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Meander Meadow Trip Report

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Meander Meadow

The hike up to Meander Meadow offers incredible mountain views, beautiful fields of wildflowers and lots of wildlife, making it worth the total lack of trail maintenance for those willing to deal with some bushwhacking and lots of scrapes.

The trail begins at a slight incline through thick brush with lots of berry bushes and flowers. It’s very dense and for about half the hike you can’t even see your feet. It opens up into wooded areas a few times on the first 3-4 mile stretch. The second wooded area is where we set up camp the first night. While we were initially planning on sleeping in the car at the trailhead and starting the hike in the morning, we got there with a couple hours of daylight to spare and decided to get a jump on it. While this worked out okay, there aren’t a lot of great camping spots until you reach the meadow, because the wooded areas are very densely treed – but we made it work.

Meander Meadow

There seems to be a large bear population in this area, which is no surprise based on the amount of berries. While we didn’t see any, we saw plenty of scat, and there was something outside of our tent making very bear-like noises. Needless to say we didn’t get a ton of sleep. There is also a lot of mosquitoes in this area, so make sure to bring bear spray and bug spray.

Meander MeadowThe next morning, we continued our journey towards the steep uphill section of the hike that leads to the meadow. Most of the morning was similar terrain to the night before and then, right before you start making the assent, you reach a meadow that has tons of wildflowers and hummingbirds.

The next section was definitely the part you need to cut out the longest chunk of day for. While it’s only about a mile and a half of steep incline, you gain almost all of the approximately 2,400 feet during this time. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if it was in the seventies, but the nearly hundred-degree weather wasn’t ideal for this much uphill, especially when it’s your first backpacking trip of the season. It’s definitely exhausting, but the scenery is incredible: it’s much more lush and green than I expected. The whole way up there are breathtaking views of the mountain range behind you that keeps getting more impressive as you continue the trip. You cross a couple very small steams, but there are not a lot of significant water sources until you reach the meadow, so I would fill up wherever possible.

Meander Meadow

Finally, after the long, exhausting journey, the trail opens up to one of the coolest places I have ever seen. Meander Meadow is super green this time of year, and the hills around it form sort of a bowl. There is a beautiful stream, which was very welcome on this hot day, and several trails you can explore in the area, as well. You can also make this trip a loop if you want to by continuing on to Cady Ridge to the left, which is a 16-mile loop, versus 12.5 miles if you do it as an out and back.

After exploring the area a little more, we made some dinner near our campsite. The Air Force decided to put on a little air show for us, with five jets flying right above the meadow, which was definitely an awesome bonus. There are several camping spots in the meadow that are nice and flat and a make-shift toilet a short walk from the campsites.

The next day we hiked out in about half the time it took us to get there, because it was all downhill.

For people looking for a difficult but satisfying weekend (or day) hike, this is definitely worth your time, but it’s not a hike you want to go into expecting groomed trails or gradual inclines; and, if you have a problem with the constant buzz of bugs in your ears, this is probably not your type of hike. Meander MeadowBetween the probably 100 mosquito bites we both had and the scrapes all over our legs and arms from plowing through the brush, we weren’t looking too good by the time we made it back, but it was certainly an experience, and the area is absolutely stunning.

Directions to trailhead: From Leavenworth, travel west on US 2 for 15 miles. Take a right onto State Route 207 and continue 4.2 miles to a Y intersection. Take a left at the Y onto North Shore Road. After 7.6 miles, the road becomes Forest Road 65. Continue another 14 miles to the trailhead.

Shades of Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail

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Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail 11
Wonderland Trail
The many views of Mount Rainier from the Wonderland Trail

I felt fortunate when I won the National Park Service lottery to hike the 90-miles (plus) around Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail. However, by day three of an eight day trek, I was wondering how I landed on this trail. While the trail offers some amazing vistas, long days and steep terrain make you pay for every spectacular view.

The trail experienced a rough winter, and trees cover many of the trails while high, fast rivers destroyed several critical bridges. The northern leg of the trail from the Carbon River campsite to Ipsut Falls has been particularly hard hit. The bridge over the fast moving Cataract Creek is out and the Carbon River campsite is under construction. When I passed through the area, there were several groups of confused trekkers who had not been told about the detour by the Park Rangers.

Wonderland Trail
Downed trees obscure the trail near the Carbon River campsite. Photo by Sheri Goodwin.
Wonderland Trail
Fast moving glacial rivers threaten to wash away bridges. Photo by dutch.
Wonderland Trail
Bridges on the Mowich River were knocked out this winter. Trekkers must ford nearly half the river now. Photo by Sheri Goodwin.

The trail now looks like a Jurassic park, with the hot weather making the undergrowth grow wild and obscure or completely cover the trail in some areas. The downed trees makes it look like a herd of brontosauruses have migrated through the area, and, when you are hiking up your second 3000 foot hill of the day, it will seem like you are walking up the backs of the same brontosauruses. According to Park Rangers, the hot weather has also made the wild flowers bloom in late June instead of July/August. So, if you have planned your trek through Spray Park in August to see the wild flowers, you may be disappointed.

