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Memorial Day weekend destinations

Posted by Kim Brown at May 24, 2012 09:25 AM |

Memorial Day planning is always a scramble for day hikers, backpackers, and car campers. The criteria of a crowd-free location given early-season snow levels and road & trail conditions stymies many - and those who have found a destination are as tight-lipped about it as a fisherman is about a favorite fishin’ hole.

Memorial Day is always a scramble for day hikers, backpackers, and car campers. The criteria of a crowd-free location, trails without snow and decent road conditions easily stymies even the most experienced hikers. Those who have found a destination can be as tight-lipped about it as a fisherman is about a favorite fishin’ hole. However, at WTA we are in the business of helping people find a hike, so we have some ideas for you.

First off, the weather. This weekend forecasts call for relatively cool and showery weather, mixed with sun throughout much of the state. That means great flower, forest and dramatic cloudscape photos - and experiencing the true meaning of “rain” forests on the coast. Check the National Weather Service website to ensure you're prepared for whatever conditions you might encounter.

Next, where to stay. Camping can be tricky this time of year, though most campgrounds are opening in advance of the Memorial Day weekend. Your best bet will be to reserve a spot, and fortunately you still have time to do so. Check out our Camping Reservations Tips for links and more information.

Don't forget to stay safe. Snow is still the name of the game in the high country, and hikers can easily encounter slick and dangerous conditions on snowy slopes and from overhanging cornices. All of that snow has to go somewhere when it melts too. Rivers and creeks are running at their peak levels right now. Read WTA's Spring Hiking Tips to refresh what you need to bring in your pack and how to stay safe under these conditions.

Finally, where should you go? Here are some excellent choices for day-hikers and backpackers alike.

Columbia Gorge

Wildflowers still adorn the southern slopes of the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side. Day hikers will enjoy the meadows and views of the relatively unknown Weldon Wagon Road in the White Salmon Valley. Or give Catherine Creek and Coyote Wall a go. This is the site of a new WTA trail work project that you can volunteer at on June 2. Want some elevation gain? Hamilton Mountain is sure to please.

Pacific Coast

If hearing the crash of ocean waves is more your style, head to the rugged Washington Coast. There are great backpack trips to Toleak Point and Shi Shi Beach. Be sure to get a wilderness permit from Olympic National Park for those. Day hikers will enjoy beach-walking at Browns Point near Kalaloch and Third Beach near La Push.

North Cascades

Highway 20 is open for the season, providing access to the wonders of the North Cascades. Driveway Butte near Washington Pass is an excellent early season hike, as evidenced by a trip report one day after the opening of North Cascades Highway this season. There's still snow at the top, but it is worth the effort. Another early favorite of backpackers is Thunder Creek, a long and gentle trail through old growth forest. Or how about East Bank Baker Lake with awesome views of Mount Baker and Shuksan? The road to this trail is closing at Shannon Creek from mid-June to mid-July, so get there now!

Central Cascades

Savvy Memorial Day hikers seek the sunnier southern and eastern slopes of the Central Cascades. There are many options in the Icicle Creek area near Leavenworth, including two ways to ascend Icicle Ridge: the gentle Icicle Ridge trail or the Fourth of July Creek butt-kicker. Alternatively, off of Blewett Pass, try out this week's Hike of the Week: Ingalls Creek. It features a raging creek, abundant wildflowers and plentiful campsites.

South Cascades

Most of Mount Rainier National Park is under snow, but not the Carbon River area. A new wilderness walk-in campground is open at Ipsut Creek, which provides ample opportunities to explore this lovely area. Try the trail up to Ranger Creek Falls and Green Lake, or say hello to a WTA Volunteer Vacation crew on the Wonderland Trail. One volcano down the chain, the South Coldwater Lake trail at Mount St. Helens is often one of the first places in the Monument to melt out.

Central Washington

Wildflowers are still going strong in the desert steppe country. Our trip reporters advise that the flower show continues near Quincy at Beezley Hills Preserve. Other good bets are Steamboat Rock State Park near Grand Coulee and Hardy Canyon, near Yakima.

Wow! That's 18 destinations to try out this weekend. We encourage you to get outside, take a hike, stay safe and come back and share your experience by writing a Trip Report.