There is little doubt Washington is a recreation paradise. With a state that covers 66,582 square miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Palouse, from the border with Canada to the Columbia River, there are a myriad places to play.
You can climb to the top of the state on 14,411-foot Mount Rainier, fish for steelhead on legendary Olympic Peninsula rivers, ride the rapids of the Wenatchee River and fish for monster rainbow trout on the upper Columbia River in the shadow of the Canadian border.
But what about the far-flung corners of the Evergreen State?
We sent our Adventure team of Craig Hill and Jeffrey P. Mayor to explore the four corners of the state. What they found was a diversity of fun and activities representing some of the best of what Washington has to offer, no matter what time of year. Here are their reports:
An escape to the cape
Neah Bay, Clallam County – Deb Miller and David Ospenson stood on the viewing platform looking out over the sea stacks and Tatoosh Island after walking the 3/4-mile Cape Trail to the tip of Cape Flattery.
Though she lives on Camano Island and he lives in Anacortes, it was the first time they had taken in the view from this vantage point.
“We’re both tug boaters, and this is the first time we’ve seen Cape Flattery from this side,” Miller said. She and Ospenson work for Crowley.
“It’s spectacular. We should have come here a long time ago,” Miller admitted.
David Gibbs and Katie Rodgers, along with their son, Owen Gibbs, were getting a new perspective as well. The Vancouver family is accustomed to seeing the cape from the north side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
“It’s just amazing here,” Katie Rodgers said.
Indeed, the hike to the northwestern most point in the lower 48 states is worth it. The trail leads through a forest filled with hemlock, Sitka spruce, red alder and Western red cedar. It has a steeper descent than I expected, and there are some sections full of roots, so careful steps are required.
But the views, the sounds and the wildlife are worth it.
Each of the four viewing platforms give you a different look. You can stare out at the sea stacks, look down into tide pools, watch as seabirds cling to the rocky cliffs or soar on the wind. You can watch the waves crash at the base of Tatoosh Island and the passing of small fishing boats and ocean-bound ships. Or you can sit on a bench and listen to the waves crash in to the base of the cliffs or the wind as it rides through the trees.
Because the trail crosses tribal land, you are asked to stay on the path. But that’s OK because there is no beach access here. The trail is built for the view.
Of note: Follow the signs to the beach from Neah Bay. Nontribal members need to purchase a $10 annual recreation permit.
Jeffrey P. Mayor, The News Tribune
Breathtaking beauty best viewed from top
MOLYBDENITE MOUNTAIN, Pend Oreille County – Standing in the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station a pair of foresters huddle around a map of Colville National Forest.
The best way to experience the Northeast corner of Washington is from the top of one of its green, tree-covered mountains.
There’s just one problem: bears.
Not so much that bears might charge hikers (although that is a possibility), but more because forest officials regularly close many of its roads to give bears a place to roam without distraction.
This can add many miles of hiking – sometimes a day’s worth – to trips that usually take only an afternoon.
Finally, after ruling out several peaks, including Salmo Mountain (the state’s northeastern most peak higher than 6,000 feet), Dexter Defibaugh pointed to a broad peak south of the lake.
The top of Molybdenite Mountain is 6,784 feet above sea level and offers some of the best views in the area, he said.
However, getting to the summit requires some serious bushwhacking, good route finding skills and the ability to scramble over fields of large boulders. But the payoff is well worth the effort.
From the top of the peak similar tiny mountains, which appear to be blue under the evening sun, are visible as far as you can see into Canada and Idaho. The view includes the Pend Oreille River, the small town of Ione, and Gypsy and Abercrombie peaks, the two highest peaks in Eastern Washington.
“It is one of the best views in this area,” said James P. Johnson, author of the 2003 book “50 Hikes to Eastern Washington’s Tallest Mountains.”
Because getting up the peak is so difficult, not many people actually make the trek. Johnson placed a summit register on the peak in 2007. When I signed it on June 23, only nine other climbing parties had done so.
The hike used to be much easier, Johnson said, before 10-foot-tall bushes grew over much of the unmaintained road used to approach the peak.
After spending about an hour on top of the peak, I headed down fighting my way through bushes that scratched my legs with every step. Almost in the clear I looked down and saw an aged piece of bear scat.
“If you hike up here you should be prepared to encounter a bear,” forester Tom Link said.
Don’t make eye contact with the bears and slowly retreat. More detailed advice for handling bear encounters is available at the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station.
But don’t let the bears keep you from visiting.
