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Trail of the Week

Quinault’s Wolf Bar – Where the Wild Things Are

in Trail of the Week/Trails by
Quinault 3

Wild and majestic, the North Fork trail of the Quinault River to Wolf Bar Camp is perfect for getting the kids out, impressing a date or indulging in some personal quiet time.  Old-growth cedar and spruce stand command while the sandy-turn-rocky trail winds through an intimate river valley. This five-mile out-and-back adventure is under-utilized compared to popular hikes on the canal side of the peninsula.   Autonomy, space and a slower pace are easily attainable.

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Adding to the allure and romance of the trail is the fact this path was blazed by the 1889 Press Exhibition.  This hardy and adventurous group journeyed from Whiskey Bend (near Port Angeles) through the core of the Olympics, landing in Quinault.  Five men completed the trip in six months.  “Exploring the Olympic Mountains” (2001), compiled by Carsten Lien, documents the original adventure and is great stormy day reading.

I purchased a pedometer with the idea of measuring the distance between water crossings and points of interest.  I intended to approach this report with what seems to be the standard in trail report writing.  I spent almost ten minutes attempting to program the unit when I realized it was not working properly – so much for specifics and being precise.

I arrived at the trailhead 12:30pm, on an April Thursday.  The sky was hazy blue, the temperature in the mid-fifties, and the parking lot was empty.   I’ve hiked this trail often in the last year-and-a-half, almost always heading out earlier in the day.

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The chorus of frogs in the swampy area behind the ranger station caught my attention during my post-car exit stretch.  I’d not heard anything like it mid-day in years.  It was so loud that it overwhelmed the usual river rush I’m accustomed to when I exit the car.

Stately maple trees draped in moss previewed the maturity and beauty-beyond-words of what was up ahead.  I was greeted by the chirp, hum and buzz of hummingbirds, who have returned to their more active, spring-like state.   Delicate purple-blue Spring Azure butterflies seemed to swarm me as I started up the path.  Salmonberries were beginning to bloom, sword ferns transitioning from winter brown to spring green,  and a friendly breeze kept me company.    I was happy to be back.

I’ve seen far more elk than deer on this walk in the past. I was surprised to meet a young buck and doe (deer) along the way, who allowed a photo opportunity as I continued to venture on.  The frequent drumming of grouse (one of my favorite nature sounds) reminded me I was not alone.

The valley-bottom trail winds into the hillside and a bit above river level.  Vistas reveal captivating views that are best seen in person (and I’ve done my best to capture in photos), as the trail winds gently west into the hillside and back toward the river.  I approached this trail with the sense that folks new to hiking may feel the urge to venture out into an unfamiliar world.  There were four water crossings:   The first is a not-so-big stream, which is rocky and about five feet wide.  Nothing to an experienced hiker, though a newbie may get wet if not confident or careful.  I’ve encountered this area complete dry, later in the season.  The second crossing is similar to the first and about seven feet wide, with larger rocks. Boulder hopping is an option.  And similar to the first crossing, it was barely a whisper at the end of fall.

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The third and fourth crossings take a bit more navigation and fact-finding.  The bottoms on both are mostly sandy, though very wide.  This may be a time to offer a piggy-back, request a ride yourself, or take off your shoes and (wool) socks and cool off those feet!  I did, and it was fantastic!  Both crossings generally are dried up before the end of the season.  Don’t let the crossings dissuade you!  As I stated earlier, I’m being careful for those less experienced and minimizing surprises.

That being said, I came across cougar scat twice on this hike.  I’ve seen cougar and bear tracks on this trail in the past.  If you do take children, please keep them ahead of you or between you (if two adults are hiking).  This is a wild area. Please keep a whistle on you (to scare cougar), educate yourself, and know what precautions to take in the chance there is a meeting.

Wolf Bar Camp is not in shape for camping at this writing.  It doesn’t mean it won’t be in a month or two.  I walked out onto the spacious river bar and found a sandy loam for rest and lunch.   I leaned back, and looking at the sky, considered how perfect a spot it would be for night sky viewing.  I considered how this spot would be perfect for families newer to backpacking/hiking who want to practice closer to the car than further.  I’ve hoofed it out of there in 50 minutes with a group:  The youngest were six and seven (and on a tight schedule) and the kids set the pace.  There are a few blow-downs that are easy to navigate.  I don’t expect them to be there much longer.  It is truly a great hike with kids.

I headed back to the trailhead, enjoying the view in the southerly direction and noticing how the river had grown a braid or two since the last time I had visited (about two months ago).  Reaching the parking lot, I found (still) the only car in the parking lot was my own.

I’m finding one of the many benefits in returning to such an area somewhat frequently is the feeling of creating a friendship with a living, complex being.  As I return to observe the changes seasons bring to my friend, I also have the opportunity to observe how the seasons have changed me.

Try a solo hike and find out for yourself.  Get acquainted with a particular spot. Return often to observe how the season has changed the scenery.  Observe how you have changed.

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Please call the USFS Ranger Station in Quinault for road conditions and accessibility:  360-288-2525

The below information is from the National Park Service website:

Permits/Reservations: Obtain permits at WIC in Port Angeles or at the South Shore Lake Quinault Ranger Station located next to Lake Quinault Lodge. No reservations necessary.
Food Storage Method: Bear canisters and bear wires.
Location and sites: Wolf Bar
Toilet Facilities: Outhouse at trail head.  In other areas bury waste 6-8″ 200 ft. from water sources and campsites. Please pack out toilet paper.
Water Source: North Fork Quinault River and tributary streams:  Always boil, filter or chemically treat your drinking water to prevent giardia.
Stock: Allowed, check stock regulations.
Special Concerns – Leave No Trace: Leave No Trace of your stay to protect vegetation and prevent further camping regulations. Camp in established sites or on bare ground.Fires: To protect sensitive vegetation, campfires are not allowed above 3,500 feet.Respect Wildlife: To protect bears and other wildlife, all food, garbage and scented items must be secured from all wildlife 24 hours a day.
Safety: Steam crossings may be high during winter, spring and during heavy rain or snow melt. Check trail conditions.




