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.

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

 

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6 Reasons Why We Absolutely LOVED Airstream’s Basecamp

We recently hit the highway in an Airstream Basecamp, the smallest model from the most recognizable name in trailers. Here are 6 reasons it was an absolute blast.

1. It’s So Adorable

The stylish, super sporty design of this cozy pull-along is attention grabbing. It received Basecamplogo2lots of admiring looks as we traveled around North Cascades National Park  and in one instance, it stopped traffic. As we were taking photos on State Route 20’s Washington Pass, a couple from Seattle pulled over to ask about it. Of course, we gave them a tour. Because it’s such a departure from the classic Airstream, it comes as a sweet surprise when people learn about this fairly new product. (It first debuted in 2017.)

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The Airstream Basecamp proved to be nimble on the roadway.

2.  It’s Easy to Manuever

Because of its tidy size, the Basecamp feels nimble on the roadway. We had an Infiniti QX80 loaner as our tow vehicle, and that sweet ride was plenty powerful to haul this 3,000 pounder. Backing into campsites was fairly smooth, though we did get into a jam in a parking lot of a trailhead, pulling too close to a barrier. Fortunately, a couple good citizens wandered over and helped guide us out of that pickle. Thanks, guys!

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Breakfast was a breeze on the nice Basecamp stove.
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Northwest succotash with prosciutto-wrapped shrimp was easy to do on the two-burner.

3. The Kitchen is Dreamy

The galley setup is at the front of the rig, facing a bank of windows. Brilliant! It has lots of cupboard space for pantry items, and the fridge is large enough to stock up for a week-long trip. Two propane burners fired up easily and cooked food quickly. The sink was off to the side, so it was a little too tight in the space for the dishwasher to be cleaning up after the messy cook at the same time. There wasn’t a ton of counter space, but we made the most it.

4. Comfy Sleeping Space

A seating area doubles as a bed, configured by moving cushions around. Not exactly the easiest bed to make — it’s roughly the same size as a queen, but is rounded at the bottom of the vehicle. However, once everything’s all tucked in, it’s comfortable. There are open shelves above that hold a surprising amount of stuff, clothes, towels, books, etc.

5. Outdoor Shower’n

If you’re in a private campsite, you can snake the shower head through a small opening and — ahhhhh, that feels good to cool off outside. If you’d rather get ‘er done inside, it’s a toilet-in-the-shower-stall kind of situation. Good to know: The Basecamp has one tank for both gray and black water, so it fills up more quickly than those RVs that have two tanks.

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The seating area was a comfortable place to enjoy wine and snacks.

6. Happy Hour in the Cafe

That’s what we nicknamed the seating area, after chilling and sipping wine, talking about our thrilling hike that afternoon. We spotted four bears — from the comfort of our car — on our drive up to the Thornton Lakes trailhead. It was one of those amazing moments that seems almost unreal, and reaffirms that insatiable desire to get out and enjoy nature.

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In North Cascades National Park, we explored the Skagit River Loop Trail in Newhalem, Wash.
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The Basecamp was a fun rig to take up in the mountains of North Cascades National Park.

 

How to Get the Most Out of an Olympic Peninsula Camping Trip

The U.S. Highway 101 loop around the Olympic Peninsula is one of the best drives in the United States.

To make the most of it, consider camping as you travel 475 miles around Washington’s coastal handle, taking in the seafood-rich Hood Canal region, the scenic Strait of Juan de Fuca, the lush rainforest and the wild western coastline.

You can do it any time of year. We were lucky enough to hit the weather right for a winter camping trip, done comfortably in a 1987 VW Westfalia camper provided by Peace Vans of Seattle. For three nights of winter camping, it worked amazingly well.

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Filling up at Olympia’s Artesian Well.

Oly — It’s the Water

Starting in the state capital of Olympia, take a few minutes and head downtown to the Artesian Well and Commons, a small city park at 415 4th Ave. SE. There, you’ll find a quintessential Olympia scene.

Hippies hanging out. Kids shooting baskets. A constant flow of people from all walks of life. Why? They come to fill up jugs of water from the city’s artesian well.

The pipe from this well spews some of the tastiest water you’ll find anywhere. It’s free, and many people in Olympia use it as their primary source of drinking water.

It also makes great camping water. Bring a few jugs yourself and fill ’em up.

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Hama Hama Oyster Saloon is an essential stop along Hood Canal.

Hood Canal and Dungeness Spit

Continuing west on U.S. 101, take the right turn for Shelton and you’re on the way up scenic Hood Canal, the western-most lobe of Puget Sound. Besides being pretty, Hood Canal also is home of many of Washington’s best commercial oyster operations.

