While our routines remain altered in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and statewide shutdown, outdoor recreation was one of the first activities to be revived under the state’s phased reopening, with state parks reopening, fishing and boating back in action and hikers returning to the trails. Depending on where you live, you may not yet be able to get your hair cut, go to a restaurant or take your pet to the groomer — but you can go outside.
With appropriate social distancing measures, that is.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources is encouraging hikers to go to public lands that are open and close to home, limit adventures to day trips and only recreate with members of their immediate household (this may be different if you’re in an area approved for Phase 2; check county-specific guidelines). Hikers should also expect to bring anything they might need with them, avoid unnecessary risk-taking, practice physical distancing, practice good hand-hygiene and wear a mask around others.
But while it may be easy to wear a bandana around your neck and pull it up when you run into other people on the trail, crowding can make physical distancing more challenging at popular hiking spots like Poo Poo Point in the Issaquah Highlands. So we consulted four local outdoors experts on where to go hiking off the (literal) beaten path. Here are their picks for beating cabin fever without putting yourself — or others — at risk.
Co-author of “Alpine Lakes Wilderness: The Complete Hiking Guide” (Mountaineers Books) and co-founder of hikingwithmybrother.com, both with his brother, Jeremy Barnes
If you’ve so much as Googled hiking trails in Washington state, you’re familiar with Nathan Barnes, who operates the exhaustive local hike archive site Hiking With My Brother with (surprise) his brother, Jeremy Barnes. The duo also co-wrote “Alpine Lakes Wilderness: The Complete Hiking Guide.” Published in 2019 by Mountaineers Books, it covers 100 area hikes.
For socially distant hikes in Middle Fork Snoqualmie, Barnes recommended Rainy Lake. “It’s semiabandoned but volunteers keep it clear,” he said. Tin Cup Joe Falls is another option. “It’s unmarked but easy to follow as you just need to keep alongside the creek,” said Barnes. “It’s for folks that want a little more adventure as it’s not necessarily kept clear of [forest] blowdowns.”
In North Fork Snoqualmie, Barnes suggested Bare Mountain, which goes to a former fire lookout. The trail is well tended, he said, and it’s certainly socially distant. “The downside is that it’s a very, very long drive down gravel road to get there — more than 20 miles,” he said. “Which is why it doesn’t see very much traffic.” Similarly, Loch Katrine sees low-to-no traffic; though it’s easier to get to than Bare Mountain, Barnes said “most of the hike is down logging roads through working forest and you need to buy a [Campbell Global] permit online to access the lake.”
For something closer to home, Barnes said that Grand Ridge “gets some trail traffic, but for being across the highway from Tiger Mountain it gets surprisingly few visitors.”
Editor, Washington Trails magazine
The editor of Washington Trails magazine, a hiking publication from Washington Trails Association, Jessi Loerch knows that hiking is good for you: She reported on the Washington Trails-backed study that demonstrated the mental, physical and economic benefits of hiking, which remains one of the few outlets available in a city of shuttered restaurants and gathering spaces.
To find socially distant routes, she recommended that hikers seek out fresh trail using Washington Trails’ free Trailblazer mobile app or Hike Finder Map, both of which allow users all over the state to search for the trails closest to them. The mobile app also includes a feature that show trails “near me” — Loerch said she uses it all the time. But you can also seek out trails off the beaten path, which may be better suited to social distancing.
“Using either of those options could help folks find some new-to-them trails where they can enjoy quiet and time outside,” she said. “They might even discover there is a trail in their own backyard, so to speak, that they never even knew about.”
Founder of OUT There Adventures
Elyse Rylander knows the outdoors. She’s the founder of OUT There, an organization that connects LGBTQ+ youth with the outdoors, and partnership manager at Camber Outdoors, a nonprofit that advocates for equity, diversity and inclusion in the outdoor recreation industry.
For socially distant hiking, she recommended the Stimpson Preserve and Lookout Mountain near Bellingham. “Even on a summer weekend you can easily avoid folks,” she said. Lookout Mountain also has the benefit of linking up with the Galbraith Mountain area, which hooks into the Lake Padden trail system.
“There’s a whole tangle of trails up from Arroyo Park on the Interurban Trail System just south of Fairhaven [where] you can usually avoid seeing too many people on even on the weekends,” she said. “Continuing on south on the Interurban there is a whole other system that connects you to places like Pine and Cedar Lakes, Lily or Lizard Lakes, and Oyster Dome.”
She also recommended “a great little section of trail” north of Bellingham that goes between Marine Drive and Slater Road along the Nooksack and continues to the old Hovander Homestead. South of Bellingham on Interstate 5, Squire Lake “is another great short romp.”
With the exception of Stimpson, said Rylander, these trails are also open to mountain bikes, “so you can either zoom by or be zoomed by.”
Author of the hiking guides “Urban Trails: Seattle, Urban Trails: Eastside,” “Urban Trails: Tacoma” and “Urban Trails: Everett,” among others
For the hiking-devoted, Craig Romano is a household name. The trail guide author has written a number of regionally focused books on where to hike, no matter what part of the Puget Sound area you call home — and he shared a staggering array of ideas for hiking while socially distant.
“For really close to Seattle, I would suggest a handful of wonderful destinations on Vashon Island,” he said. Check out Shinglemill Creek Preserve, Fisher Pond Preserve, Island Center Forest, Judd Creek Loop Trail, Burton Acres Park, Dockton Forest & Maury Island Natural Area, Maury Island Marine Park, all of which appear in “Urban Trails: Seattle.”
“Located a mere 3 miles from Seattle, and only 1.5 miles from Tacoma, Vashon Island couldn’t offer a more pronounced contrast to Washington’s largest and third-largest cities,” writes Romano in “Urban Trails.” “Vashon Island and Maury Island (which was connected to Vashon by a manmade isthmus in 1916) are predominantly rural. No bridges (just Washington State Ferries) connect Vashon to the mainland (at Fauntleroy, West Seattle; Point Defiance, Tacoma; and Southworth, Kitsap Peninsula), helping to keep this island a pastoral haven.”
In Everett, give Lord Hill Park a try, he said. Located between Monroe and Snohomish, the park affords over 1,450 protected acres of space to explore. According to Romano’s description in “Urban Trails: Everett,” Lord Hill is an ideal spot for hiking and running, a prime example of “[p]ocket wilderness, backyard wilderness, urban wilderness” — space that feels wild, despite its proximity to urban areas.
For hiking near Tacoma, Romano recommended the Danville-Georgetown Open Space and Andy’s Marine Park and Jacobs Point Park on Anderson Island.
For something on the Eastside, Romano recommended Soaring Eagle Park’s “12 miles of interconnected, well-built and well-signed trails” and Evans Creek, where you can “catch a glimpse of what much of the Eastside looked like before Microsoft was founded in 1975.” Both are in Sammamish. Romano also recommends the May Valley Loop and East Ridge trails in the Issaquah Alps.
Moss Lake is another possibility, described as “a sprawling sphagnum bog” in Romano’s book “Urban Trails: Eastside.” More pointedly: “You have an excellent chance of being alone in the ecologically significant preserve.” And the herons will certainly keep their distance.