Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Accessible Hikes in WA: March 2020 - March 2021


Iron Goat Trail near Steven's Pass, WA

Over a year ago, Covid19 began to dominate life in Western WA.  Daily counts of the increasing infections and deaths became a regular morning roll call, with each day bringing a new list of closures, cancellations and restrictions.  The outdoors -- always important to residents of this region -- became one of the few opportunities for escape.  Before the March 23  "Healthy at Home" lockdowns were implemented, I took a hike and jotted down some notes for a post about hiking with a wheelchair during the pandemic.  At that time, people outdoors did not wear masks and were uncertain or even unconcerned about trail etiquette during a pandemic.  My notes at the time expressed my anxiety about hiking on local trails, which were over-run by families and teenagers in the early afternoon, giving way to an endless stream of runners and dog-walkers in the evenings.  

A couple of weeks later, I went on another hike.  This time we drove over an hour outside of Seattle, hoping distance would diminish the crowds.   To our surprise, the trailhead parking lot was full, so we waited until 5 pm, when the lot was empty, and we had the trail to ourselves.

Over time, people in Western WA have settled into Covid-prevention behaviors.  Mask-wearing, even on trails, has become ubiquitous, and the majority of the hiking community seems to abide by a set of pandemic hiking protocols.  Still, because the outdoors offered one of the few safe outlets for recreation during the pandemic, many trails in Western WA suffered from over-use. The vaccination roll-out and the coming of summer bring new recreational possibilities and lists of creative and safe openings, which may lower the impact on Western WA trails.  On the other hand, the discovery of the great outdoors and the joys of hiking may be one of the lasting changes brought by the pandemic conditions.   All the more thanks and donations that are due WTA and other organizations working on trail maintenance.  

In the past year, I've been fortunate to try a variety of trail settings in Western WA.  I stuck to recommendations, and most of the trails were truly accessible (there may have been a downed tree, oversized root, or exposed bridge edge that required creative thinking or a turnaround, but hopefully those obstacles were temporary).  Here is my latest list of wheelchair hiking suggestions, which can be added to previous compilations of accessible trails (see below).  For this list, I've included trail smoothness (which considers exposed roots, rocks, and bridge edges -- mostly for power chairs) and levelness (which considers hills and side slope -- mostly for manual chairs).  As always, these descriptions are limited by my less-than-perfect memory and by Blogger's strange formatting results.  


Trail:  Interlaken Park

: Capitol Hill/Montlake, Seattle
Distance: .4 m each way
Surface: Paved road
Smoothness: Smooth road
Levelness: Minimal hills, but some side slope
View: Trees
Trailhead: One end is at E Interlaken Blvd & 19th Ave E.  One end is at E Interlaken Blvd & 21st Ave E.
Other: There is no parking lot nor facilities.  The neighborhood has winding roads, making the park difficult to find.

Salish Sea

: 72 m north of Seattle on coast
Distance: 2.25 m each way
Surface: Hard- packed gravel
Smoothness: Excellent when dry
Levelness: Flat
View: Estuary with birds, Salish Sea with islands, and oil refinery.
Trailhead: South Trailhead has parking lot with (accessible) Honey Bucket and wheelchair-accessible ATV-guard
OtherBreadfarm and Farm to Market Bakery in nearby Bow and Edison

: Deception Pass State Park, North-west  Whidbey Island
Distance: 1.2 m loop
Surface: Paved
Smoothness: Mostly good; one section wind-swept with a little sand; one section with 2 large upswells in pavement from roots (can be circumvented)
Levelness: Flat
View: Salish Sea with islands, beach with dunes and driftwood, stand of (big) trees
Trailhead: West Beach has a large paved parking lot with disabled parking and restrooms.
Other: Trail passes Cranberry Lake with beach, picnic tables  (1 accessible), restrooms, and concessions