Wonderland Trail
Shorecrest graduates from right to left Nate Gniffke, Cory Henderson, Tristan LaPoint, and father Damon LaPoint take a summer trip on the Wonderland Trail. “The trail will make you cry, but be sure to save your tears for water… you will need them later,” said Gniffke.
Wonderland Trail
Unseasonable heat made the wild flowers bloom early this year. Photo by Sheri Goodwin.

What you will see on the trail is a 360 degree view of Rainier in all its majestic glory. The mountain seems to change before your eyes; providing shadows and colors that will captivate the viewer. Just when you think you have seen everything the mountain has to offer, you’ll turn a corner and, wham-o, another one-of-a-kind postcard view will hit you in the face… along with a branch from a fallen tree.

Wonderland Trail
Patrol Cabin at Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground. Photo by dutch.

Like any long trek, the enjoyment of the experience is often in equal proportion to the research conducted before you go. Where to stay, how long will it take to get there, where the good water is, and what the mosquitoes are like are all questions that can make or break a trip. The tips below are designed to help in this research phase of your planning; hopefully, they will make you more prepared for what you’ll find on the Wonderland Trail than I was.

Wonderland Trail
The Wonderland Trail offers many dramatic views; here a suspension bridge over the Tahoma Creek provides a breathtaking scene. Photo by dutch.

 

Tips for trekking Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail

1. Decide if this trek is an endurance test, or if you want to take your time and enjoy the experience and many beautiful campsites. This may be the most important decision of your trip. Many of the campsites are in amazing locations with side hikes that will take you off the Wonderland Trail to some incredible areas. However, if you are moving all day and getting to the campsite late, you will probably not feel like enjoying the additional opportunities the trail provides.

2. Adjust your trekking millage calculator. Park Rangers will tell you that your normal walking pace and daily millage will be greatly reduced on the Wonderland Trail. This phenomenon is mostly due to the steep terrain and under-appreciating how long it takes to go up and down very steep slopes. The heat is the other x-factor that will slow you down more than you know. Rangers say that people routinely underestimate the heat, need for water and the physical endurance to climb thousands of feet every day.

Wonderland Trail
The Wonderland Trail will challenge you with many different types of terrain and obstacles. Photo by Sheri Goodwin.

3. Manage your level of pain. The faster you do the trail, the more difficult the trail is. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. A 7-day trek will include several 15 mile days (hard days on the trail); an 8-day trek will have no 15 mile days, but will have several 10-12 mile days. While a 13-day trek will average about seven miles a day. The Green Trails Wonderland Trail Map #269S gives a profile of the elevation gain and loss for the entire trail – valuable information. A good rule of thumb is that a 10 mile or longer day will take you over two ridges; this could mean a 7000+ foot elevation gain and loss in a single day. In her definitive book on the trail, Hiking the Wonderland Trail, Tami Asars says the 90 mile plus loop covers over 22,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. Think wisely about how you want to break-up that 22,000 foot evaluation.

4. Prepare for all types of weather and account for our trending warmer weather and how that effects how you feel, how fast you move and your ability to find water. There are significant sections of the trail without shade, where you will get direct heat from the sun and reflected heat from the rock. Also be ready for rain, heavy winds and possible snow… Rainier makes its own weather, and you never know.

Wonderland Trail
Trail above Sunrise campsite, the morning started hot with temperatures reaching the 90s. The next day brought thunder and lightning showers. Photo by Sheri Goodwin.

5. Cache Food. I did an 8-day trip and carried all my food. I’m not an over packer, and the only frivolous items I brought were a Chuck Palahniuk novel (I would argue this is not frivolous) and a hammock I didn’t use. My pack weighed 50 pounds with water; I carried 3 quarts of water. The rest of my pack contained items to account for #4 above, and I used all the items. For trips longer than 8-days, I would recommend caching food at the Ranger Stations along the way. The Park website and Tami’s book give detailed instructions for doing this. Caching does require more planning and time, but it’s worth it for longer trips.

6. Stay away from Mowich Campground, Nickel Creek, Devils Dream and Klapatche Park campsites. Mowich is like setting up a tent in a gravel parking lot, and it’s open to non-Wonderland Trail campers on a first-come, first-serve biases. This means that you could arrive exhausted late in the afternoon and find yourself squeezed between screaming babies and partying college kids on a gravel patch. Nickel Creek is just a closed patch in the forest, no views, small sites and a good hike to the water source. Devils Dream is infested with aggressive mosquitos. I did not stay in Devils Dream, I walked through it quickly (okay, I ran), and still got over a dozen bites. These mosquitos are crazy. Klapatche Park is on Aurora Lake. The lake is dying and drying out; the Rangers recommend not getting water from the lake, because several people have gotten sick from a water source in the area that they suspect is Aurora Lake. The only other water source in the area is St. Andrew’s Lake. St. Andrew’s is beautiful and a great swimming hole, but it’s almost a mile from the Klapatche campsite. The last thing you want to do at the end of a long day is walk two miles to fetch water.

7. Indian Bar is beautiful and, if you stay at Golden Lake and grab campsite four, one of the best camp spots on the trail.

Wonderland Trail
Sunrise over the Tahoma Creek, early starts will mean cooler trekking temperatures and get you into camp early with time to explore. Make sure to plan your water resupply along the way. Photo by dutch.

