Destinations: Wonderland Trail

John says: As we prepare to leave Seattle, we’re trying to revisit some of our favorite places. For me, that means hitting the trail at Mount Rainier while I still can.

This week I hiked to Summerland on the Wonderland Trail, set up camp and then day-hiked to Panhandle Gap, one of the most scenic places on the 93-mile trail. It’s a gorgeous place.

I love this high-alpine basin, and I’ll miss it.

The hike up to Summerland on the Wonderland Trail passes through some sub-alpine meadows.
The climb to Panhandle Gap.
The lakes are still snow-covered in the high alpine.
Panhandle Gap offers expansive views.
Waterfalls are everywhere in the alpine basin above Summerland.


Cape Crusaders in Oregon

The Three Capes Scenic Drive takes in one of the nicest sections of the Oregon Coast.

Our #Vanlife experiment led us to Cape Lookout State Park in a rented VW EuroVan from Road Trip Oregon. From there we explored the other capes in this northern section of the coast: Cape Meares and Cape Kiwanda.

It was a fantastic two-day trip. The highlight was a five-mile hike to the tip of Cape Lookout, which juts out into the Pacific, offering great views for miles.

When we weren’t exploring the capes, we shucked fresh oysters from Netarts Bay, hiked along mostly empty beaches and had roaring fires at night. April proved to be a great time to visit.

Leslie on the Cape Lookout trail, with great views of the north coast of Oregon.
Lunch break on the Cape Lookout hike.
The view of the cliffs at Cape Meares.
The lighthouse at Cape Meares.
A blue jay visited camp at Cape Lookout.
Sasquatch sighting on the beach at Cape Lookout.
Sunset along Cape Lookout.

Explore: Hike the Bluffs and Beaches of Whidbey Island

Obviously, Joseph Whidbey was onto something.

It was springtime 1792 when Whidbey, a member of the Vancouver Expedition, sailed around the largest island in Puget Sound, rocketing through the currents of Deception Pass. Capt. George Vancouver was ecstatic, naming the island after his intrepid crewman.

Just like old Joe, you should take your own spin around Whidbey Island.

The arching bridge at Deception Pass.

Explore these Whidbey Island parks

Whidbey Island is home to several excellent parks, each offering fine hiking opportunities. Deception Pass State Park at the north end of the island is a must-visit location to see the wild currents and historic bridge arching 180 feet above the water.

Deception Pass sprawls across more than 4,000 acres and offers camping, hiking and seasonal kayak rentals. This is Washington’s most visited state park for a reason: Aside from the recreation opportunities, the beaches offer great views of the pass and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the west.

Two other fantastic state parks are located just south. Fort Casey and Fort Ebey state parks were originally constructed as coastal defense locations on the west coast of the island. Their gun emplacements are still there, an invitation to explore on the bluffs overlooking Admiralty Inlet.

But it’s not all about the armaments. Each park offers camping and excellent hiking opportunities along their headlands and beaches.

One of the best day hikes in Washington state starts at the Prairie Overlook Trailhead in

A blockhouse on the prairie at Ebey’s Landing Historical Reserve.

Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve just west of Coupeville, traveling onto a bluff high above the water. At six miles roundtrip, it offers a lesson in history about the Ebey family, the first white settlers on the island, stunning views of Admiralty Inlet and the opportunity to walk the wildest beaches on Whidbey Island.

Other worthy parks for visits include Joseph Whidbey State Park, South Whidbey State Park and Double Bluff Beach, a county park that offers access to a dog-friendly strand near the town of Freeland.

Coupeville and Langley

Tourism is centered in Coupeville and Langley, both cute-as-a-button historic towns that have restaurants and shopping options for visitors. Coupeville, on Penn Cove, is the mussel capital of Washington state — try them at Toby’s Tavern or the Front Street Grill.

Langley on the southern end of the island is just an hour away from Seattle (including the ferry ride), but it feels much farther, with picturesque waterfront shops and restaurants and a small marina. An excellent seafood restaurant, Saltwater Fish House and Oyster Bar, is a handsome stop for lunch or dinner.