April Hikes 2014 Recommended for Seattle Backpackers Meetup

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April Hikes 2014

If you are a Seattle Backpackers Meetup organizer here are some April hikes from years past that were a lot of fun and and you can easily [copy this meetup] to schedule it for yourself.  Be sure to read through before scheduling to make sure dates and meeting locations are adjusted to fit your preferences.


Suggested April hikes Meetups:

1) Tener-Si Traverse Snowshoe Hike:     Let’s hike the Kamikaze Trail up to Mt Teneriffe, follow the ridge road down to Mt Si, and hike down the Mt Si trail. That’s 11 miles and 4000+ ft elevation gain……..

2) Ancient Lakes Overnight: How about a super easy hike in sunny eastern Washington?……..

3) Oil City to Third Beach Backpack Trip: Let’s go backpacking at the beach! This is a 3-day, 2-night, 17-mile, very muddy adventure…..

4) West Granite Mountain Snowshoe Dayhike: Stretch you legs on this awesome day hike! West Granite is a less-visited peak just beside Granite Mountain, at I90 exit 47. We’ll start out on the trail to Talapus and Olallie Lakes…..

5) Double Feature Day Hike: Cedar Butte and Rattlesnake Ledges: Meet at the Rattlesnake Lake State Park, then head west on the Iron Horse Trail formile to the Cedar Butte trailhead. Going up, we will take the scenic Blowout trail to the summit to enjoy the views (about a 800 foot gain). Then back down to the trailhead and up to the Rattlesnake Ledges (about 1,100 foot gain). The overall hike is around 8 miles…..

6) Badass Mid-Week Rainier Snowshoe!: We’ll start at the Longmire Ranger Station, loop around the mysteriously bubbling Longmire Meadows, and climb up to Rampart Ridge. This geologic formation left from a lava flow offers……

7) Mt. Si Hike!: Si! This is a nice, classic I-90 hike with great views and low drive-time (comparatively!). We’ll start off in nice forest and climb to the summit, gaining 3550 feet of elevation in 4 miles. (8 miles round-trip)…….

8) Snowshoe Hike: Pratt Ridge Saddle (maybe Pratt Lake): The Pratt Lake trail is a great go-to winterhike. It starts at low elevation (1800′) and is pleasant for a leisurely stroll to Olallie Lake for our first extended break……..

9) Copper Creek Hut Snowshoe Trip– 2 Nights: The Mt Tahoma Trails Association, located next to Mt Rainier National Park, has groomed trails and maintains several huts. Our destination is Copper Creek Hut, which is the only hut I’ve never been to……

10) Easter Egg Hike!: The course will span easy, flat terrain as well as some big hills and even some weird old mine shafts! But this is largely dependent on YOU, my dear fellow egg-hunting hikers! I ……

11) Wallace Falls State Park Day Hike!: Join me on an awesomely beautiful loop hike in Wallace Falls State Park. We will ascend through verdant forest alongside the Wallace River to several impressive waterfalls, before looping over to Wallace Lake. The route will be about 10 miles total, with a decent climb in the beginning portion of the hike……

12) Backpack Trip: Rialto Beach on the Olympic Peninsula (First Night): We will have great beachcombing opportunities. There is also a unique natural feature near camp called the Hole-in-the-Wall. Rain or shine, expect big beach fires to help keep warm and toasty…….

13) Steep Tiger Mountain Hike: We will take the Bus Trail, to the Nook Trail and up to the Talus Caves for a short break. Then we will head up the steep Section Line trail to the Tiger 3 Summit and should be back to the parking lot between noon and 1pm……

14) Mt. Washington Summit Day Hike: here are ledges, waterfalls, caves, and a multitude of trails that offer endless loop hike opportunities. For an added bonus, it’s much less know than comparable hikes nearby like Mt. Si or Mailbox Peak…..

15) wallace lake, greg ball trail: i have wanted to do this one for awhile,its one i have never been to outside of wallace falls which is the same trailhead and awsome as well. bring snacks,we will be having lunch at a local establishment …..

16) Oyster Dome: waterproof boots are recommended, and gaitors if you have them……

17) Head up the Skoke (Staircase) – wander in the snow: We will head up the Skoke and travel as far as the group feels comfortable…..

18) Photo Hike: Ebey’s Landing: Stand over the some of the highest coastal bluffs in Washington and wait for the sunset behind the olympics on this 6 mile hike.  Maybe we’ll see a few eagles on the way, so bring a zoom lens…..

19) North Fork Quinalt 3 day: In skiing terms this may be a black diamond, or double black diamond hike. There will be deep stream crossings, some bushwhacking and rough campsites…..

20) Triple Header Event -The Duckabush River Trail, Dosewallips camp out and Oysters: This is intended to be a weekend with 3 specific and different features. One is an overnight car camp at a great state park along Hood Canal. This will be a mixer and will give us an opportunity to …..

21) Camp Handy, Dungeness River Basin, Olympic National Forest: we will hike through old growth forest alongside the Dungeness River for 3.3 miles to arrive at the Camp Handy meadow. At the first mile in, we will log cross Royal Creek, fed by Royal Basin, an area popular with backpackers and controlled by the Park Service……

22) Saturday singles only spring day hike (Rattle Snake Ridge): This is a nice beginning to the summer season type of hike.. Only 4 miles round trip. We will be at the top around noon so bring some snacks for lunch…..

23) Hex Mountain Snowshoe Trip- Overnight: Hex Mountain trail. Quoting the book Snowshoe Routes-WA by D.Nelson, This trail represents the epitome of snowshoeing in the Cascades, a long steady climb through lush old forests…..

