Celebrating National Parks Week in mid-April is not exactly the prime season for the national parks in Washington. When the celebration arrives April 16-24, there will be plenty of snow at many favorite destinations at Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades national parks. Don’t fret, however, if you are not into snowshoeing at Paradise or skiing at Hurricane Ridge. Each park offers plenty of early spring trips and activities to entertain families.
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
At Mount Rainier, there might be nearly 190 inches of snow on the ground – barring any new storms. But the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center also will be open daily during the week, said Lee Taylor, the park’s chief of interpretation and education.
“People can still come up to ski, snowshoe, and otherwise play in the snow, which shows no signs of disappearing,” Taylor said.
Lowland trails between the Nisqually entrance and Longmire offer several options for those wanting to stretch their legs and explore.
Families with young children can do the Twin Firs Loop, a half-mile trek through old-growth forest about a half mile beyond the Kautz Creek parking area. This will take about 30 minutes, depending on how often you stop to study flowers, creeks and nurse trees.
The Kautz Creek Trail is a two-mile round-trip trek along the flat, lower portion of the trail. The trailhead is three miles east of the park entrance. Interpretive signs explain the effects of floods, such as the 2006 flood that pushed the creek east of its old location, and how they shape the land.
A drive up the Westside Road can be combined with a hike or snowshoe trek along the former roadway beyond where the road was washed out.
At Longmire, the 0.7-mile Trail of Shadows offers a look at the park’s early days and the development of the Longmire Springs Resort. Hikers also can take the portion of the Wonderland Trail from Longmire to Cougar Rock. At 3.4 miles round trip, this hike parallels the Nisqually River, offering views of the Tatoosh Range and cuts through ancient trees.
If the snow has begun melting in earnest, a stop at Christine Falls pullout is worthwhile. A short trail from the road offers a good view of the 75-foot waterfall.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
The park will hold a Greenhouse & Nursery Day on April 16 at the Matt Albright Native Plant Center. The free event, sponsored by Friends of Olympic National Park, will feature park botanists explaining plant propagation and revegetation efforts, and include tours of the greenhouse facility. More than 400,000 native plants will be grown there prior to and during removal of the Elwha dam.
The native plant center is at Robin Hill Farm County Park, just off Old Olympic Highway between Port Angeles and Sequim.
If you wish to just visit the park, there are plenty of options.
The Hoh Rainforest “is just coming alive” in mid-April, said Jon Preston, the park’s lead rain-forest interpreter.
“It depends on how warm it is whether the forest kicks in. Once the forest gets going, it’s almost like you can get out of your car and sense it. Everything is so vibrant,” he said.
He recommends a four-mile trek up the Hoh River trail to Cougar Creek. There, visitors can walk among cedar trees that are 800-1,000 years old.
“Kids look like little specks next to them,” Preston said.
Don’t despair if it is wet – instead, look for waterfalls. A favorite on the north end of the park is 90-foot-tall Marymere Falls. You can reach it on a 0.9-mile trail from the Storm King Ranger Station on Lake Crescent.
The 30-mile loop drive around Lake Quinault is a good option on a rainy day. Preston said visitors will likely see elk feeding on vine maple buds and hungry bears just waking from their winter hibernation looking for food.
“Then there is the coast,” Preston said. “The female gray whales with calves are starting to come up on their migration. Go to Rialto Beach, let the kids throw some rocks, and maybe you’ll see some whales go by.”
Craig Romano, author of “Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula,” recommends the Lake Mills Trail. This fall, work will begin to remove the Glines Canyon Dam that creates the lake.
He said the Sol Duc Falls-Lovers Lane Loop also is a good option in April.
NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK
The park is hosting two events for people wanting to help prepare the park for the upcoming season, said Charles Beall, chief of interpretation and education.
April 19 will be state Route 20 Litter Pickup Day. Volunteers will help pick up litter along the North Cascades Highway. People should meet at the compound in Marblemount at 8:30 a.m.
The park is celebrating Earth Day on April 21 with a trail work day. Volunteers can help get the trails around Newhalem Campground ready for the season. People should meet at the entrance to Newhalem Creek Campground at 9 a.m.
No registration is necessary for those events. For more information, call 360-854-7301.
Folks looking for something to do after putting in some volunteer time can find options around Newhalem.
“The Newhalem area trails would make a great place to explore after the trail work day,” Beall said.
You can find trail information at www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/newhalem-area-trails.htm.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640
Junior Ranger Day
Included in National Park Week is an April 23 celebration of the Junior Ranger program that encourages children to get closer and learn more about the parks. Children can earn a badge by completing a series of educational activities. Activities vary by park, but they often include taking part in a ranger-led program, observing nature, writing about experiences or taking a hike.
Two years ago, North Cascades National Park introduced four activity books.
“It’s great just to have a project for kids. It’s doing, not talking,” Lee Taylor, chief of interpretation at Mount Rainier, told the News Tribune in a previous interview.
Each year about 1,500 children take part in Mount Rainier’s program and more than 350,000 take part nationally.
Taylor said park staff has planned some hands-on activities for the day at the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise. Activities will be offered 10 a.m.-2 p.m. They will include arts, crafts and games, as well as a snowshoe program for children ages 8 and older.
The program at Olympic National Park is still being worked out. Check www.nps.gov/olym for information.
Jeffrey P. Mayor, staff writer
No entrance fees this week
One of the benefits of National Park Week is that parks will not charge entrance fees. That will save visitors to places such as Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks the $15 seven-day admission fee.
Park Service officials hope waiving entrance fees will encourage people to visit parks for the first time or go to a park they’ve not visited before.
Other Park Service units in Washington that will waive their entrance fees will be Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (usually $3 per individual and $5 per family), Lewis & Clark National Historical Park ($3 for people 16 and older) and Whitman Mission National Historic Site ($3 for people 16 and older).
North Cascades National Park does not charge an entrance fee.
The National Park Service also has scheduled other fee-free days for this year. They are: June 21 (first day of summer), Sept. 24 (National Public Lands Day), and Nov. 11-13 (Veterans Day weekend).