From my dozen years of writing about Washington’s outdoors for The Seattle Times, here are a half dozen of my favorite outdoor places and experiences if you’re looking for a day trip — or a couple of days — beyond Seattle:
Admittedly, no matter how you slice it, this is a long, strenuous hike, but in for a penny, in for a pound, say I! And oh, what payoffs: jagged, sky-piercing peaks rising in all directions; a 7,000-foot rocky plateau dotted with jewel-like tarns and lakes (this is the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, after all), and of course the renowned alpine larch trees, which each autumn change color and bathe the landscape in a fiery gold. Permits are rationed carefully (stop at the ranger station in Leavenworth) and tough to come by for the upper lakes, but you can visit one of the pretty lower lakes in an easier day hike.
Just outside Leavenworth, about 2¼ hours east of Seattle.
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Road cycling: Chelan
How do I love cycling Chelan? Let me count the ways: I love that spring springs earlier in this Eastern Washington burg and that it rains not nearly as often, that vehicle traffic is sparser, the roads smooth and the shoulders wide. That some roads go up, up and up (e.g., McNeil Canyon Road) whilst others meander lazily, twisting this way and that way, through orchards and vineyards above beautiful Lake Chelan.
Chelan is about 3½ hours northeast of Seattle.
Kayaking: Willapa Bay
Located near the far southwest corner of the state, this pristine wilderness of tideflats, marshes and ocean beaches — all fed by countless creeks, rivers and rivulets — is beloved by kayakers and birders alike. Time your kayak trip right as some folks and I did a few years ago, and you can paddle the rising tide inland up the Bone River and, when the tide reverses, kick back and enjoy a free downriver ride back down to the bay.
Along the way, the relative silence of kayak exploration enabled us to sneak up surprisingly close to eagles, great blue herons and even a herd of elk.
About 3 hours southwest of Seattle.
Snow adventure: Camp Muir
Imagine being able to hike nearly two miles high, almost as high as the top of Glacier Peak, without having to schlep a bunch of mountaineering gear. That’s the epic grind to Camp Muir, located at 10,188 feet on Mount Rainier’s southern flank.
Views extend seemingly to Northern California and are punctuated by a regal lineup of volcanic peaks, including Adams, St. Helens, Hood, Jefferson and beyond. Also cool is Camp Muir’s fortresslike stone structure that serves as base camp for climbers making for the summit.
Do be advised that this is a strenuous hike, most of it on permanent snowfield and at an elevation where the weather can turn deadly in a flash. Checking
for the latest conditions before heading up is a must.
Depart from Paradise at Mount Rainier National Park, about 2½ hours south of Seattle.
Family camping: Orcas Island
To me, there’s no better sense of escape than boarding a Washington State ferry and setting out on the magical passage through the forested jewels of the San Juan Island archipelago. Views of 2,409-foot Mount Constitution soon emerge, as does the rest of Orcas Island.
Much of what you see is 5,200-acre Moran State Park which, with five freshwater lakes, four campgrounds and 30-plus miles of hiking and biking trails, is family-fun Nirvana. An added plus: If you have youngins
who favor rolling about on concrete, there’s an epic 20,000-square-foot skatepark about 10 minutes from the Moran gate.
About 3¼ hours north of Seattle, which includes an hourlong ferry ride.
Mountain biking: Devils Gulch
It’s difficult, nay, near impossible for me to pick a favorite in this category. (It’s like trying to pick my favorite Beatles’ song: “Hey Jude?” “Strawberry Fields Forever?” “From Me to You?” etc.) But you can’t go wrong with Devils Gulch, near Cashmere, Chelan County.
It’s a classic that’s been around forever. You’ve a big 4,000-foot climb that gets you up high near Mission Ridge, a renowned sweeping and swoopingly fast descent on smooth, buff trail and, all along the way, stunning alpine vistas of the Tronsen Ridge end of the world.
The bad news is that this trail was affected by last fall’s forest fires, and there are reports of some washouts and many downed trees blocking the trail until crews remove them this spring. Call the Forest Service at 509-548-2550 to check on conditions.
Near Cashmere, about 2¼ hours east of Seattle.
Mike McQuaide is the author of six guidebooks including “75 Classic Rides: Washington” (The Mountaineers Books).