 miles
Elevation: 300 ft gain
Hike It: Read recent Trip Reports and get more info in our online Hiking Guide.
Add a tide chart, binoculars and a camera to your backpack on this coastal classic. You'll be surrounded by beautiful lush green vegetation as you walk along the boardwalk to the beach. Be careful if the boardwalk is wet; it can become very slippery. Once at the beach, set up camp at one of the established sites, secure your food from the camp critters and spend plenty of time exploring. With your binoculars, spot birds, seals, otters or maybe a whale. Be sure to search for the petroglyphs at Wedding Rock.
This trail is in Olympic National Park and does not allow dogs.
Slab Camp Creek and Grey Wolf River
Location: Eastern Olympics
Round Trip: 5.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1100'
Hike it: Read recent Trip Reports and get more info in our online Hiking Guide.
Thick green forests and the swollen Grey Wolf river will keep you company on this short backpacking trip on the eastern side of the Peninsula. There are three well established, large camping spots at Duncan Flats about 2.5 mi. in (one’s just across the bridge). Slide Creek Camp is about another 1.5 mi. from there. Both have water year round. If you go exploring east on the Gray Wolf river to the downed bridge, be careful; Trip Reporter Emily's Dad reported landslides across the trail.
Volunteer on the Duckabush River Trail
Want another great way backpack in the Olympic Peninsula while improving the trails for all hikers? Join a Backcountry Response Team along the Duckabush River Trail from May 24-May 27. This trail has seen its share of damage over the past couple of years, and WTA crews are trying to tackle as many problems as possible.
With such a great selection of trails to volunteer on with WTA this summer, don't let that glaring red "Full" on our sign-ups page deter you.
For Volunteer Vacations and Youth Vacations, we usually limit our trip sizes to 12 people (especially on trails in wilderness areas) so that you can have a more personalized experience and get to know your small crew. Smaller groups also help preserve the tranquility and solitude of the backcountry.
So when you visit our website with intentions of signing up to volunteer on your very favorite trail and you see that the trip is labeled "Full," you might feel like smacking your forehead and calling yourself names for not signing up earlier.
Don't despair. The good news is that you can always sign up for a waitlist. You're certainly not guaranteed a spot on the trip, but the odd cancellation could make you one happy volunteer. For a chance at a meaningful adventure in a stunning natural setting, signing up for a waitlist is definitely worth a shot.
Sign up for a work party waitlist in 3 simple steps
- Call the WTA office at (206) 625-1367. Tell us your name, email and the trip you would like to be waitlisted for.
- When you receive an email from us telling you that you're on the waitlist, follow the link to fill out your Volunteer Vacation or BCRT application.
- Wait for a phone call or email from us telling you if a spot opens up.
The avalanche tragedies near Snoqulamie Pass last weekend were a tough reminder that springtime in the Northwest is a tricky season for hikers and snowshoers. Because temperatures fluctuate so dramatically, dangers from avalanches can increase quickly around this time. But that doesn't mean you can't find a great, safe hike.
Below are strategies for navigating the hazards of springtime hiking and some examples of the type of trails best avoided this time of year.
Research conditions and go prepared
- Call ahead to ranger stations and check WTA trip reports for current conditions, remembering that trip reports are hiker-generated, and all hikers have different skills and experience.
- Check the National Weather Service's mountains forecast page and the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center avalanche forecasts. If you're not sure how to read the snow levels along Snoqualmie or other destinations, just pick a hike that's sure to be snow-free.
- Rapidly-changing weather, lingering snow, rain, rising rivers, mud, blown-down trees and bad roads are all potential spring hiking hazards. Learn how to handle them.
- When trails are obscured by snow, it's easy to lose your way. Unless you're adept with off-trail travel with map and compass, it's usually a good idea to turn back at snow line.
- Every hiking party should carry the Ten Essentials, including maps, a compass and a refreshed First Aid kit. Throw in some extra clothing (especially rain gear) and extra food and water.
Trails to save for summer: avoid avalanche dangers
If you're not an expert at reading avalanche risk factors or snowfield conditions, call or visit a local ranger station to find out if the trail or route you want to take is prone to avalanches or other kinds of hazards. Many trails that are easy day hikes in summer can be deadly in winter or spring, including the following trails:
- Granite Mountain: This snowshoe can be a tempting choice because it's so close to Seattle, but the trail crosses a known avalanche chute, so it's best avoided this time of year.
- Big Four Ice Caves: Winter, summer, spring or fall, it is never safe to enter an ice cave, no matter how stable they might seem. In addition to spontaneous collapse, there is high risk in winter from avalanches off the mountain that feeds these caves.
- Lake 22: A great day hike in summer, it can be avalanche prone in winter. It's best to wait until the snow is melted on this popular Mountain Loop Highway trail.
- Mount Dickerman: The steep, sheer cliffs at the top of this trail offer stunning views in summer, but can pose dangers to hikers punching through features like cornices and thawing ice bridges in winter and spring.
- Snow Lake and Source Lake are both Snoqualmie corridor snowshoes with the potential for considerable avalanche dangers depending on conditions.
- Mount Pilchuck: Snow lingers later than you might think (into June) on this popular trail, leading to injuries every season, most often from hikers punching through snow and ice bridges covering large boulders near the top. If you want to beat the crowds on this popular hike, don't feel like you need to rush the season. Just tackle it on an early summer morning in July or August.
- Iron Goat Trail: A rail trail close to Stevens Pass, this trail is lined with avalanche chutes. Take a walk along this one only once the avalanche danger is low or the snow is gone completely.
These trails are just examples what to beware of this time of year. When in doubt, ask a ranger or choose from one of the great snow-free hikes below.
Hike these snow-free hikes instead
Is there still snow on trail? In Washington state, hikers may be asking that question well into July.
While you wait for the high country to melt, explore the many other wonders, from waterfalls to wildflowers, of Washington hiking.
- Follow the wildflowers. Head towards Yakima or south to Coyote Wall and Horsethief Butte in Columbia Hills State Park along the Columbia River Gorge.
- Try one of these seasonal suggestions.
- Check trip reports for more great hike ideas and file your own trip reports. We're safer when we work together.
After several weeks of clearing snow, rock slides, and releasing avalanche chutes, Washington State Department of Transportation crews opened the North Cascade Highway (SR 20) today, which will make it easier for hikers to explore the Methow Valley.
Conditions helped the clearing crews finish 3 1/2 weeks earlier than last year's May 10 opening. That makes it all the easier to hike the Saw Teekh Wa Trail before heading to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery or the Twisp River Pub for a bite to eat. Need a place to crash before the Chewuch Campground opens? Try the Chewuch Inn and Cabins.
You can follow the conditions on all major mountain passes throughout the winter and spring at the Department of Washington's Department of Transportation website or on its Twitter feed.
— Washington State DOT (@wsdot) April 16, 2013