24) New Members only Overnight Ape Cave Snowshoe: Please be sure to read this entire post before signing up…Thanks Total round trip 10 miles Elevation gain: insignificant avalanche danger: insignificant Maps:Green Trails map # 364 USGS map for Mount Mitchell Pictures from last year This trail is accessible

25) Kayak-Nisqually Wildlife Refuge:  I figured it would be great to do some kayaking among the tidal flats and inlets and maybe get another chance to see some Raptors and other smaller birds. So I came across this kayak rental place in the Olympia area

Inspirational April hikes ideas from Seattle Backpackers Magazine:

1) Snowshoeing Coldwater Lake Loop – Mt St Helens: Winter’s harshness has ended, by calendar only. Keep your fingers crossed. If your like me, your screaming for spring, and especially summer!! Winter still has it’s many advantages and snowshoeing is one of them. I had been couped up for month and had to escape…..

2) Chambers Bay: The whole family will enjoy exploring this unearthly landscape of carved hillsides and towering ruins on the shores of Puget Sound. Once the site of a quarry and cement plant…..

3) Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, Wyoming: I am not sure where I first read about the Wind River Range, but every trip report or article I read was filled with superlatives and awe, written in hushed and reverent tones describing the grandeur of the Winds. Just the name itself evokes an image of rocky windswept plateaus of peaks and spires……

4) Early Spring Washington Hikes: I am apt to cringe when someone asks about my favorite photography sites in the Pacific Northwest. How can I choose when there are so many? Though it’s still winter I am already eagerly anticipating my favorite spring hikes in Washington, described below…..

Inspirational April hikes ideas from Washington Trails Association: 

1) Frenchman Coulee: On summer weekends, rock climbers flock to the nearby Frenchman Coulee climbing area, drawn to the tall vertical columns of basalt that line the coulee walls. Hikers, who prefer their lands more horizontal than vertical, will also find great enjoyment here…..

2) Icicle Ridge: Often free of snow as early as April, this excellent early season hike offers hikers what they have been missing for months: a good chance of sun (this being the sunny side of the Cascades….

3) Baker Lake–Maple Grove: Magnificent old growth forests, stellar views of Mount Baker, turbulent tributaries,and, of course, a beautiful lake make this trail a great path to travel…..

4) Cowiche Canyon: A group of dedicated volunteers with the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy worked for years to develop this trail – or, rather, to un-develop this trail – because this old railroad right-of-way is now a path through a wild wonderland……

5) Murhut Falls: This short trail in the Hood Canal Ranger District on the east side of the Olympics takes hikers to a relatively unknown waterfall…..

6) Lake Serene – Bridal Veil Falls: Towering and formidable, Mount Index is perhaps the most awesome and fiercest sight and site along US 2. But softening its stark appearance is Bridal Veil Falls. Emanating from beneath the mountain’s austere crags, the tiered and tumbling cataract drapes over granite slabs…..

7) Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area: Though this land is called a “wildlife area,” it could as easily be named a state wildflower area. On any given spring day, hikers can expect to see an array of wildflowers that puts the pretty alpine meadows to shame…..

8) Hoh River-Five Mile Island: The most famous of all the Olympic rain forests, the Hoh is one of the busiest places in Olympic National Park. A visitors center and a couple of well-groomed nature trails attract bus loads of admirers from Seattle to Seoul, Boston to Berlin. And its not just camera-toting …..

Pine City, Joshua Tree National Park

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3-Pine City Trailhead
3-Pine City Trailhead
Pine City Trailhead

There are nearly 800,000 acres of Joshua Tree National Park, and they’re full of the prickly, eponymous trees that reminded Mormon pioneers of the Old Testament prophet Joshua, stretching his arms toward the Promised Land. Despite the acreage, the park has no singular, must-see landmark, no Delicate Arch or Half Dome or Old Faithful to plaster on postcards and magnets in the gift shops. Even the cover of the 1987 U2 album is a non-descript landscape (in 2011, two people died of heat illness trying to locate the exact spot). So when I arrived at the west entrance of the park, I didn’t know exactly where I was supposed to go to get the real Joshua Tree experience.

I’d researched a few hikes online, but when I stopped at the visitor’s center for a map, I decided to ask a ranger for her recommendation. “What’s a good hike?” I asked, expecting her to point me toward one of the prominently marked trails. But she asked, “Do you want to do a secret trail?”

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Trail Map

She directed me to Pine City, a backcountry trail not even marked on the official NPS map. To reach it, I had to veer off the main Park Boulevard onto an unpaved road so long, at one point I wasn’t sure I’d taken the right path. Before turning off the main, paved road, I had passed several convenient and even picturesque turnouts and parking lots full of minivans and SUVs with kids scrambling over boulders. But once I reached the remote Pine City trailhead, I found only two other vehicles in the lot.

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The trail wound north into the wilderness area of the park – if I’d been planning on doing anything longer than a day hike, I would have needed a backcountry permit. After crossing several arroyos, and encountering only four or five other hikers, I came to a playground of large boulders that were like an archipelago in the desert. These islands of rough granite were broken up to form nooks and walls, slots and passages. It was hard to imagine any place in Joshua Tree National Park being as fun to explore.

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Boulder Summit

I was reminded of my senior in high school, when some friends and I drove to Moab, Utah to bike Slickrock and visit Arches National Park. Our first night there, we left our campground and drove into Moab for some pizza. My friend asked our waitress, a 20-something local, “What’s fun to do around here?” When she began telling us about Arches and Slickrock, my friend interrupted and said, “No. What do high school kids do here on the weekend?”

“Oh,” said the waitress. “Well, there’s the rope swing under the Colorado River Bridge. And if you follow Powerhouse Lane up into the canyon, there’s a swimming hole and waterfall –  kids jump off the cliffs into the water there.” Neither of these are listed on the Arches National Park maps, or promoted by Moab’s Tourism Office. We only discovered them by talking to one of the locals.

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Joshua Tree National Park

I’m 40 now, and have no desire to find hidden rope swings or cliff dive into swimming holes. But talking to the ranger at the Joshua Tree visitors center set me on a trail I never would have discovered if I’d followed the map and looked for the postcard icons. It reminded that the best resource for a good experience isn’t the official map or a tour book. It’s the people who’ve taken the time to explore the land again and again.

If you want an Instagram moment, a background monument to check off your list, just follow the crowds. But for a path less traveled, and probably more spectacular, talk to the locals.

