Europe-bound outdoors writer recalls his Top 10 Northwest adventures
Bellingham’s Mike McQuaide, who has written about outdoors experiences for The Seattle Times for a dozen years, lists his favorites.
Special to The Seattle Times
“I’m leavin’, on a jet plane,
Don’t know when I’ll be back again…”
So sang Peter, Paul and Mary and now sadly — but also, way excitedly — so do I. My family and I are moving to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, all 998 square miles of it (less than half the size of King County).
But I can’t say goodbye without revisiting some of my favorite places, experiences and activities that I’ve shared with Seattle Times readers over the past dozen years. Here are 10 faves I’ve written about, listed in no particular order:
Hiking The Enchantments
Admittedly, no matter how you slice it, this is a long, strenuous hike, but in for a penny, in for a pound, say I! And oh, what payoffs: jagged, sky-piercing peaks rising in all directions; a 7,000-foot rocky plateau dotted with jewel-like tarns and lakes (this is the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, after all), and of course the renowned alpine larch trees, which each autumn change color and bathe the landscape in a fiery gold.
Location: Just outside Leavenworth, about 2¼ hours east of Seattle.
How do I love cycling Chelan? Let me count the ways: I love that spring springs earlier over here in this Eastern Washington burg and that it rains not nearly as often, that vehicle traffic is sparser, the roads smooth and the shoulders wide. That some roads go up, up and up (e.g., McNeil Canyon Road) whilst others meander lazily, twisting this way and that way, through orchards and vineyards above beautiful Lake Chelan.
Location: Chelan is about 3½ hours northeast of Seattle.
Here’s my favorite all-season, off-the-beaten path, not-everybody-knows-about-it place. Located sorta near Hope, B.C., Manning boasts a small, family-friendly ski area, more than 100 miles of groomed cross-country and ungroomed backcountry ski trails, on-hill accommodations and a skating rink for winter fun. Pristine canoe-friendly lakes, several campgrounds and miles and miles of stunning hiking trails more than satisfy one’s outdoor mojo the rest of the year. (To me, Manning Park feels like Moran State Park were it somehow transplanted to the North Cascades.)
Location: About four hours northeast of Seattle; 2½ hours east of Vancouver, B.C.
Favorite wildlife experiences/hot spots
I’m not a trained ornithologist. (Nor have I ever played one on TV.) But I do loooove owls. Whoooo doesn’t? (See what I did there?) I love big birds in general — eagles and swans and raptors and woodpeckers and the like.
I’ll give you two faves: Boundary Bay Regional Park, just over the border in British Columbia, where during the snowy owl irruption of 2011-’12 I spotted 30 of the wonderful white creatures — not to mention numerous short-eared owls and various hawks by the dozens. Another is the Skagit Valley — from about Fir Island, near Conway, north to Edison — where thousands of snow geese and hundreds of swans spend the winter months.
Location: Boundary Bay is about 2½ hours north of Seattle; the Skagit Flats start about an hour north of Seattle.
Kayaking Willapa Bay
Located at the far southwest corner of the state, this pristine wilderness of tideflats, marshes and ocean beaches — all fed by countless creeks, rivers and rivulets — is beloved by kayakers and birders alike. Time your kayak trip right as some folks and I did a few years ago, and you can paddle the rising tide inland up the Bone River and, when the tide reverses, kick back and enjoy a free downriver ride back down to the bay.
Along the way, the relative silence of kayak exploration enabled us to sneak up surprisingly close to eagles, great blue herons and even a herd of elk.
Location: About 3 hours southwest of Seattle.
I love bikes and all things bike-related and so the growing trend of gravel grinding — riding a mix of gravel and paved roads (and sometimes trails) — has me all excited. It’s not really new at all — I spent countless hours in my youth pedaling the rural dirt roads of central New Jersey on my Schwinn Varsity — it’s just that now there’s a name for it.
Many of Washington’s public lands are crisscrossed by hundreds of gravel roads as are the hinterlands of Eastern Washington, making the state a mecca for gravel grinding. My fave: the 80-mile Winthrop-Conconully loop which cuts through Okanogan National Forest and reaches heights of almost 7,000 feet.
Check out rideviciouscycle.com, an Ephrata-based group offering gravel-grinder events this summer in Ephrata and Leavenworth, as well as the Winthrop-Conconully route.
Location: Anywhere there are gravel roads.
Imagine being able to hike nearly two miles high, almost as high as the top of Glacier Peak, without having to schlep a bunch of mountaineering gear. That’s the epic grind to Camp Muir, located at 10,100 feet on Mount Rainier’s southern flank.
Views extend seemingly to Northern California and are punctuated by a regal lineup of volcanic peaks, including Adams, St. Helens, Hood, Jefferson and beyond. Also cool is Camp Muir’s fortresslike stone structure that serves as base camp for climbers making for the summit.
Do be advised that this is a strenuous hike, most of it on permanent snowfield and at an elevation where the weather can turn deadly in a flash. Checking mountrainierclimbing.blogspot.com for the latest conditions before heading up is a must.
Location: Depart from Paradise at Mount Rainier National Park, about 2½ hours south of Seattle.
To me, there’s no better sense of escape than boarding a Washington State ferry and setting out on the magical passage through the forested jewels of the San Juan archipelago. Views of 2,409-foot Mount Constitution soon emerge as does the rest of Orcas Island.
Much of what you see is 5,200-acre Moran State Park which, with five freshwater lakes, four campgrounds and 30-plus miles of hiking and biking trails, is family fun Nirvana. An added plus: If you have youngins who favor rolling about on concrete, there’s an epic 20,000-square-foot skatepark about 10 minutes from the Moran gate.
Location: About 3¼ hours north of Seattle, which includes an hourlong ferry ride.
It’s difficult, nay, near impossible for me to pick a favorite in this category. (It’s like trying to pick my favorite Beatles’ song: “Hey Jude?” “Strawberry Fields?” “From Me to You?” etc.) But you can’t go wrong with Devils Gulch, near Cashmere.
It’s a classic that’s been around forever. You’ve got a big 4,000-foot climb that gets you up high near Mission Ridge, a renowned sweeping and swoopingly fast descent on smooth, buff trail and, all along the way, stunning alpine vistas of the Tronsen Ridge end of the world.
Note: Because of last fall’s forest fires and subsequent snow, it’s not yet known what shape the trail is in or when it will open. Call the Forest Service at 509-548- 2550 before heading up.
Location: Near Cashmere, about 2¼ hours east of Seattle.
Favorite outdoor town: Bellingham
See above note re: near impossibility of choosing a favorite and apply it to this category as well. There’s Winthrop, Leavenworth, Port Townsend, Eastsound, Chelan, Walla Walla — the list seems almost endless.
But in scanning my Washington State Gazetteer, I have to give it to Bellingham, my bayside City of Subdued Excitement. A place where one can paddle the coves and inlets of Chuckanut Bay in the morning, ski the legendary steeps and deeps of the Mount Baker Ski Area in the afternoon, and even — if one has bright lights and bomber knees — mountain bike the serpentine single-track of Galbraith Mountain at night.
Washington State, I’m gonna miss you like crazy — stay awesome!
Mike McQuaide, formerly of Bellingham, is the author of six guidebooks including “75 Classic Rides: Washington” (Mountaineers Books). Follow his Luxembourg adventures at www.mcqview.blogspot.com.