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July/Aug Washington Hiking

rainier olympic baker cascades

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#1 iowahiker

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Posted 05 February 2014 - 07:44 PM

Section 1, Campgrounds

 

We set out after the July 4th holiday in 2013 for our third trip to Washington State from Iowa to explore areas not previously hiked.  Summer weeks are the busy season and so detailing our campground experiences could help future travelers.  We evolved to destination hikers during a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway 30 years ago when we discovered we were more intrigued by the country we drove past than the next mile of asphalt.  We try to spend as many days hiking as possible while minimizing driving and clusters of trailheads have campgrounds nearby while boondocking usually provides access to fewer trails.  

 

We prefer not to have campground reservations so we can look at sites and pick one best suited for our tastes (quiet).  We made reservations for one quarter of the nights and had no difficulty finding sites during the busy summer weeks for the remaining three quarters.  Reservations worked well for campgrounds which were 100% reservable (Kalaloch in Olympic NP) and those NF campgrounds which were 75%+ reservable and included a stay over a weekend (Mt Baker Scenic Byway, Baker Lake).  Non-reservable sites were generally available from mid-day Sunday to mid-day Thursday especially in the early afternoon (Altaire and Sol Duc in Olympic NP filled mid-morning everyday).

 

Our journey started with short driving days to allow hiking after getting a campsite.  Kilen Woods SP in Minnesota was mostly empty (mid-week), near I-90, quiet, level, and partially shaded.  Reuters NF campground north of Sundance Wyoming was mostly empty (mid-week), near I-90, quiet, small, on a hill side, shaded and at a cool altitude.  We stayed with family in Helena Montana before completing our drive to Mt Rainier NP in one moderately long day.  Silver Springs NF campground at the northeast corner of Mt Rainier NP was empty (mid-week), 80% reservable, near Mt Rainier NP, quiet, level, shaded, and cool.  We reserved a river's edge site and stayed two nights since the river sites were very popular.  White River NP campground below Sunrise in Mt Rainier was busy, large, on a hill side, shaded, cool, and could fill late afternoon during the mid-Sunday to mid Thursday period. We enjoyed an extended hiking visit at White River CG which is overloaded on weekends.  We visited Cougar NP campground in Mt Rainier mid-week and found this 100% reservable campground had available sites between mid-Sunday and mid-Thursday before filling on weekends.

 

Moving on to Olympic NP had us staying at Kalaloch NP campground which was fully reserved all the time, foggy, drizzly, large, busy, level, shaded, and cool.  The laws of nature require people from Iowa to visit the ocean at least once on a trip to Washington.  Next, the non-reservable Hoh NP campground did not fill during the mid-Sunday to mid-Thursday period and was quiet, dry (thankfully), busy, large, level, partially shaded, and cool.  We decided not to stay at non-reservable Sol Duc CG and Altaire CG because people were racing to get sites mid-morning and we wanted a quieter experience.  Sol Duc NP CG was busy, full, on a hill side, large, shaded, and cool.  Altaire NP CG was less busy but filling since people like the stream side camping, a little hilly, small, mostly shaded, and cool.  The Elwa NP CG water system was out and so the campground was empty, small, flat, and partially shaded.  We stayed for an extended period at the non-reservable Heart O' the Hills NP CG which was busy, on a hill side, large, shaded, and cool while only filling on weekends.  

 

Moving on to Mt Baker Scenic Byway (WA 542), we camped at Silver Fir NF CG with a reservation since we planned to stay over a weekend. Silver Fir NF CG is 80% reservable, small, busy, quiet, level, shaded, and cool.  The dispersed camping sites across the road from Silver Fir CG on the forest road leaving the snow park were nice, shaded, level, empty during the week, popular on weekends, and had lots of blood thirst mosquitoes.  We moved on to Baker Lake and Panorama Point NF CG which was 80% reservable, small, flat, shaded, and busy with lots of fishing.  We shortened our stay at Baker Lake after our neighboring campsites launched their fishing boats at 5 AM from their campsite moorings.  We visited Park Creek NF CG which was not on the lake, did not have reservations and was empty, flat, small, shaded, and quiet.  Our last campground before heading home was non-reservable Colonial Creek in the Ross Lake NRA near the North Cascades NP.  Colonial Creek was very busy, large, almost full most nights, noisy on weekends, on a hill side, shaded.  We visited Newhalem Creek NP CG which is half reservable, large, level, shaded, quieter than Colonial Creek, and only half full during the week while filling on weekends.  The high country hiking trails are easier to reach from Colonial Creek while Newhalem Creek offers a better camping experience.  Colonial Creek is also popular because it is lakeside with boating and canoeing.  

