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A Week in the Woods: Volunteering in the Backcountry

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Jul 29, 2015 11:10 AM |
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Tasty food, good company, and the thrill of adventure are just a few of the reasons why a Volunteer Vacation is a great way to spend a week in some of the most beautiful locations in Washington helping repair trails.

If you think volunteering for a week is all hard work, think again! Tasty food, good company, and the thrill of adventure are what keep WTA's loyal volunteers coming back each year to help repair trails. Plus, camping for a week in some of Washington's most beautiful locations is an added bonus.

In addition to working on a fulfilling trail project, volunteer vacations are structured to give you plenty of time to relax and enjoy your surroundings. 

One recent trip allowed the volunteers on it to enjoy their surroundings in an area that has been tough to access from the western side of the Cascades until recently: Glacier Peak Wilderness.

For years, one of the key access points to the Pacific Crest Trail section that runs through Glacier Peak Wilderness was closed. (In 2003 and in 2006, floods washed out portions of the Suiattle River Road, resulting in damages that took more than a decade to repair. On Oct. 25, 2014, the road reopened and access was regained to this incredible area of our state.).

That's when volunteers went to work.

PCT Skyline Glacier sign
The Glacier Peak Wilderness is just one of the amazing locations that Volunteer Vacations visit. Photo by Karen K. Wang.

WTA volunteer and photographer Karen K. Wang joined this Volunteer Vacation from July 4-11 and snapped some images that capture what it's like to spend a week giving back to the trails we love.

PCT Skyline hard hat
WTA provides the tools and the hard hats. Photo by Karen K. Wang.

Hiking to your home for the week

Volunteer vacations begin with a hike to the camp location. Often with help from the Back Country Horsemen of Washington, WTA packs in all the food and tools needed for the week, so all you have on your back is your camping and personal gear.

Not sure you've got everything? We have a handy list that will help you decide what to bring for your trip.

PCT Skyline Volunteer Vacation Hiking
Hiking to the volunteer vacation camp at Skyline. Photo by Karen K. Wang.

PCT Skyline Volunteer Vacation
Pack horses carry gear and food to camp thanks to our friends with the Back Country Horsemen of Washington.

Getting to know the project

Much of the day on a volunteer vacation is spent working on the trail. For the Pacific Crest Trail section near Glacier Peak, that involved repairing the tread on the trail, clearing fallen logs, and creating rock fords across streams from the Skyline camp heading north.

The maintenance completed on Volunteer Vacations is rewarding; you'll learn new skills and work with a team of people who quickly become close friends. However, it's also absolutely essential in order to keep the trails usable for hikers.

Work for the day is usually finished around 3 p.m. Afterwards, volunteers relax before gathering for dinner preparation.

PCT Volunteer Vacation Skyline
Sawing blowdown to be removed. Photo by Karen K. Wang.

PCT Skyline VV Work
Eric stops for a smile during the day's work. Photo by Karen K. Wang.

Dining in style

Just because you’re in the backcountry doesn’t mean you have to eat boring meals, or something freeze-dried from a bag. In fact, the food that provided on Volunteer Vacations might rival what you’d eat on a night out. From salmon with pesto pasta to steak with mashed potatoes and berry cobblers for dessert, you won’t be disappointed with the culinary choices.

Are you eating gluten-free? Diabetic? Vegan? WTA can accommodate nearly any diet restriction -- you just let us know what yours is when you sign up.

PCT Skyline camp
Steve, Jennifer and Eric enjoy a relaxing dinner at camp after working. Photo by Karen K. Wang.

PCT Skyline dinner
Getting hungry? This is the kind of quality you can expect from a Volunteer Vacation meal. Photo by Karen K. Wang.

Taking some time for yourself

Wednesday on a Volunteer Vacation is a free day. That means you can kick back at camp, take a dip in a nearby river, get to know your fellow volunteers, or go for a hike to explore the area -- it’s up to you!

PCT Skyline music
Terry relaxes at camp with some music. Photo by Karen K. Wang.

PCT Skyline swim
Taking a refreshing swim. Photo by Karen K. Wang.

Of her visit to the Pacific Crest Trail volunteer vacation, photographer Karen K. Wang wrote:

"Everyone on this trip was so inspiring, and I don't think I could have asked for a better group. We bonded over a hard day's work at camp while cooking and doing dishes together ... quite an experience with some amazing people that I will never forget."

Find a Volunteer Vacation that fits your schedule - we'd love to have you join us! If you have questions about joining a Volunteer Vacation, check out our FAQ.