Our newest addition to the Campgear.com Blog team, Mareth, writes about spending a Seattle spring in the hills.
The past few weeks have brought an unusually quick start to spring in the Seattle area – warm temperatures, clear skies, and an abundance of plant growth are all heralding the coming of spring – and early-season recreation opportunities.
Spring is an ideal time to get outside and start becoming reacquainted with your favorite trails, rivers, or parks – and maybe discover a few new ones! Getting outside in the weeks and months before summer vacationers and ‘busy season’ tourists inundate many recreation areas can lead to a less crowded, and more enjoyable experience.
I was lucky enough to visit Olympic National Park last weekend, during National Parks’ Week – and was pleasantly surprised how many people – especially families – were taking advantage of the beautiful weather and free admission to make the long drive into the Park. While enjoying a picnic lunch by the river near the Staircase visitor center, we saw a continuous succession of people crossing over the bridge from the parking lot to enjoy a short hike along the Skokomish River. Others, carrying larger packs, were coming back to civilization from a few days’ backpacking through the park’s thousands of acres of wilderness. Even in the relatively crowded mileu of the picnic area, the wildlife wasn’t put off by all the activity. A harlequin duck was nosing about at the edge of the Skokomish river, while a Cooper’s Hawk wheeled slowly overhead. Within ten minutes the harlequin duck was joined by an American dipper, and a few minutes later, an osprey.
If you are looking for a solitary escape into the woods, you don’t have to don a backpack and head into the depths of a wilderness area. A mid-week early-season excursion into a local or lesser-known park or recreation area can also provide ample space for enjoying nature without the crowds. While Olympic National Park was bustling with hikers and picnickers, the headlands of the lesser-known Miller Peninsula State Park near Port Townsend, provided a lovely few hours’ of solitary hiking. This small, coastal park encompasses thick stands of Douglas fir, towering over an understory carpeted with sword ferns, salal, and Oregon grape. We hiked across the headland and through a narrow, fern-covered draw, eventually emerging onto a beach overlooking the wild waters of the Strait of Juan da Fuca. The park’s trails will likely provide ample snacking opportunities later in the fall as the berries of the Oregon grape and salal ripen up. (Another benefit to early-spring hiking – spotting likely-looking berry patches to revisit later in the season..)
In addition to fewer crowds and milder temperatures, early-season hiking can also mean better views from your favorite trails. With fewer full-sized leaves to block the view, early spring can be a perfect time to enjoy scenery that in mid-summer is completely obscured by a thriving canopy of trees. Trails bordering lakes or streams often have better views out over the water in the early season, because there are fewer leaves to block the view. A leafless understory can also make it easier to spot any wildlife that might be in the area, such as the pair of black-tailed deer we saw skulking near the fringes of Lake Cushman on our drive into Olympic National Park.
Spring also means the arrival of the first flocks of migrant birds, either returning to their breeding grounds, or simply stopping over for a few hours or days before continuing their journey north. Spring means seeing familiar species such as hummingbirds, who’ve briefly deserted us to spend winter in the tropics, or rarely-seen long-distance travelers, such as sandhill cranes, calling overhead as they make their way north to their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska. It can also mean the opportunity to observe different behaviors, as the returning birds act out their yearly cycles of courtship, nest-building, and fledging of chicks. The edges of the forest are filled with the songs of the hermit thrush and the song sparrow; along the coast you might catch the flash of red feet and white wing patches as pigeon guilliemots enthusiastically chase their mates. A bald eagle flies overhead with a stick grasped in her talons; a mallard duck nervously scans the skies as she hurries her brood of ducklings along the edges of a lake.
Whatever your reason or motivation, spring is the prefect time to dust off your hiking boots, pack the car, and head out! Whether it’s for a few hours or a whole weekend, there’s no reason to wait for summer to start exploring.