: Middle Fork Snoqualmie River (past Mailbox Peak)
Distance: .45 m loop
Surface: Hard-packed dirt
Smoothness: Good in good weather
Levelness: Flat, except for hills at beginning and end
View: Trees, Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, mountains
Trailhead: Paved parking lot with disabled parking and accessible outhouses.
Other: Picnic tables and areas (many accessible) with views


Mountain Loop Highway

Location5.4 m from Darrington T-intersection on Hwy 530 
Distance: 1 m loop
Surface: Hard-packed dirt    
Smoothness: Good (in good weather)
Levelness: Minimal hills
View: Forest, Sauk River
Trailhead: Medium-packed gravel parking lots with accessible outhouse and picnic tables. 

Location: About 25 m past Granite Falls on Hwy 530
Distance: about .8 m popsicle loop from picnic parking lot to bridge (boardwalk) and then 1/2 way back to dirt trail leading to second parking lot, and then on paved trail between parking lots
Surface: Boardwalk, paved, hard-packed gravel and dirt
Smoothness: Good
Levelness: Mostly flat
View: Mountain, forest, bog, river
Trailhead: Two entrances with paved parking lots (with disabled parking spaces and accessible outhouses) connected by paved trail. One entrance has picnic tables with mountain views; one is in forest
Other: Trail continuing up to ice caves is steep and has steps.


Trail: Monte Cristo

Location: Barlow Pass, 31 m east of Granite Falls on Hwy 530. 
Distance1.6 m there and back (turn-around when trail takes short but steep downhill)
Surface: Hard-packed dirt
Smoothness: Good
Levelness: Flat
View: Woods, river, mountains, berries, bears
Trailhead: Locked gate requires key from Snohomish County Dept of Public Works
Other: turn back when trail takes short but steep downhill at .8 m; otherwise, trail becomes narrow, steep, and overgrown, eventually running into river

Highway 2

Location: Index, WA
Distance: .6 m loop (+.2 m each way to get there)
Surface: Hard-packed dirt
Smoothness: Good, once on ADA trail
Levelness: Mostly flat (a few small hills)
View: Trees (especially cedars and big leaf maples), fungi, ferns
Trailhead: Small, medium-packed gravel parking lot with no facilities at Heybrook Ridge County Park on Index-Galena Road off of Hwy 2.
Other: As of fall 2020, the loop was being built to be fully ADA accessible.  There-and-back from/to parking lot was a narrow path, overgrown on the sides.

Location: FR 6710 (sharp left at junction with Old Cascade Hwy), which is found at Milepost 55 on Hwy 2, near Stevens Pass  
Distance: 3 m one-way ADA (part of 6 m loop)
Surface: Mostly hard-packed dirt; some boardwalk and bridge with boards
Smoothness: Excellent
Levelness: Railroad grade, but best if manual chair  goes downhill direction only (arrange to shuttle); minimal side slope
View: Trees, railroad tunnels & bridges, mushrooms,  mountains
Trailhead: Martin Creek trailhead (high point of ADA trail) has gravel parking lot, with disabled parking, accessible outhouse and non-accessible picnic tables
Other: Former Railroad; has interpretive signs 

Location: Rainy Pass (Exit 158) on Hwy 120
Distance: 1 mile each way
Surface: Paved
Smoothness: Excellent
Levelness: Steep, significant hills; side slope toward down-hill side
View: Through forest to overlook of lake and surrounding peaks (distant larches visible in Oct)
Trailhead: Paved parking lot at Rainy Pass (Exit 158), with disabled parking spots, picnic tables and outhouses
Other: This section of the road is closed in winter till the snow melts

Location: West of Twisp, WA, down County Rd 9114 (Twisp River Rd) for 10m, then FS Rd 43 for 8 m
Distance: .5 m each way
Surface: Paved
Smoothness: Excellent
Levelness: Very good
View: Black Pine Lake, rosehips, ponderosa pines
Trailhead: Trail begins at boat-launch at Black Pine Lake Campground -- a large, paved lot, with disabled parking spots, wheelchair-accessible picnic tables, an accessible outhouse, and an accessible pier
Other:  Lake offers swimming, fishing, and non-motorized boating.  Campground has accessible drive-up spots above lake and 1 accessible "walk-in" spot at lake level.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

North Sauk River Trail

Mountain Loop Highway

The Old Sauk River Trail is my current favorite trail.  Off of the Mountain Loop Highway (SR 530), the 1 mile ADA loop through mossy forests includes an accessible river viewpoint.