8. Plan your water sources wisely when you hike. The warmer weather has been drying up some normal watering holes and, if you take water from one of the sediment filled glacier rivers, it will clog your water filter, and a Steripen won’t clean the dirt out of the water. Ask fellow trekkers you met along the way for the most current information on good water sources.

9. One of the best ideas I heard on the trail was from a young lady that was hiking the whole trail, but with family and friends stage hiking different legs of the trail with her. Her stage hiking friends would meet her at a campsite, bring food and goodies, and hike a day or two with her until she met the next stage hiking friend. This seemed like pure genius to me: it kept her motivated to see new friends, she didn’t have to carry all her food and it let her friends and family experience a part of the trail with her. Awesome idea!

10. If you are not compelled to walk 90 miles… don’t. Stay at the Longmire Lodge and drive the loop, parking at different trail heads. Most of the great views of Rainier and the wild flowers that you see along the Wonderland Trail are accessible from trailheads as day hikes.

Trip Report: Camp Muir, Mount Rainier

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Camp Muir

Planning a trek up the Big One – Mount Rainier – gets my adrenaline pumping the minute I start packing my backpack.

My husband and I hit the road before sunset last weekend and headed to Ashford, WA, a quaint town just outside of the Nisqually Entrance into Mount Rainier National Park. Camp MuirWe were excited to do one of our favorite mountaineering day treks, Camp Muir. Nothing is more exhilarating than taking on this glaciated peak in one day on a 8.4 mile out-and-back that climbs 4,660 to a high-altitude camp above the Muir Snowfield situated on Mount Rainier’s south side at 10,080 ft. (Just about two miles from the mountain’s crown.) Camp Muir is a popular base camp for climbers and day hiking destination with an alpine mountaineering experience.

We arrived at Paradise at 8:00 am – early enough before the parking lot became packed. Paradise attracts more visitors than any other place in the park, so it’s important to get there as early as possible.

All geared up, we walked towards the Grande John Muir Steps, hitting the trailhead around 8:30am. We took the Skyline Trail and had incredible views of wildflower meadows, rumbling creeks and, of course, Mount Rainier. We even saw resident marmots and deer enjoying nature and were able to get some great photos of them. The initial part of the Skyline Trail is wide and paved, then it changes to rocky paths with narrow areas. The Skyline Trail traverses a small ridge, offering terrific views of Nisqually Glacier on one side and a large alpine meadow on the other. You will reach signs pointing to Pebble Creek and Camp Muir, then pass through Pebble Creek at about 2 miles where you’ll see the knob of McClure Rock on your right.

Camp Muir

Upon reaching Pebble Creek and carefully traversing the hopscotch rocks that divide the trail from the edge of the snowfield, you get a glimpse of the vastness and matchlessness of the Camp Muir hike. Typically, this is where the snowfields begin; however, with the ongoing heat we’ve had this summer, it has caused the snow line to be much higher than normal. We didn’t use crampons or poles and were just fine in our mountaineering boots, but they may be something you consider bringing, being there is more rock hiking than usual.

The official ‘visible’ NPS trail ends near 7,300 feet and is then marked with thin poles and pieces of colored duct tape when the snowfields start. Most people choose to make their own way up, staying near the poles, as you will find with footprints. Depending on the day you go, the snowfield will be dotted with dozens of figures, including those planning on summiting to the top with guides. It’s very important to wear eye protection and keep sunscreen and lip protectant handy, as the sun can be fierce. Even if it’s cloudy you can get burned.

When we were about halfway through the snowfield, we heard several apocalyptic cracks and rumbles from the nearby glaciers. As the sun and the rising temperatures reach the glaciers, the crevasses open wider and create those uncertain tremors through the air. At about 9,000 feet, Camp Muir comes into view and looks close, yet is still a ways away –- the last 250 feet, marked by a rocky ridge to your right, will feel never-ending!

Camp Muir

Approaching Base Camp

When you approach Camp Muir, you will head up some stone steps and join many others. This is an accomplishment in itself! Base camp has the feeling of a small village with lots of friendly hikers and mountaineers who just came down from summiting. We spent 45 minutes sitting high alongside Mount Rainier’s glaciers, while enjoying our lunch. We packed extra layers because it’s usually cooler, however, this time, t-shirts and shorts were comfortable. Enjoy the breathtaking views of hanging glaciers, massive seracs, wide crevasses and thundering rock fall. Be sure to take photos! It was so clear that we were able to see Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson.

Camp Muir

On the way down – glissade!

We packed up our bags and put on our rain gear, eager for the addicting thrill of sliding 2.2 miles down Rainier back to Pebble Creek. It makes you feel like a kid again and cuts the descent time in half! However, this trip, there were only a few chutes where we were in a comfortable sitting glissade. If you plan to slide, be sure to bring a plastic bag, or at least a change of pants. We use roll up sleds that work great. Be mindful of the direction, as you don’t want to veer off to the right. As you descend, you will notice the wind gradually drops, and you will most likely be removing layers by the time you get back to Pebble Creek. I couldn’t take enough pictures of the sun angles hitting longer rays, making the view of Mount Rainer even more beautiful.

Overall, our mountaineering trek was fantastic, as always, and the warmer temps changing the snow line added some pizzazz to our trip.

