Editor’s Note: In this monthly outdoors advice column, our newsroom mascot, Ranger Rialto, will find answers to any of your outdoors questions. Shoot us your questions either in the form below or via outdoors@seattletimes.com and we’ll find the best experts to answer them and print their responses.

Reader questions have been edited for clarity and concision.


Otter watch

Q: Hi Rialto! Can you tell us how we can see wild Washington sea otters?

— Shawn

A: Good news, Shawn! When it comes to finding sea otters in Washington’s coastal areas, you have a lot of options at your disposal. According to Erin Meyer, director of conservation programs and partnerships at the Seattle Aquarium, 2,785 sea otters on the state’s outer coast were counted in a June 2019 federal survey, so you just need to know where to find them.

According to Meyer, prime otter territory ranges “from Neah Bay to the north to Copalis in the south,” with an important caveat: “they are not equally distributed along the coast with the majority (80%) found south of La Push.”

So where should you go if you want a guaranteed (or more likely) otter sighting? Meyer’s go-to spots are Sand Point Trail, about a 6-mile round-trip hike from the Ozette Ranger Station, and, in the Kalaloch area, “any place where the water can be viewed from the road.”

And prepare accordingly: “Plan to bring a good pair of binoculars and find high ground for ideal otter spotting!”


Q: How can hikers and campers deal with human excrement? It’s become a problem in many recreation and climbing sites where toilet paper and piles of human feces have been found. Yuck! 

— Anonymous

A: That waste you’re seeing is a symptom of a bigger problem: a maintenance backlog on public lands. In a state like Washington, where outdoor recreation is a part of daily life for so many of us, wear and tear on public lands can be significant.

But there is some good news: This year, the Great American Outdoors Act was passed, permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund and backlogged maintenance projects in national parks. That may mean progress when it comes to this particular kind of waste, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle, and as a person who enjoys the outdoors, you can do your part by using designated pit toilets when you can and following the pack it in, pack it out rule when you can’t.

King of tides

Q: Hi. Could you please explain what causes king tides? Thanks.

— J.M.

This is a great question! There’s some interesting marine science behind king tides — those notably high tides that occur sporadically throughout the year (and make for dramatic viewing). For a full explanation, we reached out to Bridget Trosin, coastal policy specialist at the University of Washington’s Sea Grant program, which focuses on marine research and education.

“A king tide is caused by the increased gravitational pull between the moon and Earth and between the Earth and sun,” said Trosin. “When the moon is in its closest orbit around Earth, the gravitational pull increases. Similarly, when the Earth is in its closest orbit around the sun, the gravitational pull on our oceans increases, which creates a higher tide.”


Want to find out more? Washington Sea Grant has a king tides tracking program available through the MyCoast app (it’s free) and website. If you witness a king tide, you can take a photo of it and submit it through the app or website; you can also check out photos other users have uploaded. And if you want to find out when to expect the next king tide, Washington Sea Grant also maintains a king tide calendar tracking upcoming tides at 10 local coastal areas.

An update on accessible hikes

In response to a recent column discussing trails that work well for folks with limited mobility, a reader shared this hike recommendation:

“Deep Lake at Nolte State Park in the Enumclaw plateau is graveled, smooth and has lots of benches to rest on. A pretty 1.4-mile walk at a pretty park.”

— David