If you make one stop, it should be at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon. You can sit around and have them in the lively outdoor saloon, or you can do what we did and put them on ice and shuck them later. You’ll need an oyster knife, some lemon, a little hot sauce and that’s about it for a taste of seafood heaven.

From Hama Hama, it’s about 1.5 hours to Dungeness Recreation Area, a fantastic campground and natural area that takes in Dungenss Spit near the town of Sequim. At 6.8 miles long, it is the longest sand spit in the United States.

You’ll see lots of birdlife, seals, sea lions, the occasional orca, and billions of board feet of driftwood on the wild and secluded beach. It’s a long hike to the lighthouse on the end, but you can get the flavor of the spit by hiking out a mile or so.

Make sure to reserve your campsite ahead of time: This place fills up on weekends in the high season.

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Our campsite at Dungeness Recreation area.
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Dungeness Spit juts 6.8 miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Onward to the Coast

From the town of Sequim it’s about two hours to Forks, home to the vampires and werewolves of “Twilight” fame, but really just a rough logging town still trying to cash in on the books and movies.

First, consider a few stops along the way. Port Angeles is the biggest city on the peninsula and a great place to gas up and grab provisions. If you visit in summer, an essential side trip is Hurricane Ridge inside Olympic National Park, one of the visited national parks in the United States. Camp at Heart of the Hills and do a hike off of Hurricane Ridge. On a sunny day, the views of the Olympic Mountains and the ocean far below are gorgeous.

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Lake Crescent is a highlight the northern section of the U.S. 101 loop.

Past Port Angeles, you should consider a stop at Lake Crescent, a picture-perfect lake amid the Olympic Mountains. The historic lodge makes a fine place for a lunch pit stop.

When you get to Forks, you have a choice for camping locations. Drive west on State Route 110. At the main intersection at the Riverview RV Park, you can go right to Olympic National Park’s Mora Campground, or stay left and go to La Push, a small fishing town on the Quileute Indian Reservation.

Both locations have advantages. The Mora Campground is not on the ocean — Rialto Beach is three miles away. The rough and rugged Rialto is an amazing place, suitable for a great three-mile day hike along a wilderness beach to a headlands called Hole in the Wall.

If you go to La Push, your camping option is at the Quileute Oceanside Resort. The camp sites are just OK, but the beach setting is gorgeous. La Push has become one of the most popular surfing locations in Washington, and the break in front of the resort attracts a hardy group of wetsuit-wearing shredders all year long.

From La Push, two wilderness beaches are within a short distance. Second Beach and Third Beach offer nice day-hiking options within bordering Olympic National Park.

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The break at La Push attracts a hardy group of shredders.
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Hikers along Third Beach near the town of La Push.

Kalaloch

Just about an hour south from La Push is the beach camping mecca of Kalaloch. If you can snag a spot, Kalaloch offers some of the very best camping along the Washington coast. Be forewarned that you should get a reservation, or at the very least get there early.

If you’re as lucky as we were, grab a spot along the bluff overlooking the beach. You won’t forget it.

The beach itself is long, flat and beautiful, but doesn’t feel as wild as the beaches to the north near La Push. That said, the campsites along the bluff are amazing.

You have a commanding view of the beach and ocean, where you can watch sea birds, the occasional beach walker or just gaze at the clouds rolling by. There’s not a better place on the coast to just hang out and soak in the beauty of the Olympic Peninsula.

It’s a great trip-ender. From here, it’s about two hours back to Olympia — or you can hit the reset button and do it all over again.

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The view from our campsite at Kalaloch out the back of our Peace Van.
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The beach at Kalaloch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a Trip: Old-School Sou’wester Delivers

We’re sitting in a 1953 Spartan Imperial Mansion at the Sou’wester Lodge and Vintage Trailer Park on the Long Beach Peninsula, drinking wine and listening to Frank Sinatra on the turntable.

As Old Blue Eyes croons “Anything Goes,” it’s hard not to feel like we’ve traveled back in time. Of course the wine helps, but staying at the Sou’wester is a real trip, in all the best ways. It’s quirky, arty, rustic and welcoming.

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The living room of the Spartan Imperial Mansion.

Rooms, cabins and trailers

The Sou’wester sits on three acres in Seaview, Wash., with a variety of accommodations, from its 1892-era lodge to its rustic cabins, and of course, those vintage trailers, all within a short walk from the Pacific Ocean.

Inside the lodge, you’ll find a large vinyl collection, yours to peruse and play at will on the turntables available in many of the rooms. You’ll also find an “Honor Store” — grab a beer or a bottle of wine from the fridge, put it on your tab, and pay when you check out.

When visitors arrive, they are told about the Honor Store, which “sets the tone when you get here,” said owner Thandi Rosenbaum.