Camp Muir

Best Camping Spots in Washington

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In Washington, great places to camp are nearly endless. But it’s summertime, which means you’re going to want to make the most of every weekend. This article gives you some of the best camping spots in Washington to add to your shortlist, so that every night out this summer can be totally epic.

Sahale Glacier Camp – North Cascades National Park

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Sunrise at Sahale

This just might be one of the best camping spots anywhere. The camp is situated atop 3 piles of glacial rubble at the toe of Sahale Glacier. Stone rings protect you from the wind. Goats often come for a visit. And the views! An ocean of jagged summits spread out before you… oh, and the toilet has the best view in the state.

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Camped at Sahale Glacier Camp

 

Isolation Lake – Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Isolation Lake

Hiking up Aasgard Pass with a big pack is no picnic, but once you get up, Isolation Lake is there, waiting. This is a land of rocks and ice. The serrated peaks cut the sky, and the crystal-pure, icy-cold lakes beckon. The images of this visit will stay imprinted in your brain.

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Camp at Isolation Lake

 

Lakeview Ridge, Pasayten Wilderness

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Jack Mountain from Lakeview Ridge

This is one of the highest points along the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington, located just south of the Canadian border. The hike in is sublime; from the trailhead at Slate Peak, you will meander up Rock Pass and shoot through Woody Pass onto the Ridge. Covered with wildflowers and affording views in every direction, you’ll have a hard time leaving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Point of the Arches

Camping on the beach is always awesome: the ocean breeze, the sound of the birds, the feel of the sand in between your toes, a fire at night. Point of the Arches has it all: surreal sea stacks jutting out of the Pacific, tide pools filled with critters and unbelievable sunsets.

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Sunset at Point of the Arches

 

Snow Grass Flats, Goat Rocks Wilderness

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Mount Adams and PCT

If you want to have it all, this is the place to come camp. Endless meadows carpeted with wildflowers, views of both Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, great camping spots and… what else is there? From the Snow Grass Flats trailhead hike up, up, up – the higher you camp, the better the views. Don’t miss a visit to the Knife’s Edge, it’s close by.

Best Camping Spots in Washington
Snow Grass Flats

Happy Ridge Trail

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Happy Ridge Trail

I recently took a 3 day backpacking trip along one of Olympic National Parks’ little hiked ridge trails. The Happy Lake Ridge Trail is one of those hikes that can be as much or as little as you want it to be. For a day hiker, it can be a short hike of up to 4 miles each way. For a long loop hiker or backpacker, it’s about 15.2 miles.

Up the Elwha River Road, you will find the remnants of the Glines Canyon Dam. Above the old dam was Lake mills, which is now just a portion of the Elwha River since the Glines Canyon Dam was removed. Stop and see the overlook on your way to the trailhead. It is worth the stop.

Happy Ridge Trail

Once you pass the old dam, you go on up the Boulder Creek Road to the trailhead just a couple miles past the dam. A small pull-off on the side of the road is all you’ll see, as the trailhead sign has been severely damaged. The trail and a very hard climb begins here.

This is not a trail for the hiker who is not in good shape. The trail goes uphill continuously through deep evergreen forests for about 3,900’ in about 3.5 miles. There is no water along the way, so you need to pack a lot along with you.

Along the trail you pass through an open area of bright green Vanilla Leaf that covers all the ground you can see. Other areas are very dry with manzanita and Madrona. As you approach the summit of the trail, you begin to enter the sub-alpine forests, which are more open, allowing views of the surrounding mountains and the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

Happy Ridge Trail

Remember to stop and look around as you struggle to catch your breath near the top of the steep climb, as a beautiful view of the Dungeness Spit on the Straits comes open to the North. If it’s a clear enough day, you can see across the Straits to Vancouver Island. Further along the ridge, you’ll see Mount Appleton and, beyond that, the magnificent Mount Olympus with at least 3 glaciers exposed.

Many people will stop and return to their cars after a very tough endurance testing climb to the ridge, only to face it again downhill. This will certainly put your knees to the test. Others will continue along the ridge to the turnoff to Happy Lake. This trail drops down about 500’ to a beautiful placid lake. It’s a great place to take a dip and wash off some of the sweat you will undoubtedly have worked up on the climb.

There is a very nice open area right at the base of the trail, but if you scout around, you will find some very nice campsites as well. At this elevation in the Olympics there are no fires allowed, so plan on bringing a stove if you camp here. I found no bear wire to hang food, but there are trees on which you can put up a line to get food bags up in the air.

Happy Ridge Trail

Beyond Happy Lake is a beautiful ridge hike. The trail is not well-maintained, as so few people traverse it. Lots of brush and plants spread over the trail, which tends to slow you down and, for me, makes me watch my steps, so as not to step in one of the many mountain beaver holes.

Many parts of the trail are open with large areas of bear grass full on with blooms at this time of year. Occasionally, you will walk through heather meadows and along huckleberry patches, which will be laden with fruit in late August and September.

Happy Ridge Trail

Eventually you will come to an intersection with a trail that leads along Aurora Ridge, which is another seldom used trail. Keep left here and follow the trail towards Boulder Lake. As you approach the lake, it will come into view down the hill to your left. The trail drops about 500’ to the lake.

