Swan Lake and Christmas Hill –A very merry hike minutes from downtown Victoria


The floating bridge is the highlight to this delightful hike.

Quick Facts:

Location: Saanich Peninsula, Vancouver Island

Land Agency: Swan Lake Christmas Hill Sanctuary

Roundtrip: 3.5 miles/ 5.6 kilometers

Elevation gain: 325 feet/ 100 meters

Contact:  Swan Lake Christmas Hill Sanctuary 

Notes: dogs prohibited

Access: From Victoria or Sidney, follow BC 17 (Patricia Bay Highway) exiting onto McKenzie Ave. Proceed east turning right onto Rainbow Street. Then drive .2 mile/ .3km and turn left onto Ralph Street. After one block turn right immediately coming to trailhead.

Good to Know: kid-friendly, snow free winter hiking; bird watching, spring wildflowers, nature center


Be sure to visit the Nature Center

Once a foul polluted body of water, Swan Lake is now a lovely urban nature sanctuary boasting a healthy avian population. Located in Saanich minutes from downtown Victoria, the restored lake and surrounding marsh are graced with a nature center and family friendly trails which include a floating bridge. A side trail leaves the lake passing through a residential neighborhood to the small preserve on Christmas Hill. From this small summit, admire stately Garry oaks and a beautiful view of the lake below.

Start you hike at the Nature Center. Open year round (closed on holidays) it is full of displays, exhibits, live critters and friendly staff. Kids will love it. You will too. Then head to the dock at the Lake Loop Trail. Scan the lake for ducks, geese, and in winter the occasional swan and then set out for your hike around the lake heading clockwise.

Pass the Aspen Loop Trail before coming to a major junction at .2 mile/ .3 km. The trail left leads to Christmas Hill, a non-contiguous part of the sanctuary. The now 148-acre/ 60-hectare sanctuary began in 1975 with help from the Nature Trust of British Columbia, which has protected over 170,000 acres/ 70,000 hectares in the province since its inception in 1971. Head left following the .5 mile/ .8 km Corridor Trail to the .4 mile/.6 km Summit Loop Trail on 358-feet/ 109-m Christmas Hill.


A Canada goose on Swan Lake

This hill’s name harkens back to the 1840s. A First Nations woman had her baby carried off by an eagle one Christmas Eve. Folks from throughout the region searched for the child finding it alive on Lake Hill. Many locals then began referring to this landmark as Christmas Hill in recognition of this miracle. A great hike any time of year, Christmas Hill contains Garry oak groves, camas fields, nice views—especially of the lake, and is home to endangered sharp-tailed snakes. After your merry meandering on Christmas Hill, return to the lake loop.

Now continue on this near level trail traveling through an emerald jungle before reaching open fields. Cross Blenkinsop Creek, a spur to a dock, and a couple of spurs leading to the Lochside Regional Trail—an 18-mile/ 29-km paved rail trail leading from Swartz Bay to Victoria and intersecting with the 34-mile/ 55-km Galloping Goose Trail.

Undulate between field and thickets and the occasional boardwalk. Rounding the lake’s southern shores enjoy views of Christmas Hill in the background. Pass spurs leading to Saanich’s municipal offices and traverse a nice grove of cottonwoods before crossing Swan Creek. Pass yet another spur before coming to the hike’s highlight—a floating bridge across Swan Lake’s open waters. Take your time crossing, counting blackbirds and swallows en route. Soon afterward close the loop by returning to the Nature House.  A great hike indeed on Christmas day, this sanctuary provides much for hikers to celebrate all year round, so plan on returning soon.

 For more information (including detailed maps) on this hike and others near Victoria, pick up a copy of my Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands. You’ll find 136 hikes on 28 islands in this new and comprehensive guide to this fascinating region.Day-Hiking-San-Juan-and-Gulf-IslandsNEW

 For more information on places to stay and other things to do in Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula, check out Northwest TripFinder.NWTFmasthead_layers15






White Chuck Bench Trail — A favorite lowland trail is slowly coming back to life


White Chuck Mountain rises above White Chuck River.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip:  4.0 miles

Elevation gain: 300 feet

Green Trails Map: Green Trails, Sloan Peak, WA- no. 111

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest 

Notes: trail currently under construction

Access: From Darrington follow Mountain Loop Highway for 9.0 miles. Turn left onto FR 22 and proceed for .8 mile to trailhead.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow free winter hiking; wildlife watching


Some day trail length will once again match sign at trailhead.

