Hike! Hike! Hike Your Pants Up!
April 21, 2010 8:25 AM   Subscribe

I am wanting to enjoy some outdoor exploration this year in Washington state. The catch is, I have multiple sclerosis and my ability to walk is severely hampered (I can walk short distances- maybe about a city block or 2 at a time, sometimes I need a cane, but not wheelchair bound). Where should I go?

As a kid, I had the opportunity to do cool stuff, like climb Mt Pilchuck, explore the ice caves at Big Four, hike the Hoh rainforest, etc. Since my diagnosis 4 years ago, this has become increasingly impossible. New medication has vastly improved my mobility, and I want to take advantage of this and get out of the house and away from this computer more often. Can anyone recommend some similar activities that I can do in Washington so I can get out without too much pain? The criteria are:

1. Short walks, minimal grade are imperative.
2. The less heat or direct sun exposure the better (MS makes you heat intolerant, it makes the damaged nerves misfire more frequently)
3. Off the beaten path would be cool, especially if it is something historically, geographically, or geologically interesting or quirky.
4. Places to sit and rest are a bonus.
5. City parks aren't of much interest to me, looking more for "meta-scenery" so hubby and I can make a weekend of it.
6. Not wanting things where you have to hike for x miles to get there, then hike back x miles back out. There is a very real possibility I won't be able to make it back out.
7. Things you can just drive through are fine too. Last year, my husband and I drove around the Olympic peninsula, getting out periodically to take pictures and stretch our legs.

We have considered some locations like the Ape Caves near Mt St Helens, where I might be able to just sort of go in, poke around a bit, then leave when the fatigue kicks in, but never having been there I don't know how reasonable that expectation is.
posted by evilcupcakes to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Your references are making me miss Washington something fierce!

My first thought is Paradise at Mt. Ranier. This is the opposite of off the beaten path, and if you go anywhere near the summer there will be lots and lots of people taking pictures of the flowers. But it does have a beautiful hike/walk right off the road. Some of it is paved, if that makes a difference for you (can't remember how far).

As a more general strategy, you might look into nature preserves, wildlife refuges, and similar spots. If you have a scenic drive in mind, this might be a good way to identify nearby hikes that suit you. These don't have the 'wow' of a specific mountain, lake, or icecave, but for that reason they can be less packed. If you're at all interested in seeing wildlife or learning about local flora/fauna, these can be great. The typical setup seems to be a station/visitor center with a parking lot, and often at least one short interpretive loop/'nature walk' type trail.

And actually, it just occurred to me that places like this have the added bonus of staff who'll be very familiar with the hike and can give you information about benches and any other concerns.
posted by heyforfour at 8:52 AM on April 21, 2010

If you want to try something outdoors that doesn't necessarily involve a lot of walking, consider Geocaching. It's a lot like a cross between orienteering and a scavenger hunt. You use a GPS to find caches (small containers with stuff in them) that people have hidden in various places. Although some are located in difficult terrain they all have ratings for terrain and difficulty to find so you can pre-select the ones suitable for you. Many are located on trails or areas like public parks that are mostly accessible to vehicles so you can drive most of the way and then hike the rest.
posted by tommasz at 9:19 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could contact Outdoors for All and ask where they go. They're very friendly, and this is pretty much exactly what they do.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:29 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could hike/walk sections of the Olympic Discovery Trail.

In Kitsap County, I think you can drive to the top of Green Mountain and walk around the summit.
posted by surfgator at 10:25 AM on April 21, 2010

I was going to suggest the Olympic peninsula, but looks like you've been out that way already. There's a great short (.5mi) loop in the Hoh.
posted by georg_cantor at 10:27 AM on April 21, 2010

Your question is hiking-oriented, but have you thought about canoeing or kayaking? You get a lot more miles per effort expended in a boat. The water typically means better scenery, and could be used to help you keep cool.
posted by richyoung at 11:03 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I second the hoh river valley, especially the trail up to mt. olympus. It is flat, follows a river, and long, as long as you feel comfortable with. It is also just about the most gorgeous trail I've ever been on, though can be crowded since it's so easily accessible.
posted by TheBones at 11:11 AM on April 21, 2010