This is a location where you will be thrust back into civilization, as many people frequent it. It’s a good camping area with a bear wire and several large campsites. Since this area was closed throughout the dam demolition, you will see many large trout in the lake, so bring your pole.

Happy Ridge Trail

The hike down from Boulder Lake to the Olympic Hotsprings is very pretty and had many large old growth trees. However, the last stretch of “trail” back to the Boulder Lake Trailhead is along an old abandoned road, which is either a transition back to civilization, or a sad way to end an otherwise beautiful hike. Either way, once you get back to the Olympic Hotsprings trailhead, you will still have a distance of about 1.5 miles back down the road to your car.

Iron Horse Trail: A Trail Report with Three Secrets, Flaky Crust and Fruit Filling

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Catch the dramatic views and falls from the middle of the Boetzke Creek Trestle Bridge.  Photo by Sheri Goodwin.

Sometimes hiking in the Pacific Northwest is about pie… yes pie.

In an effort to shake off the cobwebs of winter and get ready for an early summer trek around Mount Rainier on the 90 mile Wonderland Trail, I have been doing weekly hikes in the wilds within an hour of Seattle. This weekend’s training hike took me to the Iron Horse Trail and down to Twin Falls. Although this is not a particularly difficult hike from an elevation point of view, it did provide the distance I was looking for as I ramp-up to daily 12-14 mile legs for the Wonderland.

Iron Horse Trail
Restrooms and the trailhead are clean and well maintained. Photo by Sheri Goodwin.

The Iron Horse Trail is a wide, well-maintained trail and is good for families or chatting friends that want to walk four abreast. The trail is also a good, flat ride for mountain bikers or kids just learning to pedal. There are several ways to get to Twin Falls, but if you want a worthy effort, take exit 32 just east of North Bend and follow Cedar Falls Road for approximately 3 miles like you’re going to Rattle Snake Lake.

Now here is secret #1… the day I went, the Rattle Snake Lake parking area was full, and cars were lined up along the road; however, just past the Rattle Snake Lake parking area on the other side of the road was the nearly empty Iron Horse parking lot with immaculately clean restrooms.

The Pacific Northwest Railroad Boom and Bust

Iron Horse Trail
Silk arriving from China in western ports was transported by rail to eastern manufacturing centers. Photo by Sheri Goodwin.
Iron Horse Trail
Snow in the passes had to be cleared by members of the snow gang. Photo by Sheri Goodwin.

The Iron Horse Trail is just a short jaunt from the parking area and will take you 4.5 miles (9 round trip) to Twin Falls, crossing the scenic Boetzke Creek Trestle Bridge.

Ready for secret #2… read about the history of the railroad before hitting the trail. The Iron Horse Trail is part of the old Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad line that operated from 1908 – 1980 and played a major role in the economic development of the area and the Far East silk trade. The trail now extends more than 100 miles from Cedar Falls to the Columbia River. I didn’t read the historical material at the trailhead until I came back, and the hike was diminished because of it. Read the material and then imagine the big iron horses forging the wild Pacific Northwest and 100 man snow crews clearing mountain track in the dead of winter. You can almost hear the voices.

On the Trail

Iron Horse Trail
Trailhead distance sign to Twin Falls and other destinations. Photo by Sheri Goodwin.
Iron Horse Trail
Catch the dramatic views and falls from the middle of the Boetzke Creek Trestle Bridge. Photo by Sheri Goodwin.
Iron Horse Trail
Trails are wide and well maintained, great for group hikes and mountain biking. Photo by Sheri Goodwin.

The trail to the falls branches off of the Iron Horse Trail at around the 3.6 mile mark. The Twin Falls trail is .9 miles and is a fairly steep mix of rock, dirt and stairs. At the bottom of the hill, the trail opens into beautiful forests and the falls can be heard rushing just ahead of you. If you brought lunch, there are some good benches on the trail or comfy spots just off the trail. Be careful of the chipmunks, they want lunch, too, and they’re wicked fast. The falls are majestic, cooling after a hard hike and well worth the effort to get to them.

Iron Horse Trail
Stairs and bridges lead the way to Twin Falls viewpoints. Photo by Sheri Goodwin

After the Hike

For me, hiking the Great Northwest is more than the breath taking views and literally breath-taking exercise, it’s also about seeing and spending time in the small communities that often surround our national treasures.

So, here is secret #3… on the way back to I-90 from the Iron Horse, you have to stop at the Riverbend Café for the homemade pies. I can’t tell you anything about the rest of the menu, because as soon as I stepped into the restaurant I saw and smelled the pies, and I wanted nothing else. Yes, I am one of those people that think desert is the whole point of the meal, but, even if you aren’t like me, you’ll appreciate the warm flaky crust that melts in your mouth and the fresh Washington fruit filling. I got mine a la Mode, but the pie is so good it can stand alone on the plate. I simply can’t tell you the last time I had pie this good. Coupled with a good cup of coffee and a friendly staff, the Riverbend Café is a must after a long day on the Iron Horse Trail.

Iron Horse Trail
Don’t miss the great pie and friendly atmosphere of the Riverbend Café. Photo by Sheri Goodwin.

