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Originally published February 5, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 5, 2009 at 9:53 AM

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5 no-snow hikes you can enjoy in February

A Seattle trail expert recommends five nearby hikes usually accessible in winter.

Special to The Seattle Times

Winter safety

IT'S IMPORTANT to take extra care this time of year — risk from exposure is exponentially greater than in the summertime. Here are a few tips from the Washington Trails Association (WTA); find more details on the organization's Web site.

• Choose your destination wisely — call ahead to a ranger station to check trail conditions or check out the latest Trip Reports on the WTA Web site. Check weather and avalanche conditions before you head out (Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center: www.nwac.us).

• Let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back.

• Don't hike alone.

• In addition to the 10 essentials (www.wta.org/hiking-info/basics/ten-essentials), Engelson includes an emergency blanket in his winter day pack.

• Dress warmly in layers, and leave a dry change of clothes in the car. If you're carrying a child in a backpack, remember he or she's not exercising like you are, and dress the child accordingly.

• Consider taking a course to learn and practice navigation skills.

Hikers' hub: Washington Trails Association

THE WASHINGTON TRAILS ASSOCIATION, based in Seattle, not only protects and maintains hiking trails throughout the state through volunteer programs and advocacy but also offers the most current trail and trip-planning information. Visit the WTA Web site for hikers' Trip Reports with the latest news on trail conditions, or do some virtual exploring via the Hiking Guide — a free online guide providing details on trails throughout the state.

With 2,000 volunteers putting in 80,000 work hours last year, the organization plays a role in filling the gap left by Forest Service budget cuts. Volunteers of all ages are welcome on year-round trail-work parties, typically one day, or weeklong summertime "volunteer vacations." Membership of $35 per year includes a subscription to Washington Trails magazine.

More information: 206-625-1367 or www.wta.org

Get ski and boarding conditions all winter long with webcams, snow alerts and more at seattletimes.com/snowsports

If you're longing for the rejuvenation only the wilderness can offer, take a few tips from the experts and muddy your boots in the offseason.

Andrew Engelson, editor of Washington Trails Association's magazine and an avid hiker, likes the quiet, contemplative qualities of winter hiking.

"You don't see crowds, and it's more of a treat to get out in the winter time," he said. "The destination isn't as important as just getting out there. You're usually not trying to get to the summit of a peak or see expansive views, but savoring the small things — you're down with the ferns and mosses."

Engelson enjoys hitting the trail this time of year with his daughters, ages 3 and 5, who he admits are in it mostly for the warm reward waiting back in the car: hot cocoa (don't forget the marshmallows!).

Following are some of his favorite winter hikes around Western Washington. These trails are usually snow-free in February — barring a winter storm — but call ahead or visit the WTA Web site, www.wta.org, for current conditions.

Coal Creek Falls

Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, near Newcastle;

4 miles round-trip, 400 feet elevation gain

Though Engelson considers Coal Creek Falls a "usual suspect," he doesn't tire of the Newcastle coal-mining area just a short hop from Seattle. Grab a map at the trailhead to navigate the mazelike trails and find falling water, discarded mining equipment, and a well-established mixed forest.

More information: www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/coal-creek-falls

Ebey's Landing,

Whidbey Island

Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, Coupeville; 4 miles round-trip, 200 feet elevation gain

Engelson returns to Ebey's Landing for its "two hikes in one" appeal — you can walk for miles along the sand, beachcombing and chasing crabs out from under rocks, then climb the 200-foot bluff for expansive, windswept views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

More information: www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/ebeys-landing or www.nps.gov/ebla

Dungeness Spit

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, Sequim; 11 miles round-trip, no elevation gain

With a forested approach, miles of sand and driftwood sculptures, a lighthouse and 250 bird species, the Dungeness refuge is never boring. Walk the longest natural sand spit in the country and you'll discover that a challenging hike doesn't require hills.

More information:

www.dungeness.com/refuge

Lime Kiln Trail

Near Granite Falls; 5 miles round-trip, 460 feet elevation gain

A classic "river runs through it" trail is Lime Kiln in Robe Canyon Historic Park. Work your way among huge old-growth to an old mining area with plenty of intriguing equipment remnants. It's easy to get lost, so bring a map and make your way to the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River, which gallops through an ancient canyon.

More information: www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/lime-kiln.

Ozette Triangle

Cape Alava/Sand Point Loop, Olympic National Park; 9.3-mile loop, 300 feet elevation gain

"What's not to like?" Engelson says of this classic coastal cedar-plank boardwalk trail, 3 miles through deep Sitka spruce forest to the Pacific. Visit the Makah village archaeological dig site, search for petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks, or just soak in the view from drift logs the size of school buses. You can do the entire triangle (which includes a 3-mile beach hike and another 3-mile boardwalk), or retrace your steps to the Lake Ozette Ranger Station (6 miles round-trip). At high tide, the longer hike requires passage over two headlands (one very steep), so plan ahead if you decide on this route.

More information: www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/cape-alava-sand-point-loop.

Freelance writer Kathryn True of Vashon Island is a regular contributor to NWWeekend.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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