The chilly mountain air swept over us as the car doors slammed shut, making the hairs on my arms stand on end. I was home. There’s a certain smell that accompanies the woods on an early morning, the sun obscured by towering mountains and dense layers of trees. It always brings me right back to the years spent camping as a kid, eyes shut as I lay in my sleeping bag, taking in the chirping of birds, the hissing of camp sausages, and that fresh, damp air hanging over the campsite. There’s nothing like being in nature, experiencing it rather than reading about it in a textbook, and letting it sweep over you and take you in.
It’s almost impossible for me to think about Washington State without imagining its tree-lined mountain roads, its beautiful coastal views and never-ending hiking trails. Getting out in nature is one of the things I look forward to most whenever I get the chance to fly back home, so it was fitting that a morning hike with family was the first thing on the itinerary when I arrived in Seattle a little under two months ago.
Dad, my brother Jared and I drove out to Wallace Falls State Park on Wednesday morning, just after the younger kids had left to go to school for the day. The drive was cool and pleasant, the major highways and tech-money homes fading behind us as we drove into Gold Bar, WA. I shivered as we got out of the car at the Wallace Falls Trailhead. The light cardigan I’d worn that morning did nothing to protect me from the much cooler air in the mountains, but Jared very gallantly lent me his jacket, and we were off, our feet crunching over gravel as we walked beneath buzzing power lines and around to the actual trailhead.
From here on out, it was just us and nature, the gravel giving way to soft, springy earth and damp little rocks. My feet rejoiced as they pressed into the soft ground, remembering what a real hiking trail felt like. A river ran alongside the trail, contributing the only sound aside from our footsteps and the morning song of birds, somewhere in the trees high above us. We crossed over small streams, moss-covered rocks, and damp, elevated hiking paths on our way to see Wallace Falls, stopping frequently to take photos of the gorgeous scenery.
The trail, according to the Washington Trails Association, comes in at 5.6 miles roundtrip, and features three viewing points over Wallace Falls. The trail becomes moderately steeper as it continues along, and all three of us were feeling the burn in our legs as we pressed forward. Hiking for me is always a bit of a bonding experience, whether its with nature or with my fellow hikers, and this time around was no different.
The last half mile or so before the middle falls viewing point is where my legs really started to hate me, and despite several stops to “take photos,” aka catch my breath, we made it to the viewing point.
Jared and Dad continued on to the Upper Falls, reachable over half a mile of the steepest part of the trail, with plenty of switchbacks. I stuck around at the middle falls, taking photos and stretching my legs. Our morning hike had been pretty quiet, but as the sun crept over the trees and speckled the forest floor with light, more hikers had arrived in groups of two and three, armed with hiking poles, backpacks and baseball caps. One hiker who passed by joked that I should put out a hat and start charging to take photos of the groups coming by.
That’s another thing I like about getting out in nature. I’m not normally a people person, and love the quiet solitude that hiking affords, but I feel like a different person out on the trail. Maybe its the endorphins from pressing forward through the pain, maybe its the fresh mountain air clearing my head, or maybe its just that my fellow hikers share my love of nature and my goal of reaching the end of the trail in one piece. Maybe it’s a combination of all three. I was in a great mood by the time Dad and Jared returned with photos of the upper falls, and we continued back down the trail with renewed vigor.
I felt great, physically and mentally, when we finally reached the parking lot. I wish there were hiking trails like this available in Florida, but I will make do with the flat, humid nature trails. The important thing is to get out there, I think. Anyway, our stomachs were grumbling, and we drove down the road to a spot Jared knew from his previous hikes in the area, the Alpen Drive In.
With menu items like fresh fried seafood and burgers made with exotic meat, it was hard to settle on just one thing to eat. In the end, Dad and I both got scallops with fries and coleslaw, and Jared got an elk burger with fries. And don’t forget the shakes! I almost cried when I bit into my first fried scallop, both because it burned my mouth and because it was even more delicious than I had imagined it would be. I love Washington’s seafood, and this buttery crispy piece of fried perfection was a fantastic reminder of why I can’t wait to order clams, salmon and more whenever I’m home.
All around, it was the perfect first morning in Washington, and a great way to kick off the rest of a fantastic trip. Stay tuned for more posts about my gorgeous home state, and check out the Washington Trails Association webpage to learn more about Wallace Falls and other stunning hikes nearby!