Resources

Riverbend Café
14303 436th Ave SE
North Bend, WA

Washington Parks Iron Horse website: (http://www.parks.wa.gov/521/Iron-Horse)

Hiking Hawaii’s Puna Trail

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Puna Trail

The Big Island of the Hawaiian Islands has many rich and magnificent hiking trails. On the Windward, or east, side of the island is a famous trail called the Puna Trail. Recently, I had the privilege of walking the trail and experiencing some of Hawaii’s natural and historic beauty.

The trail is 2.5 miles long and leads down an ancient path first created by original Hawaiian settlers. Along the path you will see remnants of the historic walls of stacked stone first built as a part of a wall ring that surrounds the entire island. Although many parts of the wall are now collapsing or have been removed by settlers, many sections still remain, as do parts of the original ring trail.

Puna Trail

This trail is relatively flat and wide as it had been cut into the jungle and widened into a roadway some years ago as access for local villages during the 1800s. Now, all the villages along the trail are gone, but the trail is still maintained as a pathway for all to enjoy. This is a historically significant site, so walkers are expected to stay on the mostly lava flow path and to not disturb any of the adjoining significant areas.

The trail begins at a parking lot, which is frequently closed and locked. This doesn’t deter the many visitors who travel to this area to experience the jungle, the trail and the amazing shoreline. There are open field areas, deep wet jungle portions and newly opened areas destroyed by a hurricane that passed over Hawaii in recent years. In these open areas, many flowers and fast growing plants are quickly reclaiming it as jungle. Vines climb over dense pockets of fallen trees making them look like green waves in the sparsely growing remaining trees. Coconut palms of all ages abound in areas closest to the beach, while figs and banyan trees fill all the open space in the dense jungle. New coconut palms sprout from recently dropped fruits, sending roots quickly into the shallow lava rock soils.

Along the way, if you know what to look for, you will see wild pig wallows and places they dig with noses and feet to uproot the grubs and roots they eat. You can see footprints in the wet muddy puddles as you walk through the forest. Locals still hunt them here with dogs and knives, not guns.

Near the end of the trail, there remains a different type of historical monument. A World War II concrete bunker appears mostly buried in jungle vines now. Gun slits are visible along the seaward side where men in the War looked out over the oceans waiting to see Japanese vessels approaching. You can imagine the threat these men felt after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, not many miles away.

Puna Trail

Just beyond the bunker you get your first look at the ocean you have been hearing for some time as you walked. Open lava flows lead you to vertical black rock cliffs along the shore. Waves pound the rocks sending salt spray up over you as you look on in awe of the power they exert on the rocks. Brave local divers jump off the walls into the ocean to hunt reef fish with Hawaiian slings to have for dinner or maybe to make Poke – a raw fish and vegetable dish. I wouldn’t survive if I tried to enter these waters not knowing the safe and proper ways to deal with the massive waves and rough seas here.

Once you reach the end of this trail, you emerge at a beautiful crystal clear turquoise lagoon. You just can’t wait to get into this cool clear water. As you wade in, something catches your eye in the water. Is it a shark? Many of the local waters have large tiger sharks near shore. No, not this time. Puna TrailWhat reveals itself on the surface is a large sea turtle, or what the locals call a Honu. These huge beautiful and very graceful animals are honored in local culture and are not disturbed. It is an amazing experience to swim alongside one of them knowing how old some get to be even under the harsh conditions they face daily from tiger sharks and some ruthless or stupid humans.

If you carry in mask, fins and snorkel, you will get to see many types of colorful fish in the lagoon. Do be careful of the circular flow and currents in the water. Some will carry you out of the opening to the lagoon into the open ocean. As mentioned earlier, it’s very tough to get back up on the steep rock cliffs if you’re inexperienced.

Right behind the lagoon is a huge privately owned residence with a large fresh water pond that is also a release and sanctuary for the Hawaiian Nene goose, the state bird. This smallish goose has been largely depleted by hunters, loss of habitat and the release of non-native mongoose on the island. Conservationists are working to release many birds back into the wild in hopes of replenishing their numbers.

If you decide to go to the Big Island, and if you are up for something a little more strenuous than sipping Mai Tais, I would recommend this easy trail for a great picnic lunch on a great beach after a nice easy walk through the jungle. Don’t worry, you can always bring the Mai Tais along in a plastic bottle.

Puna Trail

Mailbox Peak via the Old Trail: Trip Report

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New Mailbox on Mailbox Peak

Mailbox Peak

A trip up Mailbox Peak via the Old Trail (7.3 miles roundtrip) – another hike checked off the bucket list. The views from Mailbox are phenomenal, but you will pay for them. Ascending via the Old Trail is essentially a 2.6-mile scramble over an exposed root system with 4000 feet elevation gain; certainly a tough hike that is extremely steep, challenging and perfect if you are looking for a killer burn or training to summit taller mountains, like Mt. Rainier or Mt. Baker. We loved it, and plan on doing the hike many more times!

Mailbox PeakWe arrived at the parking lot around 8am, planning to beat the crowds; however, the trailhead was starting to get busy. There are two parking lots that can be confusing, but both will get you to the trailhead. The trailheads (New Trail and Old Trail) are located through the gated road. If you’re planning to do the Old Trail, you’ll continue past the trailhead for the New Trail up the road for a few minutes, then you’ll see the trailhead for the Old Trail on the left with warning signs and advisories from Search & Rescue and the King County Sheriff. Take a minute to read them.

