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Outdoors: Hiking


Hiking into fall

Colorful foliage, cool weather draw people outdoors

N.S. NOKKENTVED, THE OLYMPIAN

Originally published October 2, 2001

OLYMPIA -- Deep among the forest giants, the spindly vine maple shines like leftover dapples of summer sun, and high on some mountainsides the low huckleberry lights a fire of its own.

Fall can be a beautiful time to head into the woods or into the mountains. Just because the children are back in school is no reason to pack away the hiking boots.

Many popular summertime hiking trails still offer great outings in the fall.

"Fall hikes can be some of the prettiest," said Ken Eldredge, Olympic National Forest spokesman. The vine maples and the big-leaf maples in the lower elevations along rivers create splashes of color, and before the snow flies in the high country the low huckleberries are turning red.

One place only a short distance away for South Sound residents is the McLane Creek Nature Trail off Delphi Road west of Olympia. The trail winds through mixed evergreen and deciduous woods, around a beaver pond, and boardwalks cross marshy areas. It is a great place to see what happens in nature during the change of the seasons.

The trail is just over a mile with a shorter loop about half that length. The trails, open all year, also are a great place to view a long list of birds.

Eventually the descending snowline will drive most hikers into these lower elevations.

Farther away

"We retreat to the Olympics, which is where we start in March or April," said Doris Lodwig, a hike leader with the Olympia Mountaineers.

Among the most popular in the fall is the Lena Lake Trail, which is open most of the year and leads to the scenic Valley of the Silent Men in the Olympic National Forest outside the southwest corner of the Olympic National Park.

Another trail in that area is the recently completed Upper Big Creek Trail, popular especially with families, and open most of the year.

The Mountaineers lead hikes until the end of November, and when snow drives some hikers lower, others switch from hiking boots to snowshoes and set out on their favorite hikes on the snow, Lodwig said.

"It's just an extension of hiking," she said.

The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument also is a good place for fall hikes, with beautiful fall foliage, she said.

Many of the lower elevation trails are open through October -- and some higher trails can be negotiated late in the year when the snows are late.

Hugh Ewing of Olympic Outfitters recently was surprised at the number of late-season hikers enjoying a sunny day on the northeast flank of Mount Rainier at Sunrise.

Sometimes those mountain hikes leave the low marine air that fills the valleys while the sun shines on the mountainsides above, he said.

The road to Sunrise stays open until closed by snow. It is closed at night, and visitor services have been shut down, park spokeswoman Maria Gillett said.

But the Eastside Trail from the Ohanapecosh Campground along the Ohanapecosh River stays open.

Wildlife viewing

In addition to fall colors, fall hiking offers opportunities for watching and photographing wildlife, Eldredge said.

"It's a good chance to see critters scurrying to get ready for hibernation," he said.

Fall hikes also are a good chance to see black bears as they gorge themselves on the succulent, sweet blueberries before going into hibernation. But hikers should dress warmly with several layers. In the fall the sun is lower, and many river bottoms may be in the shade even on a sunny day, Eldredge said.

But even if the weather everywhere is bad, some hikers still find places to enjoy the outdoors.

"Going for a long walk on the beach, even when it's raining -- if you have good rain gear -- can be a pretty neat deal," Ewing said.

N.S. Nokkentved covers the outdoors for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5445.

Fall hikes

Here are three places to go hiking in the fall:

McLane Creek Nature Trail

- Getting there: From Olympia go north on U.S. Highway 101 to Evergreen Parkway and turn left on Mud Bay Road. Turn left again almost immediately on Delphi Road. Follow Delphi south a little more than 3 miles, turn right at the sign to McLane Creek and go to the parking lot at the end of the road.

Lena Lake Trail

- Getting there: From Olympia go north on U.S. Highway 101 about 14 miles north of Hoodsport and turn left on Forest Road 25 along the Hamma Hamma River. Follow 8 miles to trailhead. About 3 miles in is Lena Lake. Here the trail splits -- to the right it heads into the Valley of the Silent Men, and to the left it climbs to Upper Lena Lake.

Eastside Trail in Mount Rainier National Park

- Getting there: From Olympia go south on Interstate 5 and turn east on U.S. Highway 12. Go past Packwood and turn north on Route 123 to the Ohanapecosh Campground in the southeast corner of the park. Also from Olympia, you can drive east to Route 7 and south to Elbe, then turn east on Route 706 to the Nisqually entrance. Go through the south end of the park and turn south on Route 123 to the campground. From the day-use area, the Eastside Trail goes north to Silver Falls. Continue across the Stevens Canyon Road into the Grove of the Patriarchs, a magnificent grove of old-growth forest. The Eastside Trail also continues north along the Ohanapecosh River.

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