Rosenbaum has owned and managed the resort for almost six years, creating a community of artsy employees that help maintain lodge and grounds.

While the suites in the lodge and the rustic cabins are appealing, the ever-growing number of vintage trailers (more than 20 at present) are what makes the experience unusual and appealing.

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Two of the trailers on the grounds at the Sou’wester.

Community feeling

Rosenbaum has tried hard to create an artsy enclave at the Sou’wester. Artists-in-residence receive reduced lodging rates while staying on the attractive grounds. The beauty of the oceanside lodging offers plenty of inspiration.

“It’s a place for people to come and focus on their own creative experience,” she said.

During our visit, the Sou’wester hosted “Spaceness,” a weekend of art installations and music on the grounds.

The Sou’wester also has an art trailer with pieces on display, a thrift-store and a Finnish sauna. Regular yoga and meditation classes are offered.

“We’re always trying to maintain that community spirit,” Rosenbaum said.

Old-school authentic

What sets the Sou’wester apart from other so-called historic resorts is its authentic style. Many of the trailers have their original woodwork and furniture, lovingly restored.

“We try to maintain them as best we can and as thoughtfully as we can,” Rosenbaum said.

The effect is to feel like you’re visiting and staying at a museum. Squint hard enough and it might feel like you’ve stepped back into the 1950s.

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Some of the logos from the trailers.
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The Silver Streak is a 1953 trailer that’s part of the “Baby Collection” at the Sou’wester.
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Another view of the Silver Streak.
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On Benson Beach at nearby Cape Disappointment State Park on the Long Beach Peninsula.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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

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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.

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Coupeville’s historic waterfront.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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

Hidden Among Giants, a Few Gems at Seattle RV Show

Our Grand Tour hit the Seattle RV Show at the opening Feb. 8, looking for a #vanlife vibe.

By and large, it wasn’t there. Most of the CenturyLink Event Center was filled with ginormous rolling homes masquerading as vehicles.

But there were some gems among the giants. For those of us looking for something a lot smaller, here are some highlights.

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Rooftop tents at the Adventure Ready display.

Rooftop camping

The James Baroud Rooftop Tents offer nice, spacious sleeping chambers for folks who want to keep it simple. Prices are super-reasonable, particularly when compared to RVs. Seattle’s Adventure Ready has them and will customize your vehicle.

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E-bikes from Seattle’s PIM Bicycling.

E-bikes on the rise

They’re everywhere in Seattle these days, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down. PIM Bicycles has an excellent display, with eager salesfolk who want to tell you how great the bikes are. We’re not sold on motorized bikes yet, but here’s your chance to  check them out.

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One of the smaller models at the Airstream display

Don’t miss: Airstream

OK, they are ridiculously expensive and out of reach for most of us. All that said, the  Airstream Adventures Northwest display is fantastic. We had our eye on a Class B+ Sprinter Van. How much? Oh, just a paltry $200K. Who doesn’t love that fetish-worthy stainless-steel look? From the smallest trailer to the largest RV, everything is top-notch.

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The Caravan Outfitter model of a Nissan NV.

Affordable #vanlife

On the other end of the spectrum, we found a highly affordable camper van in a Nissan NV body. Campbell Nissan in Edmonds sells the Caravan Outfitter model. It’s basically a (very) simple camper with a stove/refrigerator and a large awning. Hey, simple is good. Price: Under $35,000 and it gets 25 miles to the gallon on the highway.

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The Riverside Retro has a clean, old-school style.

Retro cool

We’re suckers for old-time travel-trailers. It was nice to see the 2018 Riverside Retro at the RV Country display. We won’t be spending the $19,000 asking price, but it was cool nonetheless, particularly the wrap-around dining area.

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That’s a whole-lotta RVs on the floor at CenturyLink Event Center.

How I Survived My Lewis and Clark Story

Exploring the explorers sounded like a great idea. That was before the 20-degree first night of camping.

Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery traveled across Washington state in 1805, and John was lucky enough to score an assignment from 1889 Magazine to follow their path and write about it.

How’d he get through it? Lots of whiskey and a very warm sleeping bag helped immensely.

Read the story here: Following the Footsteps of Lewis and Clark.

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Looking down on the Palouse River in the Snake River Country.
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A dawn visit to the Listening Circle at Chief Timothy Park near Clarkston.
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A train travels over the Snake River on a high trestle.
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SkiZer checks out a dugout canoe at Sacajawea State Park in Pasco.
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SkiZer walks the hills high above the Columbia near The Dalles, Ore.
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The Stonehenge World War I Memorial at Maryhill.
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Hiking at Beacon Rock State Park in the Columbia Gorge.
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Finally — on the Pacific Coast at Cape Disappointment State Park.
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Checking out “Clark’s Tree” on the Long Beach Peninsula.