“It’s unlikely you’ll see a bear,” Link said. “I’ve worked here 17 years and I’ve never seen one.”
Craig Hill, The News Tribune
No disappointment at playground
Ilwaco, Pacific County – If the Columbia River bar is the “graveyard of the Pacific,” Cape Disappointment State Park is the playground of the state’s southwest corner.
Here you can touch history at the oldest functioning lighthouse on the West Coast, watch Caspian terns wheel overhead, fish for salmon from the North Jetty or hike the North Head Trail. It’s 1,882 acres of beach, old-growth forests, marshes, the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River.
“It’s the variety of attractions, whether you’re a history nut, a hiker, someone into big trees and vistas,” said Jon Schmidt, an interpretive specialist at the park.
“Right now it’s all about fishing and kites. The river is full of salmon and the sky is full of kites,” he said in mid August as coho salmon returned from the ocean to run upriver and Long Beach hosted the Washington State International Kite Festival.
A trip to Cape Disappointment can be as challenging or as peaceful as you choose.
I took the 1/4-mile hike to the North Head Lighthouse on an early August evening. I caught a break when the sun poked out from the clouds, casting a red-orange glow on the lighthouse tower. I had the place to myself, except for the occasional raindrop and the cormorants skimming the waves at the foot of the bluff.
But even above the sound of the surf, I could hear laughter from people playing down on the beach.
When I made my way to the beach, I walked to where the sand, waves and North Jetty meet – seemingly the western most piece of Washington I could reach without getting wet. It was odd thinking that all of Washington was behind me. It also is the southernmost point of the 28-mile Long Beach Peninsula, a journey itself.
If outdoor pursuits aren’t your cup of tea, the Lewis and Clark center will certainly entertain. The center tells the history of the cape and the people who have lived and died there. The focus is on the 21/2-year, 8,000-mile journey undertaken by the Corps of Discovery more than 200 years ago.
After touring the center, take time to enjoy the views outside. Atop a 200-foot cliff, visitors have great views of the Columbia River, ships and, if you’re lucky, you might see the boats from the Coast Guard’s National Motor Lifeboat School training in the waves off the beach.
For Schmidt, a seven-year veteran of the park, his favorite spot is Beard’s Hollow at low tide.
“I like beachcombing the cove at that time of day,” he said.
If you prefer to avoid the summer crowds, Cape Disappointment has its own appeal during the winter.
“Even when the weather is not beautiful, there is still storm watching and beachcombing after a big storm,” Schmidt said.
“It’s a lot more than just camping,” he added, perhaps describing the park as a whole as well.
Jeffrey P. Mayor, The News Tribune
A sleepy, scenic sojourn down Snake River
HELLER BAR, Asotin County – Rich Eggleston pulled a red inflatable kayak out of the back of his truck and pointed south down the Snake River.
“You are about six miles away” from the Washington-Oregon border, Eggleston said. “This is about as close as you can drive to this corner of the state.”
Most of the boats leaving Heller Bar are jet boats whisking tourists south into Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, but I was going to explore the river with an 18-mile paddle north to Asotin.
Paddle might be a little strong. The river current was so strong, I could have just kicked back for a 31/2-hour nap and woke up at my destination.
But if I had slept, I wouldn’t have been able to take in the spectacular setting: the brown and gold canyon walls raised high above the river that doubles as the Idaho-Washington border.
With the exception of one motorboat, I had the river to myself on the afternoon of June 22. Eggleston said I was the first of the year to kayak the river through his company, Aardvark’s.
However, he said there would be plenty of people floating the river during the summer.
Eggleston’s wife, Shannon, says the stretch of Snake River is a perfect family trip.
“There are several beaches along the way where you stop,” she said. “A lot of families take their time and make a day out of it.”
Small sandy beaches along the way are perfect places to relax and eat lunch.
“It’s like having your own private beach for a little bit,” Shannon said.
When I paddled the river there were a handful of choppy stretches that punched the bottom of the boat as I passed, but I never felt like there was a threat of capsizing.
“If you are looking for whitewater this isn’t the right place,” Rich Eggleston said. “Our target market is mom, dad and 2.2 kids. It’s fun for the family.”
Aardvark’s rents kayaks for $70. The rental includes shuttle service to Heller Bar or a closer location.
Aardvark’s also rents a five-man jet boat for $225 for four hours or $300 for eight hours. (Fuel is extra.)
For more information, visit aardvarksadventureco.com.
Craig Hill, The News Tribune