 

In summary, Washington state is a better than average destination for summer camping without reservations.  We would rank campground preferences by hiking availability and not camping experience and so enjoyed our stays everywhere but Baker Lake.  Colonial Creek NRA CG was the only campground with noise after 10 PM on a weekend with all other campgrounds became quiet around 9 PM during the week.  We did not take pictures of any campgrounds, sorry, but I have many trail pictures of the mountains.  


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#2 takesiteasy

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Posted 08 February 2014 - 05:06 AM

Thanks for the reports! Our daughter lives in Seattle and we will no doubt be back out there for some camping and hiking. We will use your reports in our planning.


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#3 ski3pin

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Posted 08 February 2014 - 05:19 AM

Very nice helpful information. It makes us long for the days we spent backpacking in Washington. Thanks so much for sharing.
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#4 iowahiker

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Posted 08 February 2014 - 06:57 PM

Section 2, version 2.0: big pictures - Mt Rainier east side

 

The July 2013 Mt Rainier trip followed two previous trips to Paradise and Ohanapecosh CG and was our first exploration of Mt Rainier's east side.  Paradise is a premier day hiking destination but that is another story.  Most of our east side hikes originated at Sunrise or the White River valley.

 

The relatively level Rim trail leaves the Sunrise parking area on the south side and reveals a rare downward view of a large glacier, Emmons, reachable from a paved road.

 

 

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A moderate climb on the Sourdough Ridge trail which leaves the Sunrise parking area on the north side reveals expansive northerly views.  Hiking west on Sourdough is a very popular hike to mountain meadows and close views of Mt Rainier.  The less popular Sourdough east section gives good views of Sunrise and going on to Dege Peak is worthwhile.

 

 

 

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A local hiking couple pointed out Mt Garibaldi in Canada from Dege Peak and said it was over 150 miles away which we researched and confirmed as our farthest terrestrial view ever.  Continuing on the Sourdough trail revealed this view of Mt Adams. 

 

 

 

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Hiking west on the Sourdough Ridge trail and on to the Mt Fremont trail creates a moderately long hike and additional views north and big views of Mt Rainier's north face. 

 

 

 

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The most unusual animal encountered at Mt Rainier was an over six inch long tip-to-tip salamander with gills in upper Crystal Lake which is locate east of Sunrise at the parks boundary.  The salamander is unusually adapt to survive winters at 6000' in a lake.  The Pacific Crest trail is just over the ridge in this picture.

 

 

 

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The steady high climb to Crystal Lakes offers good views of the White River valley and Mt Rainier while a local ladies hiking club enjoyed the trail and lakes with us.

 

 

 

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Governors Ridge rises above Owyhigh Lake in this picture which we enjoyed alone on a less popular trail originating along Sunrise Road and the White River.

 

 

 

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In summary, a good variety of hiking opportunities are available on Mt Rainier's east side for an extended stay and these were our favorite trails among those hiked.


Edited by iowahiker, 10 February 2014 - 01:14 PM.

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#5 ski3pin

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Posted 08 February 2014 - 07:34 PM


Lets see what these pictures look like before adding back the text.

 

I'm enjoying them! :)

 

Keep 'em coming.


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#6 LuckyDan

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Posted 08 February 2014 - 08:20 PM

Yup, a nice place.  I lived and worked there for over a decade.  I've enjoyed your photo's thus far and look forward to more :)

 

Thanks for posting.


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#7 clikrf8

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Posted 10 February 2014 - 02:06 AM

Boy, I live in a beautiful state. When I was younger, my family camped at the NF campgrounds along the Mt. Baker Hwy (542). It is funny that growing up your surroundings become commonplace and you become used to what others call a vacation destination. We have been so intent on visiting other parts of the planet that we forget about living in a paradise. I guess this summer we will stay close to home to explore our backyard. But, during the week, not on the weekends. Thanks for the reminder and for sharing.


