New ‘Creaky Knees’ guide focuses on national parks and monuments

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They’re out there, the couch potatoes and the city slickers, the retirees, and the parents who fear their toddlers can’t keep up in the wilderness.

Seabury Blair Jr. insists there’s a place for them on the alpine trails and wildflower hikes.

The Spokane-based author makes his living stating this case with his series of “Creaky Knees” guides, hiking books focusing on short and flat trails that can be managed by anyone who can walk around their block or the mall.

Just in time for the National Park Service centennial, Blair’s latest is “The 75 Best Easy Hikes” around the “Pacific Northwest National Parks & Monuments,” published in March (Sasquatch Books, $18.95).

The guide, with topographical maps, focuses on hikes in parks and monuments in Oregon and Washington, including two dozen walks around iconic Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens.

A former outdoors editor at the Kitsap Sun in Bremerton — he stills writes a weekly hiking column — Blair is 74 but hardly part of the creaky-knee audience for which he writes.

During winter, he backcountry-skis around Eastern Washington, and come spring he hikes five days a week. Blair and a friend last fall backpacked 22 miles, with 3,500 feet of elevation gain, in the High Divide Loop and the surrounding area in Olympic National Park.

“Neither of us died, so I guess I’m still in shape,” he quipped.

Many of his peers and friends have had artificial hips and knee replacements but “I’ve been fortunate. I’ve never had any kind of problems. At least not in any parts that count when you’re hiking,” he said, laughing.

Below, in his own words, Blair lists five favorite spring hikes that are free of snow, in or near a national park, and easily reachable for Puget Sound residents.

Dungeness Spit

6.4 miles round trip, 110 feet elevation gain

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It’s not within a national park but it’s in my guidebook because this sunny, sandy walk is the best spring hike on the Olympic Peninsula. You can hike from one to 10 miles along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the first half-mile is accessible to those who use a wheelchair.

Basking under the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, the spit serves up splendid sights of snowy peaks to the south and marine wildlife and migrating waterfowl to the north. Last time I hiked there, I was surprised to see blacktail deer cavorting in the sand and driftwood at the base of the spit.

Spruce Railroad Trail

Olympic National Park, 8.2 miles round trip, 100 feet elevation gain

This historic rail route along the north shore of Lake Crescent is becoming one of Washington’s best easy hikes. Start at the eastern trailhead. You can walk or bike. It’s also wheelchair-accessible for about 2 miles.

The compacted gravel pathway is 11 feet wide, through forest above the clear Lake Crescent water.

In spring, look south across the water to snowy Aurora Ridge, spy bald eagles looking for a fish dinner or view two old railroad tunnels soon to be open to the public while enjoying the quiet side of the lake.

Silver Falls

Mount Rainier National Park, 2.6 miles round trip, 330 feet elevation gain

Nothing beats a waterfall hike in the spring, and once Highway 123 opens in April or May — check wsdot.wa.gov — Silver Falls is among the most spectacular. From the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center, do the loop upstream along the Ohanapecosh River to the falls and back, with viewpoints on both sides of the footbridge.

Although the location on the southeast side of Mount Rainier affords a better chance of sunshine, spots along the trail can be slippery, especially in the spring. Watch for water ouzels and kingfishers along the river and forest blossoms under ancient fir and cedar.

Westside Road

Mount Rainier National Park, 7 miles round trip, 670 feet elevation gain

Until the road opens to vehicles, the first 3 miles of the Westside Road makes an excellent conditioning walk for longer treks in the summer. The road is gated just beyond its junction with Highway 706, the Longmire Road.

It’s a smooth, gentle uphill climb in lowland forest along Tahoma Creek. It gets little foot or bicycle traffic in the spring and serves as a quiet alternative to more popular vernal hikes. Leashed dogs are welcome on the closed road. Rainier rangers ask that you don’t park in front of the gate.

Carbon River Road

Mount Rainier National Park, 6 miles round trip, 340 feet elevation gain

Here’s another closed road that makes a perfect forest walk. It’s also navigable by wheelchair and mountain bike.

Beginning at the Carbon River Entrance, the road follows the raging Carbon River for 4 miles to the old Ipsut Creek auto campground.

It’s important to note that the Carbon River sometimes floods portions of the road. This walk is best saved for a rainy or foggy day. You get splendid old forest, wildlife and lowland wildflowers, including spring beauty and trillium.