Nature is healing, and while we live in nature on our beautiful hilltop, it’s always fun to explore new areas — and to actually just rest and enjoy; when we’re home, we’re often working on the health of our forest… and there should always be time for play!
It’s kind of funny thinking how many times we have ended up staying near Mount Rainier National Park, located in southwestern Washington. We didn’t actually visit the park on this trip, but wow… just about every drive we took as we visited several state parks, there was Mount Rainier! So beautiful!
We stayed in a charming little “cottage” located in the woods between Black Diamond to the north and Enumclaw to the south that we found on Vbro. It was everything we wanted — a one-bedroom unit stocked with movies, nice ambiance, and secluded… but with those views right nearby!!
Just a quick few notes about Mt. Rainier. (Note: Read our blog post about the national park and Mount St Helens here.) Mount Rainier is the highest mountain — at 14,410 feet — in the state of Washington; it is part of the Cascade Range. This dominant and dormant volcano last erupted about 150 years ago. It covers 100 square miles and is surrounded by the largest single-mountain glacier system in the United States — outside of Alaska. The mountain has three major peaks: Liberty Cap, Point Success, and Columbia Crest… and can be seen dominating the landscape throughout the western part of the state. Definitely visit the national park the next time you are in the area.
Our focus on this trip was not Mt. Rainier, but a collection of state parks located around the Green River Gorge… that said, we need to step back a moment and discuss our halfway stop (between Spokane and Seattle) along the Columbia River near the town of Vantage. We stopped here on both legs of the trip, although we stopped in different locations. On the way to the west side, we stopped at the Columbia River overlook on I-90 and then had a lunch/snack at the boat launch park right off the interstate.
The Columbia River along this part of Washington is a bit stark, but even with all its dams, the river is still majestic! Either the vista site or the boat launch make great spots to stretch your legs and catch some interesting sights. We saw spring wildflowers and several geese with young goslings. Located in Kittitas County in the central part of the state, the “big” thing this town is known for is the nearby Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park — one of the most unusual fossil forests in the world; this 7,124-acre park is located on the western shoreline of the Columbia River’s Wanapum Reservoir and was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1965.
We spent an afternoon at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park last year, but were too busy with other projects to blog about it; it’s a must-see to have your mind blown about the types of trees that grew here — with their remains now stone. You’ll find about 3 miles of hiking trails along with some interpretative signs.
After having our snack, we decided to have a short walk around the park and were rewarded with tantalizing lilacs, wild rose, and other joys.
It’s amazing the things you can see and find joy in if you just take a few minutes to look!
After cleaning up, we headed back on the road for the second half of the trip, which was not nearly as wonderful, as the roads began filling up the closer we got to Seattle, with our exit backed up almost a mile! Yuck.
We arrived at the cottage, unpacked, and chilled in the wonderful vibes of the property — before heading on to our first official adventure of the trip — a hike along an old railway bed that serviced a now-abandoned coal mine.
The biggest challenge with the Franklin Ghost Town hike is the parking.
Your goal is to get to SE Green River Gorge Road, where parking is $5 on a private field on the right side, just before the one-lane Green River Gorge Bridge. I believe you are supposed to pay at the nearby Green River Gorge Resort, but everything was locked up the day we arrived, so we just parked along the driveway; others did the same.
The trailhead is on the far side of the field with a yellow vehicle gate.
The trail itself is fairly moderate-to-easy as it is a former railroad bed. Once you get to the coal car, you have two options.
First, you can continue on the railroad path and it continues for quite some time, along the mountainside ridge. This path has a few other interesting “lost” foundations and some nice views.
Second, you can go up and back on a narrower path, which leads eventually to the remains of the Franklin Coal Mine Trestle and the old town cemetery.
Note that while it looks like there are multiple ways to access this area via maps programs, most of the old roads are now closed and blocked by private property, so the parking area is one of the few ways to really experience this area.
By the way, wild blackberry bushes line the entire trail, so a summer hike here could be a berry gorge-fest.
The next morning, we headed to our main destination, Flaming Geyser State Park, a 503-acre day-use park officially located in Auburn, and which has more than 3 miles of freshwater shoreline on the Green River.
