Seattle/ Portland Area
Chemists know water exists in three natural states: solid, liquid, and gas. Hikers would add two other watery states to the list: Washington and Oregon. Here, virtually every trip is a textbook lesson in the many forms of water: rain in spring, trail-clogging snow from October to June, and cloudy weather just about all year-round.
Obstacle: Persistent rain
Solution: The Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness in eastern Washington is about as far from the soggy Cascades as you can get, in terms of both mileage and environmental conditions. This wilderness, which straddles the Washington-Oregon line near Walla Walla, receives less than 30 inches of precipitation each year-a thimbleful by Northwest standards, which means relatively rain-free hiking from late spring through early winter.
Try the Slick Ear Trail that descends through dry ponderosa pine and tamarack forests to the trout-rich Wenaha River. At river’s edge, the Slick Ear intercepts the Wenaha River Trail, then rolls along the river for 15 miles through the heart of the wilderness to Troy, Oregon. Arrange for a pickup there or return the way you came. For a change of scenery, return via the Grizzly Bear Trail as it climbs steep, rimrock-lined grass slopes to the pine forests on the valley rim. You’ll face a 4-mile hike on a dirt road back to Slick Ear trailhead.
Directions: The Slick Ear and Grizzly Bear trailheads are about 35 miles south of Dayton, Washington, off US 12.
Maps: USGS 7.5-minute quads Godman Springs and Oregon Butte in Washington and Wenaha Forks, Elbow Creek, and Eden in Oregon.
Contact: Umatilla National Forest, 2517 S.W. Haley Ave., Pendelton, OR 97801; (541) 278-3716.
Obstacle: High country snow
Solution: The best way to deal with late-melting snow: Head west until the water tastes of salt. The Pacific Ocean keeps conditions temperate along the coast, and for lovers of all things wild, there’s no better place than Olympic National Park. Here, you’ll find the longest section of undeveloped wilderness beach in the Lower 48 and not a flake in sight.
A good trip is the trek from 3rd Beach to Oil City, which covers 17 miles of rugged coast. The route rambles along sand and pebble beaches, over jagged rocky headlands, and occasionally through lush rain forests. Scan the waves for seals, otters, sea lions, and whales. Peer into the tidepools and you’ll see a variety of aquatic life. Watch the forests above the beaches for deer, red fox, and black bear, which often come down to fish in the tide pools. Hiking requires waterproof boots and an accurate tide table.
Directions: The 3rd Beach trailhead is just south of the Quillayute River, off WA 110, about 14 miles west of Forks, Washington.
Maps: Custom Correct map South Olympic Coast or USGS 7.5-minute quads Hoh Head, Toleak Point, Quillayute Prairie, and La Push.
Contact: Olympic National Park, Wilderness Information Center, 3002 Mt. Angeles Rd., Port Angeles, WA 98362; (360) 452-0300.