Area's national parks are back in business

After being closed for more than two weeks, area national parks are ready for you to visit

Staff writerOctober 20, 2013 

For 16 days, South Sound residents were locked out of some of our favorites places to play and explore.

But places such as Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks and the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge reopened Thursday after resolution of the government shutdown.

“It’s really a shame,” Chuck Young, chief ranger at Mount Rainier, said of the shutdown. “Fall is a great time to be visiting the park.”

That was evident by the steady stream of vehicles Young had to turn around at the Nisqually entrance two days before the shutdown ended. Visitors from near and far wanted a chance to see the mountain in the glow of a sunny afternoon and see the blazing fall colors.

With good weather in the forecast for the next week, this is a great time to visit some of these special places.

MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK

Hike Stevens Canyon: The Wonderland Trail is lined with vine maple and accented with waterfalls as it runs through Steven Canyon. It can be a beautiful October an early November hike.

The trail can be tricky in some spots, with debris to scramble over and sections of the trail damaged by flooding. Start hiking from Box Canyon and also take note of several other short and potentially colorful hikes along Stevens Canyon Road.

Miles: Box Canyon to Martha Falls is about 7 miles round trip.

Map: Green Trails No. 270: Mount Rainier East.

More info: 360-569-4453

Lodging: The National Park Inn is open year-round. Make reservations at 360-569-2275 or mtrainierguestservices.com. There also are plenty of options outside Mount Rainier. Get information at visitrainier.com or mt-rainier.com.

Leaf peeping loop: For people looking for a day drive to take advantage of a sunny day, this loop will give you plenty of vistas to soak in the fall colors. From the Nisqually entrance to the park, drive through the park to Paradise, driving down the Paradise Valley Road. Turn east onto Stevens Canyon Road heading to the southeast corner of the park. Do this soon because the road is expected to close Oct. 31 for the winter.

From there, take state Route 123 south to U.S. Highway 12. Head west to Packwood and then go north on Skate Creek Road, returning to state Route 7 in Elbe.

If you want to spend a night camping, La Wis Wis Campground in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is a good option. All the campgrounds in the park are closed.

Miles: The loop from the Nisqually entrance back to Elbe is about 65 miles.

More info: fs.fed.us/fallcolors/2013, nps.gov/mora

Mix your colors: Driving along state Route 410, also known as the Chinook Scenic Byway, takes travelers through the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Mount Rainier as it winds from Enumclaw to Naches.

This time of year, visitors can soak in some fall colors as well get an early taste of winter at Chinook Pass. There already is snow at the pass, making hiking in that area difficult. But there are plenty of low-elevation hikes on each side of the 5,430-foot pass.

For birders, Federation Forest State Park and the Bumping Lake Road are good destinations. The Skookum Falls area is great for wildlife viewing, hiking and mountain bike riding.

Information: chinookscenicbyway.com

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK

Hike Hurricane Hill: Drive up the parks’ famed Hurricane Ridge Road and take this trail, or any of the other higher-elevation hikes in the area, before the snow arrives for good.

The trail begins at the end of the Hurricane Ridge Road. The rough paved trail gains about 700 feet in elevation, but offers panoramic views. Considered one of the best introductory hikes to the Olympic high country, hikers will be rewarded with views of Mount Olympus in the park and Mount Baker to the northeast. You’ll also get a great view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The trail also is a good snowshoeing route, but weather conditions can make the trek difficult.

Drivers should be aware that work is being done on three tunnels along Hurricane Ridge Road. Motorists should expect one-lane of traffic and delays of 20-30 minutes on weekdays through Tuesday.

Miles: 3.2, out and back.

Cost: $15 per vehicle, good for seven days.

Information: nps.gov/olym, Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center is open weekends, road information at 360-565-3131.

Soak in the rain: What better time to appreciate the Hoh Rain Forest than during the rainy season. Visitors to this part of the park will likely see Roosevelt elk roaming through the forest, can see spawning salmon in Taft Creek near the visitor center and soak in the gentle sound of rain drops dropping among the ferns, lichen and mushrooms.

Taking a hike along the 17-mile Hoh River Trail will lead through swaths of big-leaf maples, their giant leaves a brilliant yellow. The 1.2-mile Spruce Nature Trail is a good option for young visitors and those hoping to see coho salmon spawning later in the fall.

The Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center and the Forks Recreation Information Center are open Fridays through Sundays this month.

Information: nps.gov/olym

Sea kayak trip: While Olympic Raft and Kayak has stopped its Elwha River tours in the park, you can take a guided kayak trip in Freshwater Bay on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Wildlife is the highlight of the trip. Participants will often see harbor seals, river otters, sea stars, lion’s mane jellyfish, harbor porpoises and an occasional gray whale.

All the gear, including kayaks, paddles, wet suits and life jackets, are provided. The trips are geared for people who are beginners to experience paddlers.

Cost: $54 for adults and $44 for children ages 10-15 for a two-hour tour (minimum of four people needed for trip) and $70 per adult and $60 for children for a half-day trip (minimum of two people).

Information: raftandkayak.com

Lodging: For those looking for an overnight park experience, Lake Crescent Lodge at Olympic National Park has re-opened and will be open through Dec. 31. Kalaloch Lodge is open year-round. olympicnationalparks.com.

NISQUALLY NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Watch the waterfowl: Flocks of waterfowl are starting to come in as they make their annual migration south. Visitors can see widgeon, mallard and shovelor ducks, as well as Canada and cackling geese. There also have been some hooded mergansers in the pond by the visitor center.

Visitors should note that because it is waterfowl hunting season, the last 700 feet of Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk are closed until Jan. 27.

The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset. The Visitor Center, including The Nature Shop, information desk, and interpretive exhibits, is open Wednesdays through Sundays 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Cost: $3 per four adults entry fee to refuge; hike is free.

Information: Learn more about the refuge at fws.gov/refuge/nisqually or call 360-753-9467.

Take weekly bird walks: If you want to do some birding, but would like some help, join Phil Kelley as he leads a bird walk each Wednesday morning.

The 4-mile hike, from 8 a.m.-noon, starts at the visitor center’s pond overlook.

Be sure to wear good walking shoes or boots, bring raingear, water and snacks, as well as binoculars or spotting scopes.

Information: Contact Kelley at 360-459-1499 or scrubjay323@aol.com.

Nature Explore Area: This a great place for kids to get out and explore nature on their own, especially after they have been hiking a refuge trail with parents. The area is geared toward children ages 2-10 years old. There are six different areas, but the popular ones are the dirt digging and messy materials areas. It is open any time the refuge is open.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640
jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com
thenewstribune.com/outdoors

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