TRAILBLAZERS: Hike planning
In northwest Washington, getting outside can be complicated. There are so many tough decisions to make about where to go, what to do and how to go about it all. Do you hike in the North Cascades? Should you drive up to Artist Point and Mount Baker to enjoy the view? Or maybe paddleboard around Lake Padden? How do you decide? You might just choose what’s easily accessible simply because the options can be overwhelming.
As it gets deeper into summer and more trails open up and become snow-free, the first question to tackle is what outdoor area you want to explore. Since the Chuckanut Mountains by Fairhaven is at a low elevation, it is accessible year round. The Chuckanuts offers some great trail-running or day hikes such as the Oyster Dome trail, that are only a 10 minute drive from downtown Bellingham or Western’s campus. Mount Baker and North Cascades National Park are both about an hour and a half away, but offer stunning alpine landscapes.
If you’re trying to decide between the more distant Mount Baker and North Cascades, there really isn’t much of a decision to make. They both offer a multitude of activities including lakes to explore and plenty of mountain views. North Cascades National Park has a larger number of high-elevation hikes simply because it is a larger range. The area is known as “The American Alps” which is proudly stated on a sign on the way in.
Washington Trails Association has a useful tool to help find trails, as it lets you search for trails by location, what there is to see, elevation and elevation gain. So if you’re looking for a hike around Mount Baker you can just choose that area. And if you want to see a waterfall while you’re out there? Mark that box. Need to keep it short? Set the mileage range to keep it under three miles. Once you’ve chosen your hike, the trail association will probably have a detailed synopsis of the trip, so you know what you’re getting yourself into. You can also read the most recent trip reports which are often posted weekly during peak summer months.
There are two different permits you’ll probably need if you’re planning to hike around Northwest Washington: Washington’s Discover Pass and the Northwest Forest Pass. For much of North Cascades National Park, you don’t need a permit to park at all, but on forest land, which the Mount Baker area falls under, you must have a Northwest Forest Pass. The Discover pass is a little more common. It is used for state parks and recreation land, which includes basically everything that isn’t forest land.
Both the Discover Pass and Northwest Forest Pass cost approximately $30 annually, but they each offer day passes as well. A Discover day pass costs $11 and the forest day pass costs $5. The trail association page for each hike usually specifies which pass you need to park at the trailhead.
Now that we’ve got trail-picking and all the logistics of planning a hike dealt with, the last thing to focus on is what you’ll bring. I’m pretty particular about what I pack for both my day hikes and my backpacking trips, especially with my food. When I’m hiking I generally prefer simple sugars and snacks that are designed to provide quick energy. I also prefer to go as light as possible, but just because I do it that way, doesn’t mean it works for everyone.
A map and first aid kit are must-haves as well. A first aid kit is essentially prepaid insurance on your ability to finish the hike. You probably won’t need it, but it’s good that you have it. Every first aid kit for hiking should at least have scissors, gauze, bandages, blister treatment (I recommend moleskin) and anti-biotic cream. You never know when or where something could happen!
In the Bellingham area and northwest Washington we are spoiled with opportunity for outdoor activity. There is such a variety in what we can do and it is all so accessible. That just means we all should try to spend less time planning, so we can spend more time doing. If we plan efficiently, then we might have time to do it all.