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Spring break: You're free, and most of this fun is too

With spring break for schools coming in the next few weeks, South Sound families will be looking for some opportunities to get outdoors and play. We've got five suggestions for a quick getaway.

PLAY AT MOUNT RAINIER

This time of year, you will have your choice: play in the snow or stay snow free.

If you haven’t had a chance to play in the snow, this is a good time of year to do so. There is still about 10 feet of snow on the ground, and little ones will be far more content to play when the temperatures are a little warmer.

For those want to sled on the play area, March 28 will be the last day the area is open. It also will be the last day guided snowshoe walks will be offered. Even if you don’t make it then, there are plenty of snowshoe and skiing opportunities.

If you prefer to stay away from the snow, there are a number of low-level trails that are open. For young children, try the Twin Firs Trail about 31/2 miles from the Nisqually entrance. Another option is to hike up the Westside Road. You can go as far as you want or conditions allow. For a longer trek, you can do the Rampart Ridge Trail from Longmire. You might encounter some snow on the 4.6-mile loop, but nothing that will require any route finding.

Getting there: Take state Route 7 to Elbe, then head east on state Route 706, entering the park through the Nisqually entrance.

Cost: $15 per vehicle admission fee, good for seven days. Annual passes available.

More info: www.nps.gov.mora.

KIDS’ TROUT FISHING

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to stock Long’s Pond in Lacey with more than 5,000 rainbow trout in time for spring break.

“We stock it a couple of days before spring break so the kids have something to do during spring break,” said Larry Phillips, management biologist for South Puget Sound.

The plan calls for stocking the lake with 5,000 catchable size trout, 8 to 10 inches long, and 400 broodstock fish, weighing 3 to 4 pounds each. Phillips thought the stocking would take place March 31 or April 1.

“We want kids to catch fish. There is nothing worse than going fishing and not catching anything,” Phillips said.

At those numbers, the catching should be fairly easy.

“The kids will get excited catching something, and you can do it in a short enough time, catch a few fish in an hour,” Phillips said.

Long’s Pond is open only to children ages 14 and younger.

Getting there: The pond is in Woodland Creek Community Park, 6729 Pacific Ave. S.E., Lacey. From Interstate 5, take Exit 109 to Martin Way. Go east on Martin Way one mile to Carpenter Road, then turn right. Proceed one mile to Pacific Avenue and turn left. Proceed 0.3 mi to the park.

Cost: Free.

More info: wdfw.wa.gov.

RIDE BANNER

Banner Forest near Olalla is loaded with winding technical trails for experienced mountain bikers but also has plenty of easy trails perfect for newbies of all ages to learn the sport.

A dirt road runs through the middle of the park offering the perfect place for kids to learn basic skills on the uneven ground before taking their first stab at single track.

The intersecting road and the relatively small size of the park make it fairly easy to avoid staying lost for too long if you get turned around on the maze of trails.

Still, be sure to take a copy of the trail map available on the Kitsap County Parks Web site.

A bear attacked a mountain biker here in 2007. While bear attacks are rare, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife suggests making noise (talking, singing or an occasional holler) while you ride to be extra safe.

Getting there: Poor directions to Banner Forest are widespread on the Internet. Use these directions instead: From state Route 16, take the Sedgwick Road exit and drive east on Sedgwick for six miles. Turn right on Banner Road. The trailhead is marked on your right after about a mile.

Cost: Free.

More info: kitsapgov.com/parks.

INVESTIGATE MIMA MOUNDS

Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve is one of Washington’s biggest natural mysteries. Was this field of 4-foot-tall mounds created by Ice Age glaciers? Giant extinct gophers? Aliens? Nobody knows for sure, said Birdie Davenport, a regional manager for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. An interpretive center explains many theories.

However, a visit to this prairie of mounds south of Olympia is a good way to come up with your own hypothesis. A half-mile paved loop trail offers the opportunity to explore the prairie and there’s also an additional 2-mile loop. The area is open from dawn to dusk and will have several opportunities to volunteer over in the coming weeks. Volunteers are invited to help pull Scotch broom and help with other projects during work parties that Davenport says are designed to be fun.

Getting there: Take I-5 south to Exit 95 and drive four miles west to Littlerock. Turn right on Waddell Creek Road. The entrance to Mima Mounds preserve will be on your left.

Cost: Free.

More info: dnr.wa.gov, 360-596-5144.

SKI FOR FREE

The best deal on the slopes takes place March 29-April 4. The entire family can ski free all seven days. There’s only one catch: you’ll have to drive five hours to Chewelah, about an hour north of Spokane, to take advantage of this deal. One of the state’s fastest growing ski areas, 49 Degrees North, lets skiers on the hill for free during the final week of the season.

The secluded ski area isn’t packed with much ultra-steep expert terrain, but it has enough variety – including good glade skiing – to keep the entire family entertained. The ski area boasts 1,851 feet of vertical, more than Stevens Pass, White Pass, Mt. Baker and most of the runs at the Summit at Snoqualmie.

There’s plenty of inexpensive lodging in Chewelah. You can stay at the Nordlig Motel for as little as $51 per night, less than you’ll pay for a lift ticket at most Western Washington ski areas.

Getting there: Follow Interstate 90 to Sprague and take state Route 231 north until it ends at state Route 395. Continue on state Route 395 north to Chewelah. Turn east on Main Street and continue to Flowery Trail Road. The ski area is 10 miles east of town.

Cost: Free.

More info: ski49n.com.

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