You know the lyrics: “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.”
Unfortunately, the family Thanksgiving gathering often means a house full of people, heaping platters of food heavy enough to weaken table legs, and more post-dinner naps than required by a class of preschoolers.
But take a hint from the song – based on an 1844 poem by Lydia Maria Child that references going to “grandfather’s house” – and include the outdoors in your holiday week plans. An outing can be a source for menu items and a respite from a one too many bone-crunching hugs from Auntie Lulu.
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If you have the time, you can do some of your Thanksgiving “shopping” in the forests. Thanks to the recent rains, there should be some good opportunities to pick mushrooms. This is the time to look for chanterelles and matsutakes, said Lowell Dietz, president of the Olympic Peninsula Mycological Society.
Some sites for mushroom hunting include the south side of Mount Rainier National Park, as well as the Packwood area in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the areas west of Hood Canal in the Olympic National Forest, and in the Greenwater portions of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Be aware: You need a permit to pick mushrooms on national forest land. In addition, there are limits. At Mount Rainer, for example, the limit is up to two quarts per person per day.
Because there are plenty of toxic mushrooms out there, be sure you know what you are picking or go with someone who knows mushrooms. There are several good mushroom identification guides, including “Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest” by Steve Trudell and Joe Ammirati.
Now that you have your bounty, what do you do with them? Langdon Cook, the Seattle-based author of “Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager,” offers a stuffing recipe on his blog. You can find it at fat-of-the-land.blogspot.com/2008/01/super-easy-wild-chanterelle-stuffing.html
CHECK OUT TIDAL POWER
One of the best places to see the power of the tides is the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Low tide on Thursday will be at 10:25 a.m. After that, water will pour back into the saltwater estuary until reaching the high tide at 3:29 p.m. Expected to be just short of 15 feet, the high tide will bring lots of water below the boardwalk. It’s amazing to watch the returning water race through cuts in the old dike system.
Because waterfowl hunting season is open right now, the final 700 feet of the three-quarter-mile boardwalk is closed. Still, there are plenty of places to watch the tide pour through the estuary and watch as waterfowl and other birds take advantage of the changing tides.
Admission is $3 per four adults, or use a federal lands pass. The refuge closes at sunset. The visitor center is closed Thursday for the holiday, but open otherwise 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays.
Information: fws.gov/nisqually, includes a daily tide chart.
FEAST IN THE PARK
Is this the year you opt not to prepare your own dinner? If so, consider spending the holiday at one of the national parks.
Head to the park early to do some exploring. Low-level trails along the Nisqually entrance-Longmire corridor at Mount Rainier National Park might be snow free, or you can drive up to Paradise to see if there is some new snow. If Olympic National Park is your destination, you can watch the waves crash ashore at Ruby Beach or look for elk in the Hoh Rainforest.
At Mount Rainier, you can head for the Thanksgiving buffet at the National Park Inn in Longmire. The staff prepares a buffet that includes herb-roasted turkey with Northwest mushroom stuffing, hand-carved baron of beef, a selection of salads and all the traditional trimmings. The buffet will be served from noon-6 p.m. The cost is $19.95 for adults and $10.95 for children 10 years old and younger.
Reservations for the buffet are required, and can be made by calling 360-569-2411.
If you prefer your feast with an ocean backdrop, Kalaloch Lodge also will host a Thanksgiving buffet from 1-7 p.m. The cost is $26 for adults, $21 for seniors older than 60, $15 for children 6-12, and free for children younger than 6. Call 360-962-2271 to make your reservation.
If you want to dine amid the rain forest, head for Lake Quinault Lodge for a buffet from 1-7 p.m. The cost is $28 for adults, $22 for seniors, and $13 for children 10 and younger. It’s part of a day of activities, including forest tours. Call 360-288-2900 for details and to make reservations.
If the thought of driving home after a feast is too much, consider spending the night. Check mtrainierguestservices.com on the availability of rooms in the National Park Inn or visitrainier.com or mt-rainier.com for lodging outside the park. Go to olympicnationalparks.com for Olympic park lodging options.
LET THE KIDS LOOSE
Before and after the big family feast, the kids might need an outlet for all that pent-up excitement. A quick getaway to do some hiking and exploring could save the frayed nerves of relatives and keep peace in the house. Here are two options:
In Tacoma, try the Tacoma Nature Center at 1919 S. Tyler St. The center has about two miles of trails that offer room to stretch young legs and lots of places to explore. The Discovery Pond play area is a great spot for little ones to work out their wiggles. The center itself has exhibits of small animals, a reading area, and a play area.
Burfoot Park near the mouth of Budd Inlet north of Olympia offers nature trails, playgrounds and 1,100 feet of saltwater beach. The trails wind through the trees leading to a beach that is great for exploring. Sand dollars are an easy, but fun find for young explorers.
CHECK OUT THE SALMON
If your festivities run into the long weekend, get outside and learn about the life cycle of salmon by taking a walk on the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail. There are volunteers from the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group stationed along the half-mile ADA accessible trail. They will explain the return of chum salmon to the creek and answer questions.
The trail is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends through Dec. 2, but it also will be open on Friday for those who want to avoid the masses at shopping malls.
The trail is off U.S. 101 between Olympia and Shelton. From Olympia, turn west on Old Olympic Highway just before milepost 357. Coming from Shelton, turn west on Old Olympic Highway at milepost 356. Look for the brown “wildlife viewing area” sign and go three-fourths of a mile to the salmon trail entrance road.
Information: masoncd.org/Kennedy.html, includes a road map