Start of the Old Sauk River trail

The medium-packed gravel parking lot in the forest hosts disabled parking, an accessible (across the gravel) outhouse, and picnic tables (one of which is wheelchair accessible).

Viewpoint for the Sauk River

The trail is a 1 mile loop through the forest, with a riverside view of the Sauk River.  One spur presents steps down to the river, while one offers a stair-free, ramped path down.  The latter is completely accessible.  

Old Sauk River Trail

The loop itself meanders through stands of Douglas fir, cedar, and various alders.  

Trail bottleneck

In general, the trail is level enough for a manual chair and wide enough for any wheelchair.   There is one point where the trail narrows significantly, but I was able to wheel through it.  

Potential weather challenges

The trail surface is dirt, except for one wooden bridge over a creek.  It might become impassable after storms (muddy path, downed trees, washed-out bridges). I don't know that for sure; it's just a precautionary warning.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Iron Goat

Iron Goat Trail

The Iron Goat Trail was built on the site of the former Great Northern railway.  The trail was abandoned as a railway passage when a snow slide in the early 20th century killed nearly 100 people, and a tunnel (still in use today) was built instead, turning the abandoned railway passage into a recreational trail.  Because of the obvious snow danger in these steep slopes, it's not advisable to hike the trail when there is still snow and slide danger.  

A three-mile section of the trail is officially designated as an ADA trail, with a wide path that has a level side-slope and is surfaced with hard-packed gravel and dirt (strewn with pine needles and big-leaf maple leaves in the fall).  Because the trail slope is railway grade, power chairs can traverse in either direction, but I would advise manual chairs to start at the Martin Creek trailhead and travel downhill, incorporating  some kind of shuttle to bring the car from the upper parking lot to the lower lot.

The trail runs through the forest off of Highway 2, with view of the old railway tunnels, big leaf maples, streams, fungi, and a few interpretive signs along the way.

The gravel parking lot has disabled parking, an ADA outhouse (currently closed), and a non-ADA picnic table.  The trail begins with a boardwalk, and it has some sections that travel upon bridges or boardwalks.  But most of the trail is hard-packed dirt and gravel. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021


Big Leaf Maple leaves at Erinswood

The closest I came to playing in the leaves this year was hiking over the leaf-covered trails at Erinswood, outside of Index, WA.  The leaf coverage was just enough to make the trails and surrounding wooded area seem like autumn, without being too deep to impede passage.  Autumn is the perfect season to view the colorful big-leaf maples before they drop and the leaf-covered woods thereafter.  It is also the perfect time for the exhibits of fungi on display.

Even without the color of the maples, however, the hike would be beautiful, because of the many stands of western red cedar trees, as well as the ubiquitous moss and ferns of the western Cascades.  If you time it right, you can also find salmon- and thimble- berries.

The .8 mile (round trip) trail is located outside of Index, WA, across from the rock-climbing mecca of the Town Wall.  There is a medium-packed gravel parking lot.  There is no outhouse, and I don't remember there even being Honey Buckets there.  The first .1 mile of the trail is accessible, but not officially ADA, leading to a turn-off to Heybrook Ridge.  

After that junction, the trail narrows and is encroached upon by brambles and bushes for about .1 mile.  

The trail then reaches a .4 mile loop which is wide and relatively flat, with a few short/steep hillocks.  I could wheel the entire trail by myself (but I have levers, a large third wheel, big tires, and some muscles).  The trail, named after a local resident-hiker with a disability, is intended to become a truly ADA trail, with the addition of a hard-packed gravel surface on top of the dirt.  Until this layer is added, the trail has a few roots sticking up, but it is mostly smooth.   

