By Renae James
Fall is here but that doesn’t mean hiking season is over. You just need to be more selective on the trails you choose.
With the colder weather hikes with a higher elevation will start to ice up or become buried in snow making it dangerous for novice hikers. Some trails will soon be closed for the season with gates blocking access roads to ensure safety of drivers and hikers. Falls hikes can be quite beautiful as the colors change, and fallen leaves pave the trails. If you take the time to really look at the surrounding foliage you can even find some amazing mushrooms/fungi growing. I highly recommend hiking boots for better traction and to keep your feet dry. Hiking poles and traction cleats for your boots might be a smart investment as well. Trax just slip over the bottom of your boots.
•A lovely close-to-home trail is the Old Robe Canyon Trail. The trailhead is off of the Mountain Loop Highway, seven miles east of Granite Falls. There is a large brick sign on the side of the road. No parking pass is required. This trail is only 2.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of only 350 feet. You will walk through some old-growth mossy trees, and then suddenly you are on sandy ground looking at the rushing Stillaguamish River. Walk along the river, cross a stream with a large log as a bridge and then onto a rocky path that used to be an old railroad for the mine cars that came out of Monte Cristo. At about 1.2 miles you will run into a rock slide. On the other side are a few train tunnels but they are not safe to access.
•Continuing 16 miles down Highway 92 you get to the Big Four Ice Caves. This parking area requires a Northwest Forest Pass. This trail is 2.2 miles round trip and also is fairly level. The hike takes you through the woods, over the Stillaguamish River on a sturdy bridge and back into the woods. As you get closer you will see the Big Four Mountain. Waterfalls and ice caves can be safely seen from the viewing circle. Do not go in the caves or climb them as they are unstable. There have been deaths there. But if you stay safe, it is a magical experience, especially when snow falls – so tranquil, surrounded by the stark white against the mountains.
•Another nice hike this time of year is the Fragrance Lake Trail, off of Chuckanut Drive on the way to Bellingham. Park directly across from the main entrance to Larrabee State Park. This trail requires a Discover Pass and is 5.5 miles round trip with a gradual elevation gain of 950 feet. You will hike through some old-growth forest and lots of ferns. A mile into the trail is a short spur up to a lovely view of Samish Bay. Later, there is a half-mile loop around the lake. Larrabee State Park is a nice side adventure. Walk through the artistic tunnel underneath the railroad tracks and visit the pebble beach on Samish Bay and see some amazing rock formations. If the tide is low there are tidepools.
I will be signing off for the season. I hope you had an opportunity to explore a new trail or two and will be ready for more hiking in 2019.
Renae James writes a hiking column periodically for this newspaper.