You’ll want to skip Oak Harbor at the north end of the island. The mostly charmless commercial center is also home to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Coupeville’s historic waterfront.
The waterfront in Langley.

Why visit Whidbey?

Whidbey Island is just a short drive and ferry ride (Mukilteo to Clinton) from Seattle, making it equally appealing as a day trip or overnight destination. A lively arts scene, a welcoming hippie vibe and two attractive tourist towns are worthy of your attention.

But the best part of the island is its beauty, best explored from a number of excellent parks.

The bluff trail at Ebey’s Landing overlooks Admiralty Inlet.

Here’s The Best Place to Stay in Leavenworth

She says: My family is not going to be happy that I’m sharing our secret camping spot, but it’s so special I can’t keep it to myself.

the aloha in leavenworth

Retro Cool

This beauty is a 1958 Aloha travel trailer that was owned for years by my grandparents, Kate and Guy. They spent a couple summers living in it while they built their dream retirement home near the Icicle River in Leavenworth, Washington, also known as The Bavarian Village.

Decades later, my grandfather sold it to a river guide, and the grandkids were so bummed. My brother, Chris, knew the guide and let him know that if he ever wanted to sell it back to us… well, we own this vintage rig now, and each summer, Chris pulls it up to the super secret spot on the Icicle for a few days of bliss. Steaks on the fire, red wine, the rush of the river and the wind in the trees, hikes up into the mountains. It’s like a soothing balm in this stressful world. A much-needed break from reality.

aloha cookout

Time to Start Planning

There’s still snow on the ground, but it’s not too soon to start making plans for that warm weather camping trip, is it? Where’s your favorite place to pitch a tent or park your camper van? The first 10 to reply will unlock the code for the secret camping spot in Leavenworth. Here’s the view. Pretty cool, right?

view from aloha site in leavenworth

More Leavenworth Recs

If you’re planning on exploring this region during the winter and are looking for awesome places to stay, here are a few of my faves:

Alpen Rose Inn is super cozy and features one of the best home-style breakfasts I’ve enjoyed at such an affordable accommodation. The cheesy hash brown casserole, pictured below, is hearty enough to get you through a trek up to the gorgeous Colchuck Lake. The talented culinary team also makes excellent desserts like New York-style cheesecake, served nightly. YAAAAS!

hash brown casserole at Alpen Rose Inn
Alpen Rose Inn’s home-style breakfast is excellent. Photo by Leslie Kelly

Icicle Village Resort is huge, with roomy condos in addition to the comfy suites. There’s lots to do on site, including a spa for that all-important pamper time. It’s also an easy 15-minute walk to downtown.

Sleeping Lady is a splurge, but so worth it. The grounds at this model of environmental sustainability feels like a walk in the woods, but there are plenty of creature comforts, too. Like the creative menu at the two restaurants, filled with produce grown in the resort’s expansive garden, where guests are welcome to wander.

sleeping lady garden
That’s the Sleeping Lady, viewed from the resort’s verdant garden. Photo via Facebook

Get Your Ski Legs in Seven Days

Seven days, seven mountain experiences.

SkiZer just spent a week skiing, hitting the slopes at Snoqualmie Pass, Schweitzer Mountain, Mt. Spokane, Lookout Pass and Silver Mountain. It was fun to stack up seven days straight — and interesting to see how an aging body reacts.

The first couple of days, SkiZer was feeling very sore. But after a few days in, SkiZer’s legs were coming around and he was feeling a much better slope rhythm.

Which can only mean one thing: SkiZer needs more slope days!

Willy Bartlett shreds at Silver Mountain.


Steep turns at Lookout Pass.
SkiZer turns on the backside at Mt. Spokane.
SkiZer on the Nordic trails at Mount Spokane State Park.

Day 10: Mount Spokane Nordic

  • Distance skied: 28k
  • Distance for the year: 57K

Day 11: Mt. Spokane Alpine

  • Vertical: 18,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 131,000 feet

Day 12: Lookout Pass

  • Vertical: 20,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 151,000 feet

Day 13: Silver Mountain

  • Vertical: 25,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 176,000 feet

Which Ski Resort is the Best in the Northwest? It Might be Schweitzer

Some ski resorts just feel like home. For the SkiZer, Schweitzer Mountain is one of those places.