There is a small creek, which comes close to the trail at one point, presenting a rocky section and a possible wash-out point.  

My biggest question, however, is how one is supposed to get to the ADA trail, since it seems that the only access is down this .1 mile overgrown and narrow trail.  If that is resolved and the ADA portion of the trail is completed, this will be a wonderful wheelchair-accessible trail -- short, but full of a variety of beauty.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Deception Pass State Park

Driftwood at Deception Pass State Park

I know I've said this before, but it bears and even demands repeating: I live in a beautiful place. Especially when viral pandemics and closed borders keep you close to home, it's all the more important that your home is a place offering opportunities and beauty.  Hooray, Washington State!

Lookout onto Strait of Juan De Fuca

Taking advantage of a sunny -- but very cold -- day, we headed to Deception Pass State Park and the Sand Dunes Trail.  The trail is located at the main entrance to Deception Pass State Park on the Whidbey Island (south) side of the bridge.  Follow the signs to the large, paved parking lot at West Beach.  The trail begins at the south side of the parking lot.  There were disabled parking spots, and I assume the restrooms were disabled, as well, but they were locked, so I couldn't confirm that.  Parking requires a Discover Pass; however, vehicles with a disabled placard or license plate are exempt.

The trail can be accessed from the parking lot either by a paved trail that goes past the beach on Cranberry Lake, with a beach house, outdoor showers, and a large picnic area.  There is even one picnic table with space cut out for a wheelchair and a paved path leading to it.  The trail can also be accessed by a wide unpaved road next to the water.  Either way, the Sand Dunes Trail, officially designated an ADA trail, is a paved 1.2 mile loop.

West side of Sand Dunes Trail

One side of the loop goes along Puget Sound, with views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands. The beach is covered with driftwood, and trail name (Sand Dunes Trail) is reflected by the small dunes along the trail.  There are several informative interpretive signs.  I've read that in the summer, porpoises, eagles, and osprey can be seen.

South-east side of
Sand Dunes Trail

The other side of the loop goes along Cranberry Lake and then through a stretch of mossy trees.  

Among the trees, and perhaps best seen from the Puget Sound side, is a tremendous, twisted 850 year-old Douglas Fir.

This root is easy to bypass
The thing about trees is that they have roots, and big trees have correspondingly big roots.  Unfortunately, at the south end of the trail are two large roots crossing under the trail which have seriously broken through the pavement, causing an upheaval which makes the trail impassable.  I was able to get around both of these obstacles by going on the side of the trail.  Even if I hadn't been able to, I would have gone down and back on both sides of the loop, because the views were so stunning.

This root is harder to bypass,
but possible

Padilla Bay Shore Trail

PBST looking out at Padilla Bay and the Salish Sea

"Where the Skagit River meets the Salish Sea." This trail description on The WTA website sounds so romantic and foreign.  However, the Padilla Bay Shoreline Trail is really just about 72 miles north of Seattle.

South entrance
North entrance

The directions to the trail can be found on the WTA trail description webpage, along with a prosaic description of the trail.  The trail can be accessed from either the north or south trailheads, but the south trailhead is a little easier, since it provides a parking lot with Honey Buckets.  The trailheads are guarded at both ends by barriers to keep out motorized vehicles.  Fortunately, they are both wide and long enough for wheelchairs to fit through. 

PBST along the estuary

The trail itself is 2.25 miles each way, built of hard-packed gravel on top of a dyke.  It is fairly well trafficked by pedestrians and bikers, most of whom are wearing masks.  The southern half runs along the Skagit River estuary, and the northern half runs along Padilla Bay.  If you are a birder, you'll want to bring your binoculars.  Others will be captivated by views of water, islands, mountains ... and, of course, the Shell Oil Refinery.