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Road to Pine City Panorama

Note on photographer: Rob Hollenbeck is a creative director and outdoor enthusiast who tries to spend as much time outside as he does kerning type.

NZ Part 5- In the Center of Nature’s Flow in Aoraki – Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

in Trail of the Week/Trails by
Aoraki-Mt Cook copy

This is another addition to Cheryl Talbert’s column dedicated to New Zealand. To view the rest: one, two, three, four.

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View to the head of the Tasman Glacier from Ball Ridge.

Everything is flowing — going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches; the air in majestic floods carrying minerals, plant leaves, seeds, spores, with streams of music and fragrance; water streams carrying rocks… while the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood…in Nature’s warm heart.

– From John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (1911)

Never in my life have I felt more in the center of Muir’s flow of nature than from a high windy knob on Ball Ridge under the vertical Caroline Face of New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook[1]. Long tongues of glaciers stretched from the high snowfields of the Southern Alps all around us down toward aquamarine Lake Pukaki and the Canterbury plains, with high moraine walls sketching their past extent. Icefalls constantly tumbled down the sheer face before us. The very ridge we had walked this day was flowing, collapsing into the valley below, under the inexorable pressure of snow and water and gravity. Even the skies flowed, with an immense Southern Hemisphere star show from horizon to horizon over our tents the night before in this international Dark Sky Preserve.

In a total space less than twice the size of the Seattle Metro area, New Zealand’s Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park contains 19 peaks over 10,000 feet (including the country’s highest at 12,316’) and 72 named glaciers that cover over 40 percent of the park’s area. Yep, imagine ice from Queen Anne to Rainier Beach and from Century Link field to Mercer Island….in some places over 600 feet deep.  It’s an incredible concentration of evidence of the inimitable power of nature – to lift up and tear down, to carve, to transform, to dominate.

Aoraki/Mount Cook Park was the culmination – literally and emotionally – of our three weeks of New Zealand trekking up to that point. Our group of 13 fellow travelers from the Mountaineers club had already worked our way from the Southern Ocean vistas of the Hump Ridge Track in far-south Fiordland, up and over McKinnon Pass on the iconic Milford Track, along a high ridge overlooking the remote craggy Darran Mountains on the Routeburn track, and up cliff walls above the West Matukituki River loomed over by the snowy pyramid of Mount Aspiring. Now our bus had left us in Mount Cook Village: a small scatter of hostels, the historic Hermitage Hotel and a Visitor’s Center tucked in a grassy valley at the toes of the three biggest glaciers and a circle of high peaks. It was the first week of March 2013, still prime summer tramping season in N-Zed, and we were enjoying a record warm sunny spell that had blessed us for nearly our entire trip. From the comfy deck and bountiful buffet of the Hermitage Hotel, Mount Cook, its snowfields and all the snow-crested ridges radiating out from it were in perfect position to reflect first the amber, then the salmon and fuschia, and finally the brilliant violet of the sunset. A statue of the country’s most famous son, Sir Ed (Edmund Hillary), gazed across the deck to the peak with his rucksack and walking stick at the ready.

The crisp early light of the next morning turned the valley grass to gold as we wound the short way from the village to the base of the steep ridge wall that loomed over it just to the west. From there it was no-nonsense:  1800 steps bolted into the rocky face and winding upward without letup for nearly 2000 feet. But oh the rewards! Behind us, the high lateral moraines of the Mueller, Hooker and Tasman Glaciers subsided into the wide flat Hooker Valley, precipitous ridges rising from all sides. At the top of the steps, a series of small tarns perched on the edge of a vertical dropoff to the Mueller Glacier, with 10,335’ Mount Sefton and its neighboring peaks and glaciers reflecting in the still water and drawing all comers to its warm rocks and transcendent views. Mount Cook herself sat back a bit, indifferent but magnificent, a lenticular cloud capping her rocky top.

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Sealy Tarns

This was the turnaround point for some of our group, but others of us had set our sights on the Mueller Hut, 1500 feet farther up a steep scree slope and across a boulder field on the ridge crest above the tarns. The hut was indeed worth every drop of sweat – an incongruous red, corrugated-metal structure perched like flotsam at 5900’ elevation on a rocky desolate bench, its deck offering a 180 degree view of the snowy sweep of the Cook range and steeply down to the Mueller Glacier thousands of feet below. Behind the hut was Mount Ollivier, a 6340’ rockpile said to be Sir Ed’s first climb and the one that hooked him for life. One can see why, with the full 360 degree panorama it afforded of the rock – and ice-scape of the National Park and the Southern Alps stretching into the far distance south and west.

The next day was departure day for most of our group, heading to Christchurch by bus for flights home or to Auckland for some beach time before our last trek on the North Island. However, three of us had set aside a few extra days for a closer view of Aoraki/Mount Cook herself. We loaded early into a 4WD rig to bump and rattle up the moraine of the Tasman glacier, past the lake at its foot, to the start of an often washed-out boot path between the moraine and the ridge wall, which led in about 2 rocky miles to the tiny 3-bed Ball Hut, with water spigot, outhouse and campsites nearby. Shortly beyond the hut, the moraine and the ridge tapered away leaving only the vast curve of the Tasman glacier emerging from the snowfields miles to the northwest, and the stark face of Mount Cook rising immediately to our southwest. Needless to say, we were gifted with yet another lingering brightly-hued sunset.

The hike up Ball Ridge from Ball Hut may have been fairly straightforward, if strenuous, at some point in the past. Now, though, both sides of the narrow ridge had sloughed away, and the route required a mix of route-finding and gymnastics through steep scrub, across scree slopes and snowfields, and over and around massive boulders. The rumbling and crackling of the Caroline and Ball Glaciers and icefalls down the cliffs of Mount Cook provided a constant accompaniment. Caroline Hut, a private hut with public water spigot, warming room and outhouse, sat on a bench at nearly 6000 feet with the immense Caroline face looming another 4300 feet above our heads and seemingly close enough to touch.  There was just enough time to crest gusty Fergun’s Knob, just beyond the hut and another 400 feet higher, and for one intrepid member of our party to summit 7288-foot Kaitiaki peak with views down to the Hooker Glacier, before we had to descend back to Ball Hut in the fast-fading early evening light.

