The Pacific Northwest’s balmy winter means melting snow and early flowers.
Folks in snow-buried Boston may have taken to heart Punxsutawney Phil’s Groundhog Day prediction of six more weeks of winter. In the Pacific Northwest? We say “groundhog, shmoundhog.”
It’s hard to believe it’s not spring outside. With only 5 percent of the usual snowpack in the Olympic Mountains this winter, along with light snowpack almost everywhere else, it’s tempting to head for the hills.
If you’re equipped and experienced for it, go. Enjoy. But if a walk in the park is more your speed, don’t be fooled — it’s still winter up there. Many people bagged the peak of Mount Pilchuck last weekend — a rare experience in February — but it was still icy and snowy up top, and some climbers wore sneakers. If you’re caught unprepared, the nights are very long and very cold.
But you can find early-season surprises without going high:
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• Washington Park Arboretum: The Witt Winter Garden has its expected witch hazel and camellias in bloom among the Arboretum’s 230 acres edging Lake Washington just east of the Montlake District.
“But we also have early buds of azalea and rhododendrons, and some hellebores that are early,” says facilities coordinator Bryan Pilkington. “And I also had a report of buds on the flowering cherries. Of course, we’re all really worried about what happens when winter comes back and these things are caught out.” (Go soon.)
2300 Arboretum Drive E., Seattle. Free; depts.washington.edu/uwbg/gardens/wpa.shtml
• Bellevue Botanical Garden: Roam through 53 acres of cultivated garden, restored woodlands and natural wetlands and look for early buds and uncurling ferns in this pocket of unexpected nature just east of bustling downtown Bellevue. Don’t miss the Ravine Experience, a 1/3-mile nature trail crossing a deep ravine via a 150-foot suspension bridge. Plenty of spring birds here, too; bring your field guide. 12001 Main St., Bellevue. Free; bellevuebotanical.org
• Kruckeberg Botanic Garden: Look for early blooms (wild currant coming on quickly) while you pick out native Northwest plants for your garden (many plants are for sale) at this shaded and woodsy four-acre reserve in Shoreline. Now a city park, it’s the collection of retired University of Washington botany professor Arthur Kruckeberg and his late wife, Maureen, botanists and horticulturists who spent more than 50 years adding to the gardens surrounding their home. 20312 15th Ave. N.W., Shoreline. Free; kruckeberg.org
High freezing levels means early snowmelt, and that furiously fuels waterfalls all around us.
• Wallace Falls: At the heart of a 4,735-acre state park near Gold Bar, this is one of the Puget Sound region’s waterfall medalists, with an excellent trail to get you there.
The most visible is an impressive 265-foot waterfall, but the 2.9-mile (one-way) Woody Trail takes you past a total of nine falls as the Wallace River drops 800 feet in less than a half-mile. The hike takes you through old-growth coniferous forests, and if you stop at the Lower and Middle Falls viewpoints (making for a shorter outing), the elevation gain isn’t prohibitive for the Sunday Hiker. 14503 Wallace Falls Road, Gold Bar. Discover Pass required. parks.wa.gov/289/Wallace-Falls.
• Murhut Falls: It was Washington Trails Association’s Hike of the Week last week because it’s an easy, relatively unknown hike to a pretty Olympic Peninsula falls. The nearby Duckabush River was flooding homes near Brinnon two weeks ago, so the gush factor in the area likely remains high.
The destination is a 130-foot plunging waterfall reached in just under a mile, with a climb of only 250 feet to reach the tiered falls at 1,050-feet elevation. Take grandma and the kids; just hold small or infirm hands during the final stretch of trail with a drop-off on one side. As warm weather progresses, watch for pink-flowering wild rhodies. No pass required. See 1.usa.gov/1hk6wbN
• Franklin Falls: Snuggled up beneath the Interstate 90 freeway just a slushball’s-throw west of Snoqualmie Pass, this hike is usually a snowshoe trip this time of year. Not this February. It’s pretty much snow-free, and after several consecutive years of trail work (thank you, WTA volunteers), the trail is in very good condition, safe for young and old. This is the South fork of the Snoqualmie River, falling about 135 feet in three tiers, though only the final 70-foot cataract can be seen from the trail. Alpental’s melting-snow loss is the waterfall-lover’s gain. It’s just two miles, round-trip, with 400 feet of upward climb. Northwest Forest Pass required. 1.usa.gov/1L9Zrdy
A daffodil drive
The Skagit Valley is known for trumpeter swans that visit in winter, and you’ll likely see hundreds in area farm fields. Get a bliss fix when the big white birds stretch their long necks and wings to fly over you while serenading Mount Baker with their signature haunting honk.
And there’s a February bonus this year: the start of blooming daffodil fields. Car stop, photo op.
The sun was coaxing the first flowers to open when I drove through last week, and Tulips.com, the website for Mount Vernon-based Washington Bulb Co., expects some blooming fields of lemony yellow viewable by this weekend (Feb. 21-22):
“The answer to everyone’s question is YES, it is looking like it will be a very early year for our daffodil and tulip blooms! We are starting to see some yellow color in our Dutch Master daffodil fields and will likely light up a few icons (on our bloom map) during the week. Fields filled with Flower Carpet will follow right behind. As for the tulips, it is looking like we may have some color as early as the middle of March … but as always: how quickly/slowly things progress depends on Mother Nature.”
For the bloom map, see tulips.com/bloommap.