As an extra treat, the route from Seattle to the trail winds through the small towns of Bow and Edison, allowing a stop or two at The Farm to Market Bakery and/or The Breadfarm.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Monte Cristo

Monte Cristo Trail (and resident)
Monte Cristo Trail (and resident)

Monte Cristo (town) -- in 1889, a vein of gold- and silver- ore was discovered in the mountains at the head of the South Fork Sauk River, and over the next twenty years, mines produced millions of dollars in ore.  A bustling town sprung up at the foot of these mines -- complete with a school, hotels, and a train to Everett.  This town of Monte Cristo is now a ghost town, 4 miles from Barlow Pass, on the Mountain Loop Highway, near Granite Falls.

Monte Cristo (trail) -- I've tried twice without success to get there (once on each side of the river).  I've come to terms with the probability that I will never see Monte Cristo.  The trail on one side of the river starts out promising, but it becomes narrow after a steep dip, and it eventually requires crossing the river without a bridge.  The other, longer side has a wide and rocky road, but it's very hilly, and the road surface is not always very firm.  Thus, on both sides I had to turn back way before reaching the town of Monte Cristo.  However, my attempts added a new picnic destination and trail to my repertoire -- short, but accessible, with mountain and river views, all kinds of berries, and wildlife.

Attempt #1: June 2020

Gate guarding entrance to Monte Cristo Trail
Since the road to Monte Cristo was damaged by flooding in 1980, a gate has been installed and locked at the trailhead on the west side of the Sauk River.  According to the trail guide provided by the Monte Cristo Preservation Association, keys are available to rent through the Snohomish County Department of Public Works, with MCPA members receiving a discount.  Hopefully this procedure works, since the hiker access space on either side of the gate is not wide enough for wheelchairs (I was able to manipulate the opening, with the help of a strong hiking companion, a second chair, and some creativity, so I haven't actually tried the key).

Beginning of Monte Cristo Trail
The first section of the trail is fantastic for wheelchairs.  The wide path, surfaced with hard-packed gravel, travels along the Sauk River through the trees, with mountains in the distance.  The vegetation is both inviting and threatening, as we saw blossoming berries and devil's club alongside the path.  At about .8 mile the trail comes to a short and steep downhill run, after which it narrows and becomes inaccessible for wheelchairs.  Eventually, an able-bodied hiker would cross the Sauk River over a log and join up with the Monte Cristo bypass road to town.  

Sauk River on MC Trail
We went a little farther, finally stopping for a picnic by the river before turning around at about 1.2 miles,  This is a great short hike, with beautiful scenery, wild berries in season, and the possibility of seeing bears.  As we were hiking along, we noticed a large pile of scat, that could have been bear scat.  A little farther on, we saw a second large pile that was definitely bear scat.  A little farther on, we noticed that the grasses were trampled down into an inviting bear-shaped nap spot.  When we stopped by the river for a picnic, we were treated to a perfectly Goldilocks-distanced (not too close, not too far) black bear!

Monte Cristo Trail Resident

Attempt #2: September 2020

Gate to Monte Cristo Road
We had been advised that the trail to Monte Cristo on the other side of the Sauk River was built upon an old access road and did not require any river crossing.  With this in mind, we set out for Monte Cristo on the east side of the river.  Again, the trail is guarded by a gate. On sides were hiker's passage ways sided by rocks and too narrow for a wheelchair.  

Monte Cristo Road
The trail is built on top of an old road and doesn't cross the river, but it is very hilly, and the surface is uneven, loose gravel.  It begins miles before the trail on the west side even starts, because of a turn in the Mt Loop Highway), making it even longer.  Maybe a power chair with off-road wheels would be able to drive this way, but it was too much for me!

Road surface
Monte Cristo Road

Hike #3: September 2020

View from Monte Cristo Trail
We returned to the trailhead on the west side of the Sauk River and did the short, accessible section down to the river.  The berries were gone.  There were no bears.  The mountains in the distance were out. It was a short but beautiful hike.