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Aoraki – Mount Cook

My last, and perhaps most treasured, memory of our Ball Ridge trip: In the grey of very early morning before heading back down the moraine to meet our ride, I was awakened by fluttering, scuttling and pecking on the metal roof of the Ball hut. Cup of hot Via in hand, I made my way to the porch of the hut and settled there wrapped in my down bag. As the light grew I could see the outline of a kea – New Zealand’s iconic alpine parrot – looking down at me from the eave five feet above. Shortly another kea joined the first one, alighting on one of the hut’s cable supports. Within a handful of minutes there were five, then eight more keas hopping closer, their curiosity and intelligence evident. Eventually, as we packed up and made our way back down the moraine, there was a group of thirteen keas following us, flashing the brilliant orange and green undersides of their wings as they fluttered along the hillside by the trail to keep us in sight, occasionally shrieking ‘KEE-ah, KEE-ah’ to each other. When we would stop to take pictures and enjoy their antics, they would stop to hop and preen and fluff their colorful wings and chatter. Finally there was the heartbreaking, inevitable moment as we neared the trailhead that the keas gathered themselves as if by an unheard signal and flew back up toward the hut, presumably to investigate the next group of visitors to their domain. What a gift of welcome and special joy, to match the treasure chest that New Zealand had already delivered to us.

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park Standouts:  Sunset on the flanks of 12,316’ Aoraki/Mount Cook from the deck of the Hermitage Hotel, from Mueller Hut and from Ball Ridge;  reflections of peaks and glaciers in the crystal water of Sealy Tarns; 360 views from the top of Mt Ollivier of a stark landscape carved by huge glaciers still in motion; excellent programs including an Edmond Hillary film, Planetarium show and star-gazing tour offered by the Hermitage Hotel; fun rock scrambling under the vertical ice-and-rock Caroline Face of Mount Cook from the Ball Ridge trail.

Hut Bookings in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

In general the huts in the park are small and remote with few amenities. Routes to some of the higher huts wash out or slough away every year. They cannot be reserved in advance, so stop at the National Park Visitors’ Center when you arrive to check on current accessibility, availability of beds and hold a spot (no more than a day in advance)

Transport to and from Aoraki/Mount Cook:

The nearest gateway towns to Aoraki/Mount Cook Park with airports are Queenstown (about 2.75 hours away) and Christchurch (about 3.5 hours away).  Many car rental options exist at the airports in both towns, and a rental car affords by far the best flexibility.  Only a few bus companies serve Mount Cook Village, with one or two rather expensive options per day.  See Intercity bus lines and The Cook Connection.

Mueller Hut and Ball Ridge Track Profiles:

Mount Cook Park Map



Sealy Tarns Hike Map                            



Ball Ridge Trek Map



New Zealand South Island and location of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park


[1] The English name of Mount Cook was given to the mountain in 1851 to honor Captain James Cook who first surveyed and circumnavigated the islands of New Zealand in 1770.  Following the historic land settlement between the Maori and the Crown in 1998, the name of the mountain (and many other places in New Zealand) was officially changed to to incorporate its historic Māori name, Aoraki.

Goat Rocks Wilderness – Summer Planning

in Trail of the Week/Trails by
Mount Rainier and Packwood Lake from the Lily Basin Trail copy

Pull out your bucket list. This is one to add for next summer. Photographer Andy Porter outlines why this is a favorite.

Wildflower display in the Goat Rocks Wilderness copy
Wildflower display in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

The allure of finding the perfect wildflower display is born out of an addiction to bright colors. Blue skies, red paintbrush, purple lupine and lush green grasses combine to start a chemical reaction in my brain. My particular obsessive-compulsive “disorder” commands me to seek out early summer meadows, take scads of pictures and smile a lot.

Last July, I was entranced by the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Located in the southern Cascades of Washington State, between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, the Goat Rocks boasts post-card views of both peaks and yes, more than a few wildflowers!

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Mount Rainier and Packwood Lake from the Lily Basin Trail

Heading up into the high country in July is always somewhat dicey: finding trails that have melted out enough so that they can be easily hiked is not easy, getting accurate up to the day reports on current conditions not easy to do.

My Goat Rocks Trail Guide described a sort-of loop along the Lily Basin Trail, up over Goat Ridge and into the Snowgrass Flats area. We arrived and the first day hoofed it up along the ridge to a fantastic camp site with views of all three volcanoes, Mounts Rainier, Adams and St Helens.

The sunset on the ridge is unforgettable.

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Mount Rainier at Sunset

The next day we navigate west, along the trail up Goat Ridge. But we find the way blocked: the snow fields are miles long, steep and treacherous. With no ice axes and 40 lb packs a slip would mean getting airlifted out with lacerations and fractures. We considered all options and agree to hike out the way we came, stay in a hotel that night, and then drive around to the Snowgrass Flats Trailhead and so arrive in wildflower heaven from the other side.

The way back along the Lily Basin Trail is hot and tedious…until we enter the Cathedral of Avalanche Lilies. I feel like I’ve been teleported to Avatar, the flowers are ALIVE and they are talking directly to me.

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Mt Rainier and Lillys

Their joyous message assimilated into my being we head back to the car and off to Packwood for Burgers and a shower.

The next day we arise at the crack of dawn and head up the valley. Our maneuver to out-flank the snow fields is a success and we soon find ourselves in the midst of famous Snowgrass Flats.

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Snowgrass Flats Wildflowers

Expecting to camp among endless meadows of flowers I am somewhat distraught at the rather uneven topography of the “flats”, but no worries, we set a base camp and head out to explore.