Back in another lifetime, SkiZer put in hundreds of days on the slopes of this North Idaho resort. Even after moving away, SkiZer still pined for Schweitzer’s big drops, wide-open bowls and empty slopes.

So it felt very familiar when the SkiZer pulled into the parking lot of Schweitzer. Did it match all the expectations? Yes, and more.

Which got SkiZer thinking: Is Schweitzer the best resort in the Pacific Northwest?

Maybe. If you call the Pacific Northwest Idaho, Washington and Oregon, Schweitzer is certainly in the top two.

The biggest, Oregon’s Mount Bachelor, doesn’t have nearly as good terrain as Schweitzer. Washington’s Crystal Mountain, does have better terrain, but can’t match Schweitzer’s amenities. And in snow quality, Schweitzer beats them both.

SkiZer loves Crystal Mountain on a powder day. But the crowds can be a buzz-kill, and Schweitzer’s remains pretty quiet most of the year.

All good reasons to vote for Schweitzer as the best in the Northwest.

Days 8 and 9: Schweitzer Mountain

  • Vertical: 53,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 113,000 feet
Dropping into Big Timber on the back side at Schweitzer.


The village at Schweitzer.
Taking in the view from the T-bar.
Matt Folwell shreds the powder in the Outback Bowl.
Dramatic skies loom above Schweitzer as a storm approaches.

Remember When Tickets Were $1.50 at Hyak?

Some ski days take you back into the past.

That was the case recently when SkiZer climbed the old ski area we used to call Hyak. It’s now part of the Summit at Snoqualmie complex about an hour’s drive from Seattle on I-90, known today as Summit East. Often during weekdays, it remains closed, so it’s a perfect quick fix for a workout climb.

The skiing was just OK. But the trudge up the hill sparked some memories from SkiZer’s childhood when he spent many a night doing some cheap skiing on the same slopes.

Back in SkiZer’s long-ago childhood, Hyak had some bargain prices. Seattle’s old Ernst Hardware stores had Hyak coupons for $1.50, and if you could find a semi-responsible cousin to drive you, it was an amazingly fun night.

There were some memorable times. During one stormy night, lightning hit the chairlift. Nobody seemed too worried — the chairlift kept spinning and the seventh-grade SkiZer happily rode up into the tempest along with everyone else. It was a powder night, afterall.

Here’s to appreciating the old days at ski areas like Hyak, when skiing was for the masses — not just the rich.

Day 7: Hyak Climb

  • Vertical: 2,000
  • Vertical for the season: 60,000
This old photo from 1940s shows the base area of Hyak. (This predates even the ancient SkiZer.)
SkiZer takes off the skins at the top of Hyak.
The destinctive Olympia-beer inspired water tower at Summit East dates back to the Hyak days.
Empty slopes near the top of Summit East.
The view of Summit East hill from the base area.

Why Winter is Special at Crater Lake

Crater Lake is one of those places that makes your jaw drop at any time of year. But visiting in winter makes it even more special to the SkiZer.

The hordes of camera-totin’ tourists are long gone, and in their place, a gorgeous coat of snow makes this spectacular place even more beautiful. Heavy snow closes the Rim Road and it becomes a trail for Nordic skiers and snowshoers.

In other words this wild place just gets wilder, and you know how much SkiZer likes it when that happens.

SkiZer spent the day skiing eight miles along the Rim Road, taking in the ever-present views of the lake. It was warm — temps were in the upper 40s — and the skiing was fantastic.

What a great way to start the Nordic ski season.

Day 4: Crater Lake

  • Distance skied: 15K
5 RimTrail
Doug Orr passes a group of snowshoers.
9c RimSki
SkjZer and Doug Orr ski along the Crater Lake Rim.
9i LakePose
Doug Orr and the SkiZer pose above the lake.
9n meadow
Doug Orr skis a meadow on the return to Rim Village.
9l Wizard
Wizard Island looks great covered in snow.

Day 5: Crater Lake Backcountry

  • Distance: 15K
  • Distance for season: 29K
Doug Orr climbs on the Rim Road
SkiZer ascends the path through a glade.
The view from the south rim.