Mt. Rose in the Mt. Skokomish Wilderness presents a challenge for even the most seasoned hikers. Much of the only trail to its summit, Mt. Rose Trail #814, ascends rather steeply for most of the way. Within a mile of the summit, hikers take a loop path; here they can choose the steeper Summit Route to the left or the longer and slightly more gradual Ridge Route on the right. Along the summit ridge, the trail offers fantastic southern views of Lake Cushman and the Olympic NF peaks on the lake’s southern border. Looking northward on the trail presents glimpses of the popular Mt. Ellinor, as well as Mt. Washington, Mt. Pershing, and other major peaks in the Skokomish Wilderness. For all its difficulty and limited views though, Mt. Rose does beckon some and present opportunities for other hikers.
Tolmie State Park in Olympia lets you hike, swim, and sunbath on the beach all in the same day. Tolmie encompasses some 1,800 feet of sand beach and coastline and a couple miles of inland hiking on trails that wind through old-growth forests. The main hiking trail is short at Tolmie (only a few miles long), but the scenery is pleasant and worth a trip. Also, the state park offers some great amenities, including beach access, picnicking areas and shelters, and boat moorage. The trails are short enough that you can easily bring the family to Tolmie for an afternoon or for a day at the beach and/or a hike.
Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve in Olympia offers a couple miles of hiking, but its real attraction is its strange bubble-like hills. A natural and scientific curiosity, Mima Mounds’ hill-studded grasslands seems out of place surrounded by evergreen forests and the Capitol SF peaks in the background. Several theories exist as to why the small grass-covered mounds exist. These theories range from the extraordinary, such as the one that gophers made them, to the tame, like the most accepted belief that they were created by glacier deposits. An educational kiosk (and viewing platform) at the beginning of the trails describes these various theories. This Wikipedia page describes some of the theories in greater detail.
Situated adjacent to Capitol State Forest, Mima Mounds offers a great educational experience and family outing. I rank this hiking area high on the family friendly list as it features several picnic areas and easy, flat walking paths. I also think that the area serves families well because of its amenities. In additional to lots of educational signage, the site includes two raised observation platforms (one of them handicapped accessible) that can give you a pretty good vantage point looking westward over the grasslands. If you do visit, bring your sunscreen though – there’s no shade at all on the trails.
Some Washington hiking areas give you a chance to meander through magnificent old-growth forests and under massive evergreens draped with moss and lichens. Others offer you the opportunity to explore Washington’s coasts, letting you pick your way along gravelly shores littered with beach wood and see precarious sea stacks standing tall just off shore. Cape Alava’s 9.4-mile Ozette Triangle loop in Olympic National Park lets you experience the best of both worlds.
I visited Cape Alava for the first time a few weeks ago. I was use to hiking along Washington’s Pacific coastline, having hiked at Ruby and Shi Shi beaches and from the Hoh River outlet up to Rialto Beach. However, Cape Alava maintains a reputation as one of the best coastal hiking areas in Washington and the Pacific Northwest. To say the least, I was excited about this trip, and it did not disappoint.
The Ozette Triangle (also known as the Ozette Loop) begins at the northern end of Lake Ozette near the Ozette Ranger Station and Ozette Campground. Park at the trailhead just past the ranger station on the right side of the road. Hikers have the option of taking either the Cape Alava or Sand Point trails to the coast. The coastal section follows the last three miles of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. This section isn’t so much a trail as it as a hike along the shore. However, at high tide, hikers will need to take two overland trails, identified by black-and-red (often faded red to the point of being white) impassable headlands signs. Both the Cape Alava and Sand Point trails are well maintained, and either one will work for the hike out and hike back. I personally recommend the Cape Alava Trail because it will allow you to rest at and enjoy Sand Point, a scenic rocky outcrop, before heading inland at the end. When I hiked the Triangle with my family, we saw deer grazing on the Sand Point headland.
This marked my first visit to the South Fork Skokomish River area. I had driven by this area several times during my trips to the North Fork Skokomish River Trail (starting at Staircase Ranger Station). However, I hadn’t given it much notice. For starters, there isn’t much identification along Route 101. I think I saw one sign on 101 before reaching the turn-off to West Skokomish Valley Road, which takes you into the Olympic National Forest and to the trailhead. I had no idea you could reach the National Forest from this road, let alone access some great hiking. So research the directions and bring a map – you will need it to reach the trailhead through the maze of National Forest roads. For the most part, you will take NF Road 23.
Overall this was a great hike through a gorgeous river valley and plenty of old growth forests. Beginning at the trailhead for the Lower South Fork Skokomish River Trail – near the Brown Creak and Lebar Horse campgrounds – I hiked approximately 4.3 miles to the site of the former Camp Comfort. You can hike on this trail much farther though, all the way to the Upper South Fork Skokomish Trail and eventually into the Olympic National Park (near the Graves Creek area in the Quinault rainforest valley). But that’s quite a distance away. The half of the Lower South Fork Skokomish Trail that I hiked mostly stayed along the river and crossed over many small creeks. The warning about entering cougar country at the trailhead was a little unnerving, but for all I know these warnings exist at every trailhead on the Olympic Peninsula. If you’re looking to explore some old growth forests, though, and to hike easily through a mostly flat and beautiful river valley, I recommend this trail.
When I was growing up, my family had lots of traditions involving outdoor activities. For instance, every year around Labor Day we would camp for a week at Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod. I remember always having to touch the U.S. Geological Survey marker at the top of every mountain we climbed for it to officially count – at least according to my dad. Also, for as long as I can remember growing up (and even today), my dad never bought a Christmas tree. We always hiked a mile or more into the White Mountain National Forest to procure the “perfect” tree from what I think was a swamp outside of snow season. It was sort of like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – except without the station wagon. Anyways, another tradition I remember clearly was almost always taking a hike on Christmas and Easter days. On Christmas Day, we would commonly hike across the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as they are right next to my grandparent’s house. However, on Easter, we usually went hiking in New Hampshire. Last weekend on Easter, I continued that tradition with my son and wife. We visited Little Mashel River Falls at the Charles Lathrop Pack Forest in Eatonville, Wa. It was a nice family hike (albeit muddy) and a tradition I hope to keep. Check out my review below and see the short video I put together.
= Little Larch isn’t a difficult climb so it would rank closer to two boots than four. However, the trail does rise somewhat steeply towards the middle and end. Furthermore, you’ll want to walk around some of the steep mountain bike jumps and definitely visit during less-popular times to avoid the biking crowd (see When to Go). Otherwise the hike is good for active families – just keep a watch out for bikers.