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Goat Rocks Beargrass and Flowers

Our path soon meets up with the Pacific Crest Trail and we begin the long gradual ascent of the Goat Rocks. Remnants of a long-gone volcano the ‘Rocks’ are a perfect setting for the myriad flower displays. We hike up and up, to the highest point on the PCT in Washington Sate, where the trail itself has been blasted in to the very summit of the peak…

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Pacific Crest Trail, atop the Goat Rocks

The views here are breathtaking, mountains, rocks, sky and flowers, fresh air, warm sun, it is all perfect.

The next two days are all about exploring, commiserating with flora and lots more smiling. One of the perks of arriving so soon after the snow melt is that the flowers are FRESH. The new blooms are rich, clean, fragrant and bursting with colors. Image 9

I discovered a wonderful camping spot, high on the ridge in the midst of the grandest spot I’ve seen in quite a while.

Yes, I will be coming back soon!

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Mount Adams and Goat Rocks Wildflowers

To access the Goat Rocks Wilderness:  Head east on Hwy 12 to the town of Randle then drive 12 miles on Highway 12 to forest service road 21. Follow it about 14 miles (dirt road) to forest service road 2150. Turn left onto FS 2150 and drive 3.5 miles staying right at the Chambers Lake turnoff. Follow the signs to the Berry Patch trailhead.

This trail is best accessed in mid to late summer when wildflowers will be at their peak.

For more info check out the guide at

Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park

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Among Yosemite National Park’s iconic sights that can be hiked without an overnight is Vernal Fall. The 2.4-mile round trip Mist Trail leads to the 317-foot Yosemite Valley waterfall.

Spring and early summer marks the best time to visit Vernal Fall as more water tumbles down it. Be forewarned that with the higher amount of water also comes larger crowds. Also, you almost certainly will get wet in spring and early summer once at the fall’s base, so rain gear is a must.

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Vernal Fall measures 317 feet high and ranks as one of the most well-known waterfalls at Yosemite National Park.

To reach the trailhead, take the Yosemite Valley shuttle to Stop No. 16. Pass the restrooms and cross the bridge over the Merced River, pick up the trail on the river’s north/east side.

Young children may have difficulty with this the trail as the elevation climbs 1000 feet over 1.2 miles. This is a trail best reserved for families with teenagers or those who can lug children up the mountainside in a child carrier.

The trail goes roughly south then bends east at Sierra Point. Grizzly Peak, which tops out at 6,222 feet, is to the left.

In about 0.6 miles, the trail again crosses the Merced, offering the first of many fantastic views of Vernal Fall. Restrooms also are located there.

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Vernal Fall seldom dries up, as do many other park waterfalls, as its drainage area contains more acres of snowmelt.

To that point, the trail’s elevation gain is fairly easy for kids to handle. The rest of the way up, however, consists of stairs cut into a cliffside and is steep.

Be aware that the stone stairs near the waterfall can be slippery. Another set of restrooms are located here as well.

Vernal Fall sits at an 5044 feet elevation. The water falls all year long, though by the end of summer, once the snowmelt is gone, the volume is low with the river often splitting into multiple threads instead of being a curtain of water. Liberty Cap at 7016 feet and to its left, Mt. Broderick at 6706 feet, tower over the falls.

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Vernal Fall can be hiked to via the 2.4-mile round trip Mist Trail.

Despite the temptation, don’t take a dip into the water at the fall’s base. The current is very strong. In fact, Mist Trail is the deadliest of Yosemite’s trails – mainly because people jump into the water for a swim or to cool off.

The trail continues on to the top of Nevada Fall, but at 6.4-miles round trip, this is an extremely long hike for most families, especially given that you’ll have to gain another 900 feet in elevation.

Turning around at Vernal Fall, hike back down into Yosemite Valley. You’ll be treated to great views as the Merced flows down the mountainside.

Whistler’s Train Wreck Trail

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The Train Wreck Trail is a quick hike along the beautiful Cheakamus River in  the Whistler – Vancouver Canada area . This hike is only 2.5 miles roundtrip to the train wreck and back, but you can easily make this hike longer following the flank trail.  You can also trail run this hike with its low elevation gain, but there are some really root-covered sections; use caution.


When you get to the decades old train wreck, the cars (tagged with some amazing graffiti art), you’ll be amazed that they are spread so far apart!  You still feel the devastation of this wreckage.  It’s such a unique hike and highly recommended.


  • Length: 2.5 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation gain:  minimal
  • Unique and perfect for families and trail runners!
  • Bike and dog friendly (check for updates)
To get there from Seattle:
  • North on I-5 to Exit 275 (approximately 1 mile south of US/Canada Border).
  • Turn right on Pacific Hwy to the Pacific Hwy Border Crossing.
  • Once across the border, the road is Highway 15.
  • Follow Highway 15 to Highway 1.
  • Take Highway 1 westbound.
  • Follow signs to Squamish & Whistler.
  • About 5 miles before Whistler Village, turn left at Function Junction onto Alpha Lake Road.
  • Turn left into the Olive Market parking lot and park to the left behind building.
  • Flank Trailhead is located directly behind the Olive Market.

Mount Zion, Olympic National Forest

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In spring this is a great hike for a good dose of rhodedendrons in bloom. But if you are looking for a shoulder season hike that will get you beyond the Issaquah/North Bend foothills, this will do, too.  Mt. Zion is a lesser-known option. This 4200-foot high summit is an outlier on the east side of the Olympics. It’s like a little brother to much bigger, bolder Mt. Townsend, a few miles southwest across the valley. This hike  also makes a nice starter for a weekend in the Olympics, and doesn’t require a crack of dawn start from Seattle.

The trail starts out smooth and well graded, and pretty much maintains this pleasant tread for most of the scant 2 miles and 1300 foot elevation gain. You’ll soon notice that the underbrush is a goblin’s forest of giant rhododendrons.  Depending on elevation, sunlight, time of year and exposure you may find blooms going strong in some rhodies but not others.  Around 1.2 miles, occasional partial views to the west open up, revealing a forested valley and the broad, enticing summit of Mt. Townsend (you might consider this hike a warm up and head to Mt. Townsend next). Around 2 miles, you’ll encounter a pair of short switchbacks, and just off the trail, an exposed outcrop that is a nice, though treacherous view point. This little sidetrip is not recommended for small kids!  