Whidbey Island is a great day out. first there's the ferry from mukilteo; then Coupeville, a fun little town on Penn cove famous for mussels, cute victorian homes and a quaint main street full of shops; then Fort Ebey park where you can check out the old artillery battlements , get great views of the straight of Juan de Fuca, walk the spectacular bluff and then walk or drive down to the beach; and then drive to deception pass for the overlook. you can continue your day by either going on the ferry to port townsend, or driving to anacortes and then back down I-5, or you can take the ferry back to Mukilteo and enjoy the beach and a pint at the Diamond Knot brewery.
I've done all of this with a 4 yr old, who does not have a lot of hiking stamina either.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:56 AM on April 21, 2010

Response by poster: Your question is hiking-oriented, but have you thought about canoeing or kayaking?

That would be a great idea, except I am DEATHLY afraid of the water like some people are afraid of heights. Big boats are ok, little boats that could dump me into the Lovecraftian depths with a strong breeze? BWAAAH!!! NO!!!

In all seriousness, how dangerous is that sort of thing? How likely are you to get dumped into the sound? I suppose it might be a good idea to try and get over my fears, but man, that would be a real challenge.
posted by evilcupcakes at 5:06 PM on April 21, 2010

I really recommend the area south of Mount St. Helens, which has multiple car-accessible stops, short paved mini-trails, less tourism than a lot of accessible places, and is amazingly beautiful in the summer.

On the way up, you can stop at the Lelooska Lodge, have a picnic at the Yale Reservoir or grab lunch in one of tiny Cougar's diners.

Scroll down to South Side Trails for a list of stopping points within the National Forest.

If you're traveling with anyone who might want to go a bit further, there are also a number of trails of various levels of difficulty, and there's a really intense and completely dark cave. These options are great, but you can have just as much fun -- and see a lot more -- if you hit multiple stops and stay relatively close to your car.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 5:15 PM on April 21, 2010

Evil, too bad about the phobia. You mention "the sound" - as in Puget, the enormous body of salt water? That would be a bad place to try to overcome your fears, I think. I was thinking flat water - mountain lakes, in particular.

In my experience, most canoes and touring kayaks are pretty hard to actually capsize in calm water. They'll easily tip a little bit, but you have to *want* to swim to actually end up flipped over.

I thought of a few other bonuses about the canoe idea after hitting "post" earlier. 1) it makes it vastly easier for your husband to carry you out if you get exhausted, 2) you can take a break while he continues to paddle, and 3) it gives you access to short hikes in very off-the-beaten-path locales, because the "need a boat to get there" requirement filters out 90% of the population.

I'm not familiar with Washington, but this site might give you some ideas about places to try it out. Best of luck to you!
posted by richyoung at 8:26 PM on April 21, 2010

I'm afraid of the monsters that live in water just waiting to get me, too, but I found that doing the UW canoe rental was enjoyable. There's one bit where you pull the canoe into traffic to get across the Montlake Cut that's a bit tense, but after that it's fun -- you're always close to shore, so you have a chance of surviving when the Kraken attack.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:17 AM on April 22, 2010

Ha, I came in here to suggest Ape Cave. I'm a pretty wimpy hiker and visited it on a short trip years ago and remember enjoying it a lot. (The trip was a "we've got to hop out of the car, quickly look around, hope back in and keep driving" kind of thing, and the drivable parts of St Helens and this stop were enjoyable.)

Another possibility is something like driving along the Columbia Gorge stopping at overlooks etc, and going up to Dry Falls in eastern Washington. That was another place I went on a similar hop-out, hop-back-in kind of trip and it's pretty amazing even if you can't climb all around; it's out in the open though, so you'd need to do it on a cool day.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:12 PM on April 23, 2010

(note that, obviously, it makes sense to sanity-check my recollections of these places by web or calling the visitor centers ahead of time)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:13 PM on April 23, 2010

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