The trail starts off in the sheltering forest with tiny switchbacks (basically straight up) and continues like this for about two thirds of the way. There’s a tree blown down that you have to duck under near the beginning of the trail and one or two more that are easy to climb over. Otherwise, the main condition of the Old Trail is just straight up with lots of roots to climb over. It’s very easy to feel like you’re lost, since there isn’t a defined trail anywhere. Look for the white diamond reflectors on the trees; they will keep you on track. Mailbox PeakThere’s a blue “sign” on a tree to look forward to at 1000’ vertical feet from the creek. It took us about 30 minutes to get to this point from the trailhead.

The tiny switchbacks eventually fade out, and the trail is immediately taken over with a moderate-to-severe grade incline of tree roots. There is no defined trail, just lots of stepping over roots. Use the roots to your advantage, as they give you something to grab onto as you’re climbing up!

 

You’ll then start exiting the forest and merging with the New Trail. There’s even a small portion of intersection. Turn left and prepare for a tough final push to the top. This is a great time to hydrate and eat something. The last half-mile is pretty much a scramble, as the trail steeply climbs the ridge over a tangle of roots and rocks. Not far from the junction, you’ll emerge from the trees to see the Mailbox Peakexposed summit in the distance. Press upward and follow the train of people over rock and loose soil to the mailbox. The views are unbelievable!

The 4822 ft summit is amazing. There is a brand new mailbox that is already stuffed full of random ‘treasures.’ Make sure to sign your name in the log book. We could see Mount Si, Teneriffe, Defiance, Bandera and even Iron Horse Trail. You’ll get breathtaking views of the valley and all the way to the city. Rainier is right in your face. Take a few minutes to sit down for a well-deserved rest and fuel break. We reached the summit at just over 2 hours.

To save our knees, we headed down the New Trail (4.7 miles), which is a very well built and well-graded trail. It was also deceiving, not having any idea how far we’d gone, because we didn’t come up this way. Down was a bit faster than up, and we made it back to the parking lot in a little over an hour and a half. Overall, this was a fantastic training hike and we plan on repeating the adventure many times!Mailbox Peak

Hike to Deep Creek Canyon

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Photo by Kodi Clary
Deep Creek Canyon
Photo by Kodi Clary

Bowl and Pitcher is one of the more well-known areas of Spokane for people who enjoy spending time outdoors, and for good reason. Unique rock outcroppings, a suspension bridge that crosses the Spokane River and a fairly easy trail system makes Bowl and Pitcher perfect for families and casual day hikers. What many people in the Spokane area haven’t seemed to have discovered is a spot about ten minutes away from Bowl and Pitcher called Deep Creek Canyon. Deep Creek is similar in its interesting rock formations, but is far less crowded and provides a unique perspective of the area, as you can walk through the mostly-dry creek bed, looking up at the basalt canyon walls.

Deep Creek Canyon
Photo by Paul Clary

Since discovering Deep Creek about a year ago, I have been back fairly regularly with friends, family and my dog. On the approximately five-mile loop (depending on which route you take), we normally run in to two or three other groups of people, mostly consisting of climbers scaling the approximately 200 foot canyon walls.

While there are several ways to explore the area, and a couple of different trail options, I prefer taking trail #25 one direction and walking through the canyon on the way back, as it provides the most unique views and varied landscapes.

From the parking lot, begin your hike on a road-like trail for about half a mile before reaching the trailhead on your left. The trail then leads you down into the canyon where you cross it and head up the opposite side. The incline is fairly gradual and most of the hike is moderate and would be doable for most hikers. The trail on this side of the canyon winds up through a wooded area surrounded by Ponderosa pines and then opens up, providing spectacular views of the canyon. As you wind your way through mounds of broken up basalt, traveling between wooded areas and more open sections, there are plenty of places to explore and climb, and lookouts to see various views of the canyon and the Spokane River. Then you begin to gradually descend towards the Centennial Trail. Deep Creek CanyonThe two trails meet just above the river at a spot that is perfect for taking a swim or letting your dog play in the water before continuing back. There is also a picnic area in the shade of a huge tree that is perfect for climbing. From here, you can hike up the other side of the canyon or through it to get back to the parking lot. Having taken both routes, I would highly recommend hiking through the canyon.

Deep Creek was formed, like many areas in the Columbia Basin, as a result of the combination of basalt lava floods millions of years ago and the Great Missoula Flood. The resulting landscape makes you feel like you’re on the set of Jurassic Park. With the combination of smooth, round rocks lining the bottom of the creek bed and the jagged, basalt walls surrounding you, it’s hard to believe you are only a few miles outside the city limits.

Deep Creek Canyon
Photo by Grant Vissers

While it would be easy to take a whole day exploring this area, Deep Creek is a great hike to do after work or when you have a couple hours to spare. Its close proximity to town, moderate inclines and beautiful landscape make it the perfect place to get away from your busy life and enjoy the outdoors without having to set aside a whole day to do so.

Directions to the Trail:

Take Highway 291 north from Francis and turn left onto Lowell Ave, which turns in to Seven Mile Road. Turn right onto N State Park Drive and follow it until it leads to a parking lot.