Mt Zion2 Jay Thompson

The summit is a pleasant rocky knoll with room to spread your picnic. Views to the west, finally! You’ll see Puget Sound, Mt. Baker, and maybe even buildings glinting in the sun. The view is satisfying, but not quite what it might have been, since trees have grown in front. Oddly, there is an outhouse a few yards before the summit, and a flat area big enough for a tent.

For even better views keep walking from the summit on the ridge trail that eventually leads into Snow Creek.  In about a half mile you’ll come to a ledge, where much bigger views open up to the west and south. 

Directions: From Seattle, take the Bainbridge or Edmonds ferry and cross the Hood Canal Bridge. Turn south on 101 towards Quilcene. One and half miles north of Quilcene turn west into Lords Lake Loop. At a T intersection at Lords Lake turn left, then in another 0.7 miles turn right onto Forest Service Road 28. The road climbs  about 5 miles to a three way junction called (but not marked) Bon Jon Pass. Take the road to the right, called 2810. The trailhead is a large parking lot on the left.

Miles/elevation gain: 3.6 RT/1300 foot gain to Mt. Zion Summit; 4.6  miles RT/1300 foot gain to additional viewpoint.

Passes required: Northwest Forest Pass

Type: Out and Back day hike

Books/maps: Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula by Craig Romano/Green Trails No. 136/Tyler Peak

Facilities at trailhead: Good parking lot and outhouse

Mount Zion Jay Thompson

Family Hikes On Grand Canyon Backcountry Trails

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The Grand Canyon is one of those rare landscapes that humbles the soul.

Its immense size – 6000 feet deep from rim to canyon floor at its deepest, 18 miles across from rim to rim at its widest – appears unreal to most visitors. Then there’s the unfathomable age of the rock, up to 2 billion years old. Or simply watch the ever-shifting light as the canyon’s mood rotates through the day, ranging from the mystical, multiple hues of sunrise and sunset, to the utterly stark harshness of its brilliantly lit desert walls at high noon.

Many of the national park’s trails head into the backcountry by going up and down steep canyon sides, offering fantastic adventures for backpackers. That’s not so great for families, especially with small children, though, who often find themselves limited to the crowded paved rim trails. Still, a small segment of any of those backcountry trails can be done as a day hike.

Grand Canyon South Rim
The South Rim’s Grandview Trail can be shortened into a 2.2-mile round trip day hike for adults with children on their back or with older teens.

Following the western side of the ridge that extends northeast of Grandview Point, the trail quickly descends into the canyon. Logs and cobblestones make up the trail’s base during many sections.Primary among them on the South Rim is the Grandview Trail. A segment of it can be done as a 2.2-mile round trip day hike, but you’ll need to be in shape, and any children with you should be on your back or possibly teenagers.

Hikers first pass through Kaibab Limestone, formed some 245 million years ago during the Permian Era. This 300-feet thick layer of white to yellow rock once sat at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea that was much like today’s Caribbean.

About 1.1 miles from the rim, you’ll reach the Coconino Saddle, having descended 790 feet. The rock here formed about 270 million year ago. The impressive view below is of the upper valley of Hance Creek. Given the elevation you must hike to reach the rim, this marks a good turnaround point for day hikers.

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The North Rim’s North Kaibab Trail leads from a montane forest to excellent overlooks of the canyon.

On the North Rim, the North Kaibab Trail is the only maintained trail into the canyon. Day hike about 500 feet down in elevation, which alone is a steep trail at a high altitude covering about a 1.5-mile round trip. Children again will have to be on your back or older teens.

The trail descends from a montane forest, consisting of aspen, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine, into Roaring Springs Canyon. Meltwater flowing down this side canyon feeds the Colorado River.

As the trail winds downward, you’ll have gone about 500 feet below the rim in 0.75 miles of walking. At that point is the Coconino Overlook, where an excellent view of Roaring Springs Canyon awaits.

Turning back at the overlook is a good idea for day hikers. If early in the day, you may want to consider going a little farther down to the Supai Tunnel. A man-made passageway through the rock, reaching the tunnel makes for a 1.8-mile hike and about 1440 feet below the rim. Go ahead and walk through the small tunnel to see the looming cliffs with pinyon and juniper ahead.

Some other backcountry trails that you can shorten into great family day hikes include:

  • South Kaibab Trail segment – On the South Rim, take the Kaibab Trail Route shuttle bus to the trailhead, which is east of the village and south of Yaki Point. While the trail goes for up to six miles round trip, you may want to shorten this steep walk by stopping after 0.75 miles (for 1.5 miles round trip) at Ooh-ahh Point, which is less than 200 feet below the rim. At the point, you round Yaki Point for a suddenly expansive view of the eastern canyon.
  • Ken Patrick Trail – A short segment of this 10-mile (one-way) trail on the North Rim can be done through a forested area. About a mile from the North Kaibab parking lot, you’ll reach the junction for the Uncle Jim Trail; turn back here for a two-mile round trip. For families with older teens, you might consider extending the hike by taking part of the Uncle Jim route. A lollipop trail, combined with the Ken Patrick it runs 5 miles through woodland to Uncle Jim Point, a canyon overlook.
  • Widforss Trail – Walk about a half-mile through aspen groves to the North Rim’s edge for a one-mile round trip.  You’ll find that this trail is much less busy than those in the lodge area or those at the end of Cape Royal Road. The walk can be extended for several miles; if going the full length, the Widforss runs up to five miles one way with 350 feet in elevation change.

A Taneum Teaser

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The Taneum is a sprawling complex of rivers, streams, meadows, campgrounds, memorials, peaks and trails. If you’ve got the itch to explore, this is the place. The Taneum is located south of I-90 and covers the drainages of Manastash Creek and Taneum Creek (to the east) and to the west, Little and Big Creeks. Elevations range between the highest at Quartz Mountain (6,290 feet) to the lowest at 2,400 feet.

