From the Mountains to the Sea
Most hikes in the United States are, of course, heavy on the forests or mountains or deserts. But when was the last time you hiked on the beach? Washington State's coastal portion of Olympic National Park offers some of the most spectacular coastal hiking in North America. And a particularly attractive portion of it is Shi Shi Beach, a former 1960s hippie hangout that was made part of the park in the 1980s.
To get there, drive US 101 to the town of Sappho, then drive north on State Route 112 to the village of Sekiu. Turn left on Ozette Road, and drive 20 miles to the Ozette Ranger Station.
The trail extends 13.4 miles from the ranger station to Shi Shi beach, necessitating a backpack. Be prepared for wet, muddy conditions and several rope-assisted ascents and descents (they're short). The payoff is access to one of the wildest, most remote stretches of coast in North America. You'll be rewarded by the low rumble of surf rolling over sand and stones, the tangy smell of the blue-gray, and the sight of wind-twisted Sitka spruce forests lining the bluffs. Weirdly shaped sea stacks project from headlands, resembling some prehistoric scene, like a line of dinosaurs marching into the ocean. Shi Shi Beach (pronounced " shy-shy " ) itself is a 2.3-mile sweep of sandy shoreline.
Raccoons, river and sea otters, and eagles are common sights; and colorful tide-pool creatures are revealed whenever the tide is low. Gray whales can be spotted spouting offshore in spring and fall. Deer, elk, bears and even cougars are there, though seen infrequently.
Take a tide chart, as beach hikers will be forced to go around several headlands while exploring the beaches, and an incoming tide can trap the unwary. The footing can alternate between loose sand and slippery seaweed- covered tidal boulders.
For details, call the Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center, 360-452-0300.
Forest Service cabins make great getaways
Looking for something different for a summer getaway? Many of the fire lookouts and cabins on Forest Service land are available for rental. An example: The Bolan Mountain Lookout, a 14x14-foot cabin atop Bolan Mountain in remote southwest Oregon - more than 6,000 feet above sea level. Or, 24 log cabins are available for rent in the Gallatin National Forest in Montana. Built primarily in the 1920s and 1930s for use by early Forest Rangers, the cabins offer a chance to camp in the forest in a rustic old-time setting. Some of the cabins have electricity; all have either wood or electric stoves for cooking and heating; none have indoor plumbing.
Most of the fire lookouts and cabins that are available for rental are in remote areas and have little in the way of amenities. Often there is no plumbing, no heat, and you must in most cases bring your own cooking utensils, drinking water, bedding and other supplies. Expect to use outdoor privies.
A permit is required to rent the cabins and lookouts, and a rental fee (often between $20 and $40 per night) is used by the Forest Service to help pay for the maintenance of the cabin. Permits may be obtained by contacting the Forest Service office that manages the district in which the cabin or lookout is found.
A full listing of Forest Service cabins and lookouts, along with reservation and fee information, can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/permits/cabinrentals.htm.
Take a walk into volcano country
For an experience that will move you - in more ways than one - visit Fish Valley in the John Muir Wilderness, southwest of California's Mammoth Lakes. The entire area is perched atop a gigantic underground chamber of molten rock. (Think of it as a vast subterranean pool of warm Jell-O.) After an enormous eruption some 760,000 years ago shaped much of the modern landscape, the magma chamber settled down to continuous jiggling - on one day in 1997, 1,000 small earthquakes were recorded.
Fish Valley is about 325 miles north of Los Angeles and 300 miles southeast of San Francisco. To get there, take US 395 to north of Bishop. At CA 203, turn north toward the Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort. After 7:30 a.m. you will need to take a shuttle bus to the Rainbow Falls trailhead. (Get there early and you can park at the trailhead.)
From Rainbow Falls, the Fish Creek Trail connects with the Pacific Crest Trail to fork a 31-mile loop through the Fish and Cascade Valleys. The low point is Fox Meadow, at 6,500 feet; the high point is a 10,500-foot summit north of Purple Lake.
Along the way, you'll pass through forests of lodgepole and Jeffrey pine, cross glacier- smoothed granite slabs, and see red cinder cones formed by powder eruptions that interspersed flows of liquid rock. You also can enjoy a benign benefit of this hot activity by soaking in the Iva Bell Hot Springs.
Due to its proximity to California's most populous areas, this area gets crowded on the weekends. For information or backcountry reservations, call the Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center, 760-924-5500.