Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Social distancing hikes: Pacific Northwest

It's about to be August and the Covid-19 pandemic is continuing to rage unabated across the United States. Going outdoors and hiking is one of the few safer activities left during this time. But this is not the summer to pack onto popular, crowded trails- the outdoors are far safer when we can all practice social distancing. If you're wondering what steps to take when you go out to stay safe, I've compiled some advice on how to decrease risk when you go out hiking.

The Northwest was one of the first places to report Covid-19 cases in the United States and the second wave of recent months has brought an influx of new cases to both Washington and Oregon. Picking hikes that are unlikely to be crowded or choosing trails that are wider (such as rail trails or fire roads) are ways to ensure that you can continue social distancing while outdoors.

What hikes should you absolutely avoid? Don't go to areas that are already usually crowded: Puget Sound residents should avoid hiking at Rattlesnake Ledge, Mount Si, or any of the other loved-to-death hikes along the I-90 corridor (Bandera Mountain, Mailbox Peak, and Snow Lake come to mind). Mount Rainier National Park hikes at Paradise and Sunrise are usually crowded, too. Near Portland, it's probably best to avoid popular hikes in the Columbia Gorge or around Mount Hood; the Bend area is getting a lot of traffic this summer as well so it's best to avoid popular hikes there.

Most of the hikes on this blog will see moderate amounts of traffic throughout the summer, but many will still have too many visitors for effective social distancing. Luckily for you, not too many people read this blog, so me posting about these places should only marginally increase the amount of people that you might at these locations. Here's a list of ten places that might be better choices during these Covid-19 times:

Oregon Dunes
1. John Dellenback Dunes Trail             Maybe you're looking to be near the ocean or want to play on the sand, but Covid-19 is driving you away from more traditional beach destinations. The Oregon Dunes have plenty of sand and the John Dellenback Dunes Trail is the best way to access the wildest part of the dunes, where you can stake out some sand for yourself without having to deal with off-road vehicles. It's a bit of a drive from Portland or other Willamette Valley population centers but this is a good place to social distance.

Larches and Tower Mountain from Grasshopper Pass
2. Grasshopper Pass            The Harts Pass area is far enough from Puget Sound population centers that you can finally escape the crowds that pour into the outdoors near Seattle each weekend. While social distancing can be more difficult on crowded trails in the Enchantments and around Mount Baker, on the hike to Grasshopper Pass you can follow the Pacific Crest Trail to some of the most spectacular scenery in the North Cascades with fairly light company. Beware the drive up to Harts Pass from Mazama: many regard this road as being one of the more difficult drives in the state.

Olympic views from Grand Ridge
3. Grand Ridge to Maiden Peak            This high alpine trail starts at the end of the Obstruction Point Road in Olympic National Park and offers a good alternative to the far more popular Hurricane Hill hike at the end of the Hurricane Ridge Road. Accessing this hike will require driving a steep and sometimes bumpy gravel road but the payoff will be views just as grand as those at Hurricane Hill with far fewer crowds.

Twisp Pass trail
4. Twisp Pass           The views into the heart of the North Cascades from Twisp Pass are stunning, but the trail gets light foot traffic as the trailhead is a long drive from Seattle.

Red Top Lookout
5. Red Top Lookout via Blue Creek Trail            Red Top Lookout is only two hours from Seattle in the Teanaway and may be frequented by visitors who drive up most of the way, but the Blue Creek Trail is a quiet and rarely used backdoor route to this scenic summit with sweeping views of the Stuart Range, the Teanaway, Mount Rainier, and Kittitas Valley. The drawback? The trail is very steep and can be easy to lose in spots. Make sure to bring a map or GPS on this hike.

Eldorado Peak from Lookout Mountain
6. Lookout Mountain (Cascade River)            The two highlight hikes along the Cascade River Road- Sahale Arm and Hidden Lake Lookout- are both extraordinarily scenic and extraordinarily well-loved by the PNW summer hiking crowds. Turn to nearby Lookout Mountain for an alternative- the uphill may be grueling but the stunning views of Eldorado and the Pickets from the lookout are more than worth it.

Hoffer Lakes
7. Anthony Lakes Loop            If you're in the Tri-Cities area and want to hike at some alpine lakes this summer, you might consider skipping the Cascades and instead heading south to the Elkhorn Mountains in northeastern Oregon. The Anthony Lakes Loop will take you past a string of beautiful alpine lakes situated beneath granite peaks; crowds here are far thinner than at popular hiking destinations in the Cascades.

Middle Fork Valley from Garfield Ledges
8. Garfield Ledges            Okay, so you're not looking to drive three hours from Seattle to go hiking. You'd usually go to Rattlesnake Ledge but it's just too crowded there right now and you want something similar: close, not too difficult, pretty.

While this hike will certainly still see some foot traffic, the new trail up to Garfield Ledges may for the moment be a decent alternative to hikers who are just looking for a better social distancing alternative to Little Si, Rattlesnake Ledge, and the other North Bend area hikes that are loved to death. The trailhead for Garfield Ledges is at the end of the pavement of the Middle Fork Road, just a half hour out of North Bend. The trail is single track, so you'll definitely still have to deal with other hikers here- just probably not as many as you'd have to deal with at Rattlesnake Ledge. Your reward will be some nice views over the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Valley, including- you guessed it- Rattlesnake Ledge in the distance.

Napeequa Valley below Clark Mountain at Little Giant Pass
9. Little Giant Pass           Perhaps you were hungry to head to classic North Cascade hikes like Sahale Arm or Hidden Lake Lookout this summer for that combination of stunning views of glaciated peaks and a stiff workout. While those destinations get a fair share of crowds in the summer, consider heading instead to the quieter Little Giant Pass off the Chiwawa River Road. The trail itself isn't the easiest place to physical distance and with 4000 feet of elevation gain it's quite a workout but there aren't too many hikers who come out here, meaning you'll get to enjoy those stunning views of the Napeequa River Valley and glacier-bound Mount Clark without having to worry whether other hikers are actually staying six feet away from you.

Mount Rainier from Goat Peak
10. Goat Peak (Chinook Pass)          You want an easy-to-access hike to see Mount Rainier? The trailhead for Goat Peak is easily reached off Hwy 410, although the hike itself up the mountain is brutally steep. The rewards is a panorama of Mount Aix, Mount Adams, the Stuart Range, and Mount Rainier without the crowds that you'd find in the national park.

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