Wildflowers and Waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge

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Flower

Columbia Gorge

I’m an impatient hiker; I don’t care for the long wait till the snow melts and flowers bloom in the high country. When the first warm sunlight of spring breaks through the rain clouds of winter, I want to hit the trail, and not the dim forest paths to which I have been restricted throughout the winter. To get my fix of open air, wide views, flowers, falls and bright sunshine there is but one destination that beckons: the Columbia Gorge.

Columbia Gorge
The towering mass of the Coyote Wall as seen from the trailhead

The great flower gardens of the gorge begin with the imposing Coyote Wall, an immense palisade of black basalt. Despite its grim and impassable appearance, the ascent to the flower strewn prairies atop it is amazingly relaxed. From the clearly marked Coyote Wall trailhead located along Courtney road just off Highway 14 a few miles east of White Salmon, an abandoned stretch of the old highway rises above Look Lake where osprey fish to feed their offspring waiting on a nearby power pole. Hanging gardens and trees hide among the cliffs above as you navigate through fallen rocks and encroaching plants where nature is inexorably reclaiming the old road. The cliffs are eventually left behind and an open gate in an ancient, rusted fence line beckons you into the meadows. Now a dizzying array of trails confront you, tempting you at every junction. None are marked and no marking is needed; this is a landscape that encourages you to follow your feet without need for a definite destination.

Columbia GorgeThis is a country shaped by the wind. Atop the Coyote Wall, the trees are bent and twisted from the whistling gales that are funneled and concentrated to howling fury by the gorge. Below, parasailers skirt the water as the wind hurries them along. Above, birds of prey ride the updrafts that swirl from the pockets, folds and cliffs, swooping so low that you can almost reach out and touch them.

As you start up the trail, the Coyote Wall is to the left. To the right is the “Little Maui” trail, which ascends through fragrant gardens and small copses of oak and maple trees. Halfway up, it passes tiny Maui Falls after intersecting a path to the labyrinth. This is a less discernible trail, and is more difficult to reach, yet worth the effort as it winds its way through lumpy hills of volcanic debris.

These trails can loop together or can link further east to the Catherine Creek trail. Catherine Creek is perhaps a more well-known trailhead here, with an astonishing variety of spring wildflowers. On a weekend in May, the number of wild flowers may only be outdone by the number of people viewing them! An early morning start is practically a requirement. As with the Coyote Wall, Catherine Creek offers a similarly confounding trail system to the casual wayfarer, but no particular destination is needed. One trail may contain rock formations, such as a natural arch that is located in a canyon wall on the eastern side of the preserve. Another might display a greater variety of wildflowers, with dry meadows full of Balsamroot alternating with small bogs where Mimulus and Camas grow. A long 8 mile loop can be made connecting both Catherine Creek and the Coyote Wall.

Across the gorge from this desert Eden, the fir covered slopes hide their own dramatic and entrancing treasures – a seemingly endless string of waterfalls, each with their own personality.

Columbia Gorge
Wahkeena Falls
Columbia Gorge
Upper Oneonta Falls

Around the great torrent that is Multnomah Falls are found many miles of trails leading to high cliffs, hidden forests, round deep gorges and, of course, to the feet of the numerous falls that tumble from the plateau above. Like the flower trails to the north and east, many loops of varying lengths can be made here. Some of these falls are famous and familiar, such as Eagle Creek (east of Multnomah, near Cascade Locks), where crazy thrill seekers run up the cliffside trail with kayaks slung over their shoulders. I’m not so adventurous, so stopping at the overlook to watch kayakers tumble headfirst over the falls is exciting enough.

I even enjoy some of the most accessible and heavily traveled portions of the trails. The engineering of many of these pathways dates back to the CCC days. The stone buildings near the trailheads and the stone walls of the trails are impressive reminders of the glory days of trail building. Within a mile or so of Multnomah Falls, no less than ten cascades are found and numerous airy ledges and lofty peaks lend glimpses and panoramas of the Columbia River.

Columbia Gorge

If you spend a day at the falls and a day in the flowers, you’ll need a place to camp. The two closest campgrounds are the Eagle Creek Campground on the Oregon side and the Beacon Rock Campground on the Washington side. Both have hiking trails that lead right out of camp. About your only option for real backpacking in the Gorge is also in Eagle Creek. Though mostly unconnected by trail, it’s only a short drive from the Multnomah area. The best campsites (there are only a few enough along the trail, which is reasonable given the remarkable scarcity of anything resembling flat ground) are found near the final waterfall – the aptly named Tunnel Falls – which is bypassed by a trail running through a tunnel behind the falls.

With such a wealth and variety of natural riches available on either side of the river, it’s often difficult to decide just where to go in the Gorge.

Columbia Gorge
Little Maui Trail

For me, the weather may dictate my decision; a day of exceptionally strong wind, clouds and possible rain may be unpleasant to spend in the open fields of Catherine Creek and the Coyote Wall. Under the canopy of tall trees along Eagle Creek or about Multnomah Falls, bad weather is more bearable. On sunny days, it’s hard to choose the dark woods over the bright and open prairies. Wherever you hike in the Gorge, you will not be disappointed – just let your feet find the path and draw you onwards through the flowers, cliffs and waterfalls.

Columbia Gorge
Ponytail Falls
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