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9 Approaches to Adventure for May and June

Want to spend some, or all, of your Memorial Day weekend outside, hiking birding or giving back? Here are 9 ways to experience trails at the very start of summer.

By the time Memorial Day weekend arrives, we're on the cusp of a season shift. This time of year holds all the promise of a long summer to come, but rain, snow and rough roads and trails remind hikers that spring is still here. At the very time when hikers are feeling the itch to get outside, conditions can conspire to make it tricky. The unique consideration this spring is how to hike responsibly while continuing to socially distance from your fellow hikers. 

Never fear. Washington is a year-round hiking destination, and there are plenty of approaches to finding a great trail adventure this spring.


Camp With a Reservation

Remember: The s'mores and extra warm clothes if the weather is cold or soggy.

Cresent Lake Campground by Garrett Schmidt.jpgCamping by Crescent Lake. Photo by Garrett Schmidt.

Good for you for planning ahead. Now, you just need to check the weather, pull together your car camping and hiking essentials and find a few snow-free hikes nearby.


Camp Without a Reservation

Remember: Go with a backup plan.

Reservations aren't your style, or maybe this weekend just snuck up on you. No worries. You've still got options, but you've got to be a little flexible.

  • First-come, first-serve: You can try to sneak your family out of town early and secure a camping spot at a first-come, first-served campground. If you try for one of the National Forest campgrounds that don't accept reservations, then your plan B can be dispersed camping, if you are comfortable without facilities. But first you need to check conditions and check in with a ranger.
  • Learn your land management agencies: While many people may think of National Parks, State Parks or National Forest campgrounds, other kinds of public lands (from federal Bureau of Land Management campgrounds to state Department of Natural Resources campgrounds) may also have some first-come, first-served camping options. Look locally, too. County or city public lands near you may help you find some oft-overlooked beach camping.

Overnight or Backpack

Remember: Choose your camps wisely, bury your waste, and pack out all your trash.

Shi Shi Beach by Keith LaPlante.jpgHiking and camping Shi Shi Beach. Photo by Keith LaPlante.

Some tips for finding good early-season backpacking destinations:

  • Pay attention to elevation levels when you do your research. Learn where the snow levels are, look at trip reports and talk to rangers to find where you are less likely to end up running into snow. East Bank Baker Lake or, in the North Cascades, the East Bank Ross Lake. As long as the rainfall makes it safe, lower-elevation river hikes of the Olympics are great for early season backpacking.
  • Some areas are known for melting out sooner: places like the Dark Divide, the lower Methow Valley, the Teanaway, the Blue Mountains and trails around Lake Chelan/the Entiat all make for better early spring bets than the high Cascades. That said, be prepared for all weather conditions and to encounter snow.
  • Looking for more ideas? Master the advanced search features on our website to see where trip reporters have been backpacking or to search for May backpacking destinations for years past.

Visit a Volcano

Remember: Check snow levels.

Loowit Trail. Photo by Sneha Prabhu.jpgMount St. Helen's from the Loowit Trail. Photo by Sneha Prabhu.

  • Most of Mount Rainier National Park is still under snow, including many of the trails that the still-closed Cayuse and Chinook Passes access. And the popular areas of Paradise and Sunrise are also still out of reach. Try exploring the areas of Longmire and Ohanapecosh, where you can find some low-elevation explorations on the flanks of this mammoth mountain. 
  • 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. (You'll need to check snow levels, at around 4,000 feet at last account, and get a backcountry permit to overnight here.)

Do Some Reconnaissance

Remember: Pack a sense of adventure and file a trip report when you get back.

Checking out a new spot. Photo by Anita Elder.
Checking out a new spot. Photo by Anita Elder. 

Wander with a purpose. Perhaps the best way to spend your long weekend is by scoping out some spots for later in the summer. It's always easier to hike or camp someplace you've already been, and a fact-finding mission will get you psyched for a summer of fun.

  • Pick a place you've been meaning to check out, and investigate the road conditions, trail conditions and campgrounds. Go prepared to detour widely, turn around a lot, stop frequently to stretch your legs for a mile or two on trails, and check out interpretive sites.
  • Pack some good maps, books and a camera. Take a good recreation road atlas (usually only about $20, and 100% worth it for spotting campgrounds or when Google fails you). Taking a hiking guide book with you will mean you are better prepared to safely explore trails in an unfamiliar area. A camera will help you remember things like the parking situation at a trailhead or the best spot in a campground.
  • Bring lots of snacks from home. An outing with multiple stops can be exhausting, so keep your energy up so you can check out all the things on your list. 

Practice a Skill

Remember: Trail smarts are a life-long pursuit. Always keep learning.

Moulton Falls by Lauren Dawkins.jpgPracticing with a map and compass. Photo by Lauren Dawkins.

Ask yourself what skill you wish you knew more about, and spend part of the weekend practicing. Whether it is  reading a map or hanging a bear bag, practicing in a low-pressure situation is the perfect way to jump-start your brain for summer.

  • Prefer learning in a more structured environment? Find a class, club or group to learn from.
  • Take a look, it's in a book: LeVar Burton and the Reading Rainbow had it right. Buy or check out a book to take into the field with you.
  • Planning to hike with kids this summer? Let them take the lead in planning or leading your day on trail. It will teach them to make good decisions in the future.
  • Do you hike with dogs? Make some, or all, of your day on trail a fun training exercise to improve your pup's behavior. Whether you are working on better leash manners, respecting wildlife or emergency recall, hard work now will pay off in more fun later in the season. And yes, old dogs can always learn (or brush up on) new tricks, especially when delicious treats are involved.

Experience Trails a New Way

Remember: The trail community contains multitudes.

David Garcia birding
David Garcia, an environmental educator at Seattle Audubon Society and Latino Outdoors Ambassador birds in Seattle parks and on Washington trails. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman

Most hikers we know have many passions--from photographers to artists, trail runners to kayakers, anglers to climbers--more often than not, hikers experience the trail in many different ways.

Spring is the perfect time to explore a new interest.


Go on a Goodwill Mission

Remember: Giving back to trails will ensure they will be there for your lifetime and beyond.

Kids pick up 45 lbs of trashIn April 2016, Thor-child's family structured their hike as a service project to clean up the Rattlesnake Ledge trail, a popular hike outside Seattle. They collected 45lbs of trash. Photo by Thor-child.

Structure a hike or weekend around giving back to trails. You won't regret it.

  • Volunteer. Sign up for a work party with WTA, write a trip report or lend a hand to another organization doing good for trails you love.
  • Pack a trash bag. Many hikers we know carry an extra trash bag (and even plastic gloves) to pack out any trash they see on trail when they hike. Even if this isn't something you want to do on every hiking trip, you could take one day early in the spring to leave the trail cleaner than you found it. You might even just inspire other hikers who see you at it to do the same.
  • Go hiking with your family. Sharing a picnic or hike is a refreshing activity that will bring everyone closer together. Pick a trail that everyone will enjoy; sometimes an old favorite is your best bet.  

    Just Take a Hike!

    Remember: your 10 essentials.

    Waterfalls are a treat in the spring. Photo by Kirt Lenard.
    Waterfalls are a treat in the spring. Photo by Kirt Lenard. 

    From roaring waterfalls to desert wildflowers, ghost towns to hikes within the urban core, there are hundreds of terrific trails to be hiked. Each one offers something unique: from ferns to flowers to pocket views of lakes and mountains.

    No need to make it complicated. Just head out there and enjoy.


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