Friday, January 26, 2018

From the Evergreen State to the Garden Island: Kauai Winter Getaway

Here in the Pacific Northwest, winters are long and damp, days are short, and dark gray skies often rule.

Although it's still a good time to get outside, a winter getaway to somewhere warm and tropical is something we Northwesterners often indulge in. You'll find plenty of us over in Hawaii this time of year.

While I've been to Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island of Hawaii a few times, a couple friends and I jetted to Kauai recently, my first time there.

Boasting some of the heaviest rainfall on the planet, Kauai didn't disappoint when we were there. One day it rained so hard roads were closed in some areas. But I think falling asleep during a warm tropical downpour is just about the best sleeping weather. During my week there, I slept better and longer than I have for months, maybe years.

True to the spirit of this blog, it was a pretty active vacation, with several hikes I'll tell you about.

Waimea Canyon/Pihea Trail
With a 3-hour time difference, we were up and out early our first morning for the winding mountain road drive up to Waimea Canyon area to explore and hike. We stopped at several overlooks for some shots; the canyon really is as spectacular as the many photos I've seen. 

At the very end of the road, as far as you can drive on the northwest side of the island is the Pihea Trail. This relatively short trail (about 4 miles out and back) is not in very good condition due to extensive overuse.  

It was rough, rutted, full of gnarled roots, and of course muddy. We turned around before the final push because it got so bad, but not before we got some spectacular views of beautiful Kalalau Valley just a few hundred yards down the trail. Here's hoping that some trail maintenance/restoration work will be done there soon (they could use some WTA volunteers).

On the way back we stopped in the coastal town of Waimea and had the first of several marvelous fresh mango banana smoothies. (Didn't get the name of the place but it's next to the Shrimp Station.) Fresh tropical fruit in the tropics is the best!

Awaawapuhi Trail 
From Poi'pu, the next day we went back up to the Waimea Canyon area and hiked the longer Awaawapuhi Trail (about 6.5 miles RT). With an early start, we headed down the trail from elevation 4,120 feet through a tropical jungle down to a narrow ridge with stunning views of the Na Pali coast, at elevation 2,500 feet.  

For those of you with any fear of heights (hand up in the air here), don't venture all the way out to the very narrow rock bridge to the small rock promontory beyond. I started to cross it, but just couldn't. Signs warn hikers to not go beyond the railings anyway.

Watch your step because it's easy to misjudge, and there have been fatalities here. (Check out HuffPost if you want to see one of the scariest selfie videos ever at this trail.) But the views of the otherworldly cliffs are magnificent.

Mahaulepu  Heritage Coastal Trail
On the popular and increasingly developed south shore of Kauai, the Mahaulepa Heritage Coastal Trail is an easy but lovely hike along the only accessible undeveloped stretch of coastline. Our third day here, we literally walked from our ocean-view condo past resorts and a golf course in the Poi'pu area to this coastline trail.

As you can see in the shot above, tropical rain squalls were threatening, and we ultimately did get caught in a soaker. But it was refreshing on a hot afternoon. After the first quarter mile, we had this lovely trail along the coast pretty much to ourselves. Surprising since we just left a dense cluster of resorts and condos.

This easy trail (a bit of scrambling over rocks can be involved) is only 4 miles roundtrip. As always, generous use of sunscreen was imperative for this paleskin.

Kalalua Trail
This trail on the Na Pali coast of northern Kauai is the biggee that draws intrepid hikers from all over the world. Its 11 miles meander up and down along the steep and dramatic cliffs, with dicey sections (numerous fatalities here over the years). I can hardly claim to have hiked it, since we just drove to the end of the road and hiked up only half mile to the first viewpoint (time limitations).

I eyed with envy some backpackers passing us; backpacking this trail has been on my bucket list for years. Another trip...