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#8 iowahiker

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Posted 10 February 2014 - 10:22 PM

Section 3, North Cascades and Mt Baker

 

Section 3 covers our last destination of Mt Baker and the North Cascades instead of our middle, Olympic NP.  After Mt Rainier, we toured Olympic NP but few quality pictures were taken as most of our hikes were forested and the high country had a little haze, ocean humidity.   This was our first visit to Mt Baker and the Mt Baker Scenic Byway, 542, and was unique for us.  The end of the Mt Baker Scenic Byway is one of the most scenic NF sites reachable on a paved road in the country.  The view of Mt Shuksan's many "hanging" glaciers with Mt Baker right next door is extraordinary for a paved road and the nearby ski area is mostly tucked out of the way.

 

Rain greeted our first hiking day but the trail system around the Heather Meadows visitor center was very enjoyable and lonely while carrying umbrellas. This picture shows the Heather Meadows trail system from atop Table Mountain which loomed over our hike.  

 

 

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The second day was dry but started cloudy with the cloud deck just above the parking lot at the end of the Mt Baker Scenic Byway.  Hiking the short but steep ascent to Table Mountain's large flat summit took us from below the clouds to above the clouds revealing mountain islands in the clouds as shown in the following two pictures, Shuksan and a southeast view.  

 

 

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The Table Mountain trail was lonely on a Saturday morning and rock hopping off trail revealed unique views to the north and west since Table Mountain is almost totally surrounded by cliffs for the unwary.  The Mt Baker Scenic Byway parking lot was completely full when we returned while parking was available at the three lower Heather Meadows parking lots on a Saturday afternoon.  The end of the Table Mountain trail had good views for pictures of Mt Baker and a spot for lunch.

 

 

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We saved the very popular Chain Lakes trail for our last day, Sunday.  The end-of-road parking lot did not fill on Sunday but was very busy.  A loop hike of Chain Lakes trail is strenuous and best done counter clockwise from the Heather Meadows parking area for views.  We hiked out and back from the end-of-road parking on the still strenuous Chain Lakes trail to avoid the largest climb.  Our favorite view was this one of Mt Shuksan from the Ptarmigan Ridge spur trail.  

 

 

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Our last hiking destination was the North Cascades NP Highway 20 corridor and a mix of forested and high country hikes.  The popular Lake Ann/Maple pass loop trail is very strenuous and very popular.  The first two pictures first show Lake Ann from the trail as it leaves the forest and then again from the top.

 

 

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The last picture from Maple Pass shows Highway 20, trail switchbacks, and the edge of Lake Ann in their mountain setting.  Hiking the Maple Pass/Lake Ann loop counter clockwise has a flatter grade while ascending.

 

 

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The best lonely hikes without pictures were Panther Creek cascades in a deep canyon setting off Highway 20 and Thunder Creek from the Colonial Creek CG trailhead.   In summary, Mt Baker Scenic Byway is the better view of high country North Cascades while Highway 20 has many more trailheads.  


Edited by iowahiker, 11 February 2014 - 10:32 PM.

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#9 4llamas

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Posted 11 February 2014 - 02:32 AM

Nice.  You really had some beautiful weather.


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#10 iowahiker

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Posted 13 February 2014 - 10:43 PM

Section 4, Olympic NP (final section)

 

As noted earlier, we did not take many pictures in Olympic NP since we hiked forested trails and high country atmospherics (haze) were poor for pictures.  A lack of pictures does not reflect on the unique day hiking opportunities in Olympic NP and instead is a result of day hiking all those trails in our last trip.  Let me know if uploading older day hiking pictures from trails unique to Olympic NP to either the Gallery or a trip report would be worthwhile.

 

The dirt road to Obstruction Point from Hurricane Ridge Road is a worthwhile drive and the lonely Grand Ridge trail from the end-of-road parking lot provides classic Olympic NP views.   This picture looks back from the Grand Ridge trail to the Obstruction Point parking area and the high country beyond. 

 

 

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The popular Hurricane Hill trail at the end of Hurricane Ridge Road has many views and this view north across the Strait of Juan De Fuca into Vancouver appeared as the clouds thinned.

 

 

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In summary, we hope to return to the premier day hiking destination of Washington State.


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