We never knew there was so much coal-mining operations in this area of the state, and this park fits right in with that history.
It seems that in 1911, miners drilled a coal
test hole at the edge of Christy Creek, located near the Green River. The miners hit pockets of methane gas and salty water at around 1,000 feet down… and for many years, fire reached heights of 25 feet — and nearly 20 gallons of water a minute spewed from the hole.
Sadly, because most of the gas has been depleted, the geyser — technically a methane seep — is just a mark in the ground with a bunch of stones piled over it. Not far up the creek, one can also find the Bubbling Geyser (a mud-hole with a methane pocket seep).
The day we were there, we found more people rafting or fishing than actually hiking or relaxing IN the park! The park also offers several picnic areas, playing fields, and a model radio-controlled aircraft flying area.
There are two main hiking trails of interest in the park, though there is at least one other trail that shares the path with horses.
We hiked the Ridge Trail, located in the center of the park. While listed as “easy,” we would say that with some of the steep hills at the beginning and end of the trail, that it is closer to moderate. While it was an interesting hike up along a ridge, the stench of the methane that seemed to fill the air was a bit too much for us and made the hike unenjoyable.
The park also has a River Trail along the Green River, which we had planned on hiking, but after becoming a bit sick from the methane, we went back to the cottage for a break — as well as a wonderful grilled, grassfed strip steak for our “liner.”
That evening, we changed plans and decided to do a lake hike at Nolte State Park, a 111-acre day-use park with 7,174 feet of freshwater shoreline on Deep Lake near the Green River Gorge… and located just about 10 minutes north of Enumclaw.
Be forewarned, while there is a decent-sized parking lot, be prepared to park in the overflow areas on the shoulders of Veazie-Cumberland Road… which is what we had to do, even when arriving at 6 pm for our lake hike.
We saw lots of people enjoying picnics on the grassy areas around the lake, others kayaking around the lake, and still others fishing from several beach areas situated around the lake. (The park includes two reservable picnic shelters, plus 50 unsheltered picnic tables.)
Formerly a vacation resort (known as Deep Lake Park and owned by the Nolte family for which the state park is named), the park still has some apple and cherry trees that were once part of the resort. The native forest is typical of the region, with a mix of Douglas-fir, Western Red Cedar, Hemlock, Alder, and Maple, as well as ferns, moss and lichen, wild berries, and wildflowers.
The short, 1.4-mile loop around the lake is a fun and easy hike. Some people also jog or bike it.
There’s yet another state park, located about 4 miles northeast, called Kanaskat-Palmer State Park, which offers 3 more miles of hiking trails, as well as 2 miles of shoreline on the Green River.
We left our last day open to adventures, with one unexpected adventure of a small wildfire in the neighborhood that knocked out the power — and solidified our plans to get back on the road home. We were unprepared for the additional fun that awaited us!
We found the coolest little nature trail (with access to other trails) right off I-90, Exit 47, near Snoqualmie Pass. The Asahel Curtis Nature Trail is a must-see, but it’s completely unmarked and off a gravel forest road (Forest Road 5590).
The hike is a short (.7-mile) loop, but so wonderful…. something for everyone! It’s a beautiful trail that crosses both a creek and a river (both raging with snow melt), contains all sorts of useful information along the trail, and is complete with a rare old-growth stand of some MASSIVE trees (including Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and Western Red Cedar). You’ll also delight in the mosses, ferns, and wildflowers.
Who was Asahel Curtis and why does he have a nature trail? Asahel Curtis was a photographer from Minnesota who moved to Washington in the late 1800s. After many years of work, he became one of Seattle’s preeminent photographers, with a whopping 60,000+ of his images now in the archives of the Washington State History Museum.
If you’re looking for a much longer hike, no worries. The same spot is also home to the Annette Lake Trailhead. This 7.5-mile (RT) moderate-rated trail is complete with elevation changes, waterfalls, wildflowers, forests, mountain views, and an alpine lake.
Wherever you live, there should be access to natural areas — whether a local park, county park, state park, or national park — and we can’t encourage you enough to explore those areas and find healing.