And more 
There's a lot more I could write about Kauai. Perhaps another blog post in the works, although I don't want to stray too far from the Pacific Northwest here. A few quick highlights:

  • The local food shacks. I had an incredibly delicious fresh ahi tuna burger in Lihue at the Kalapaki Beach Hut near the waterfront. And the smoothies!
  • Snorkeling and surfing at Poi'pu. So I didn't surf, but the snorkeling was lovely and relaxing at Brennecke's Beach area.
  • Exploring Hanapepe Town. This charming historic town built by entrepreneurial immigrants who came to work the sugar plantations is a must visit. It has great shops, galleries, an indie bookstore, eateries, and more. At one shop, the lovely, relaxed saleslady suddenly started doing a hula dance to the background music, the aloha spirit in action.
  • The sunsets. What else can I say? The photo below doesn't completely capture the stunning skies. This view was from our balcony.

It's good to be home, but I'll gladly go back to Kauai for some more.

Have you been? I'd love to hear about your hiking (or other) experiences in Hawaii in a comment below.

Aloha, happy trails, and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!  

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

In Celebration of Winter Hiking in the Pacific Northwest

When the weather is damp and cold, the sky is many shades of gray, and days are short, sometimes it's hard to fight our natural urge to hibernate. 

Fight it. Get outside on a dreary winter day and go for a walk or hike. Throw on rain gear, bring an umbrella, whatever.

For starters, you'll be rewarded with relative solitude and a healthy dose of nature. Within a couple hours of Portland or Seattle, solitude is an increasingly rare treat while hiking. 

And here on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, it's so green. When I lived in New England, I came home to Oregon for Christmas and was surprised at the lushness I hadn't fully appreciated while growing up. 

So last weekend I headed up to Deception Pass State Park at the northern end of Whidbey Island north of Seattle. I've blogged about hiking there numerous times before, but I'm drawn back often.

There are miles of low-elevation trails both north and south of the historic Deception Pass Bridge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This day we wandered up and over Goose Rock, down through rich forest, and along bays and beaches. 

In the winter, the road down to the North Beach parking lot is gated closed, so we arrived early enough (about 9:30 am) to snag a spot immediately south of the bridge. 

We walked over 3 hours, and despite carrying umbrellas just in case (yes, real Northwesterners have been known to actually use umbrellas), had a rain-free hike.

Our route took us down toward Cornet Bay and back along the perimeter trail and under the Deception Pass Bridge. 

West of the bridge we dropped down to North Beach, where we walked until high tide forced us back up into the trail above in the woods.

At the end of the westerward point we scrambled over rocks for views up the Strait of Juan de Fuca before heading back. By this time, after noon, more people were about. 

But it still wasn't crowded. Come back on a warm spring/summer/fall day and it's a very different scene.

After Hike Eats
An abundance of excellent options are relatively close (generally speaking) to Deception Pass for some good chow.  Skagit County to the north and east is now well known as a farm- or sea-to-table food destination. Or down island en route to the Clinton ferry terminal, the Langley area offers some excellent places for a bite

We opted to head back north over the bridge to Highway 20 and cut south on Best Road through the heart of the Skagit farmland to Rexville Grocery. This deli/cafe in an old converted gas station has been a favorite stop for years, and locals often gather there at the counter. My half sandwich and cup of chicken noodle soup were just perfect on a chilly winter afternoon.

That evening I was "good" tired from all the fresh sea/forest air and walking for hours. Answering to hiberation mode, I fell into a deep sleep early and slept almost 10 hours. (Besides being outdoors in nature and moving, I always say one of life's greatest pleasures is a good night of sleep.)

I'd love to hear about your winter hikes/after hike eats in a comment below!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

When You Go
Deception Pass State Park is about an 80-mile drive north from central Seattle, and the drive there takes about 90 minutes in good/moderate traffic conditions (early!). Remember to bring your Discover Pass to park, or expect to pay a $10 fee. You can find a map of park trails here, or find one at the parking area by the bridge.