The Taneum Canyon Road is such a scenic drive you’ll be stopping for photos of wildflowers and outcroppings frequently. In May, the roads were in good condition though you’ll come to a network of gravel roads and a numbered road system including the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Green Dot Road system that can be confusing. Don’t let these complications deter you from making a visit; just follow rules, regulations, signs, and be willing to explore (you may want to leave a trail of bread-crumbs as you’ll eventually come across an unsigned road or trail junction).

The Taneum Canyon Road

Oddly enough this is an area largely ignored by hikers perhaps because trails and roads are popular with other recreational users, including motorized vehicles. It’s also a popular region for hunting, but don’t let any of this cause you to miss out on this piece of heaven. This is larch country in the fall and wildflower country in the spring. Here you will find: wildflowers, lonesome campsites, road-side memorials (including a beer-can memorial), old corrals, forgotten roads, trails and places with names that will intrigue you to venture further. I know we will return.

The land is a checkerboard of ownership by several land-management agencies including the US Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest (these boundaries are not always clearly designated). Some of the forest service roads are okay for passenger cars, others not so much. This is pick-up truck country; some of the roads are winding and narrow; drive carefully.

This place is best appreciated by going slow and exploring at a leisurely pace whether from car or on foot. The main road into the region (Taneum Canyon Road) is paved and you’ll pass several campgrounds (some official, others primitive). Once you leave the main road you’ll also come across place-names that might raise more questions than answers. Gnat Flat? Tamarack Springs? Willow Gulch? Buck Meadows? Fishook Flats? Who wouldn’t want to find out the story behind such intriguing names?

In spring and early summer hillsides glow with balsamroot and tender-green groves of deciduous trees and thickets of willows hug small streams. If you venture beyond the paved stretch of Taneum Canyon Road you’ll need some kind of map (see additional information). Though we didn’t have all the maps necessary to untangle the web of forest service roads we were still able to get to several points of interest thanks to signs placed along the way, but be sure you remember those bread-crumbs if you don’t have the maps. Always be prepared for the unexpected and explore at your own risk.

Stream Violets

Our first stop was Gooseberry Flats (signed) with primitive campsites and Gnat Flats (designated with a sign). According to locals, Gnat Flats were named thus because before it was logged there was a large stand of timber there and clouds of annoying gnats as well. Today Gnat Flats has mellowed to a lush meadow with tall grasses, wildflowers and primitive campsites near the road. There we stopped to admire the wildflowers including glacier lilies, lupine, ballhead waterleaf, the last grass widows of the season, a variety of lomatium and a few flowers we couldn’t identify.

From there we followed road signs to Tamarack Springs. Here we found a small spring, an old corral, site of a homestead and a memorial that made our hearts ache. Enclosed by a fence is a pile of stones with still-legible words carved into a stone reading “A White Womans Grave” – the site is maintained by the Skyriders Snowmobile Club. Upon further research we learned that a pioneer woman fell from her horse there long ago and was buried there.

Nearby are a few other memorials scattered about the Ponderosa pines and a weathered sign on a large Ponderosa so moss-covered and weathered the words were long gone. Trails without signs radiated out in different directions and there wasn’t enough time to pursue them. Apparently you can follow trails (unsigned) from Tamarack Springs to such enticingly named places as Ghost Meadows.

Other points of interest we found on the complicated road system included Willow Gulch, a hauntingly beautiful site with primitive campsites beside a stream with towering evergreens nearby and groves of deciduous trees in their pale-green spring dresses. The air was sweet with the scent of cottonwood trees, an ideal spot for a picnic.

Willow Gulch is a beautiful spot – a good place to picnic or enjoy the quiet and solitude.

We found Buck Meadows (not designated by a sign but obvious) by hook or crook as one might say. You used to be able to drive to Buck Meadows from Ellensburg but a major bridge has washed out across the South Fork of the Manastash River making that impossibile. However, we found our way there on the road system (most roads are numbered; not all and the Cle Elum Ranger District Trail Guide was helpful). Common sense also helped us find these pretty meadows beside the South Fork Manastash River where a causeway crosses the river (for stock, mountain bikes, hikers, motorcycles) and secluded campsites along the river.

Getting to the Taneum (from Seattle):  Take I-90 east over Snoqualmie Pass, get off I-90 at Exit 93 and turn right onto Taneum Road, cross back above the freeway and turn right onto Taneum Canyon Road. Continue past Ice Water Campground to Forest Road No. 3300 and turn left. Follow signs, your nose and curiosity!

The South Fork of the Manastash River

Trail, Road and Campgrounds Conditions (Mid-May, 2013) according to the Cle Elum Ranger District (conditions change weekly):

  • Forest Service Road No. 31 (at Buck Meadows) will not be repaired this year, hopefully next.
  • Forest Service Road No.3100 Manastash Road is open and snow free to Buck Meadows but the bridge is out – you can’t get to Shoestring Trail or Frost Meadows from that road.
  • Forest Service Road No. 3120 is open.
  • Forest Service Road No. 3300 – open to wheeled vehicles.
  • Forest Service Road No. 3330 (Gnat Flat) is open, snow-free
  • Trails: Fishhook Flat Trail No. 1378, open to motorized used
  • Frost Mountain Trail No. 1366 – Status unknown
  • Gooseberry Flat – Status unknown
  • Hoyt Mine Trail No. 1347 – status unknown
  • North Fork Taneum Trail – open to motorized vehicles only to Lightning Point Trail
  • Taneum Ridge Trail No. 1363 – open to motorized vehicles, maintained to Fishhook Flats
  • 4W311 Buck Meadows – Open to motorized vehicles

Additional Information:  We advise displaying both the Northwest Forest Pass and the Discovery Pass since land-management agencies are not clearly defined.

An off-road vehicle map (ORV) map is also available at the Cle Elum Ranger District. Call the Cle Elum Ranger District at 509-852-1100 for more up-to-date information on roads, campgrounds and trails. Better yet, stop by and pick up a copy of the Cle Elum Ranger District Trail Guide in Cle Elum (or REI) and maps for the region.

You can also get road/trail reports from Washington Trails Association.

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