A long time favorite low country trail, the White Chuck Bench Trail was nearly completely destroyed by flooding in 2003. Offering miles of snow free winter hiking along one of the wildest rivers in the North Cascades, hikers lost a great year round trail over ten years ago. But slowly but surely volunteers with the Washington Trails Association are determined to reopen this 6.5 mile trail near Darrington. Currently about 2.0 miles of excellent trail are open, so there is no need to wait for the entire path to reopen.

Deriving its name from the Chinook Jargon for whitewater, the appropriately named White Chuck River certainly lives up to its name. In October of 2003 the river displayed a bout of furious whitewater activity, flooding the valley leaving riverside forest groves and the paralleling White Chuck Bench Trail in shambles. The administering Forest Service, its operating budget also in shambles had no funding to repair the trail. It appeared that the popular low-country White Bench Trail would be yet another casualty to nature and budget cuts.


Bridge over Black Oak Creek.

Thankfully volunteers have come to the rescue helping the Forest Service gradually restore this trail. Currently 2.0 miles of the 6.5 mile trail are hikeable! From the trailhead, start in an old timber harvest area on a high bench above the crashing river. Soon reach a gap in the forest cover providing good views out to Mounts Pugh and Sloan. The way then bends left and heads up valley. Pass huge stumps attesting to the great forest that once grew in this lush valley. The way is fairly level with minor ups and downs. Wind through remnant patches of old growth and plenty of groves of attractive maples, cedars, alders, cottonwoods and firs.

At 1.1 miles cross Black Oak Creek on a sturdy bridge. You won’t find any black or other oaks growing here. Continue in thick forest coming to at about 1.6 miles an open bluff providing an excellent view of the river and mountain above sharing the name White Chuck. The way then continues a little farther eventually coming to new tread. Here the trail switchbacks back onto the bench ending at about 2.0 miles. Come back frequently to watch the trail progress up the river valley. The trail used to hug the river here but it was washed away. It is still possible to work your way through brush and fallen trees following remnants of tread to river shoreline and old camps. But it’s difficult going. Better plan is to retrace your steps back to the open bluff—and if it’s a rare sunny winter day, kick back for awhile and enjoy some river magic.

For information on lodging and other attractions near the White Chuck Bench Trail, visit www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For more information on other excellent hikes in the Darrington area, consult my Day Hiking North Cascades which includes detailed descriptions for 125 hikes!0486

For good coffee and conversation after your hike stop in at the Mountain Loop Books and Coffee in Darrington. And you can buy my books there too!

Sugarloaf — Savor Sweet Salish Sea Views


Enjoy excellent views of the San Juan Islands from Sugarloaf.

Quick Facts:

Location: Anacortes, Fidalgo Island

Land Agency: Anacortes Community Forest Lands

Roundtrip: 2.5 miles

Elevation gain: 650 feet

Green Trails Map: Deception Pass Anacortes Community Forest Lands – 41S

Contact: Anacortes Parks and Recreation  

Notes: dogs permitted on leash; some trails open to bicycles, horses.

Access: From Exit 230 on I-5 in Burlington, head west on SR 20 for 13.5 miles. Turn right onto Campbell Lake Road. After 1.5 miles bear right onto Heart Lake Road and continue 1.5 miles turning right at a sign indicating, “Mt Erie Viewpoint.” Proceed a couple of hundred feet (do not turn right up Mount Erie Road) to trailhead.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow free winter hiking; spring wildflowers



Rare Puget Sound old-growth can be found in the Anacortes Community Forest lands.

The hike up Sugarloaf—Fidalgo Island’s second highest summit is short and sweet. And it makes for a good introductory hike to the sprawling 2,800-plus acres of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. Hike through a grove of big trees to sunny open south facing slopes  granting sweeping views of the San Juan Islands, Olympic Mountains, and nearby Fidalgo highpoint Mount Eire.

It’s easy to get lost (intentionally or unintentionally) in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands with its spaghetti heap of trails. Carry a map and pay attention to junctions—which thankfully are almost always well marked. This hike to Sugarloaf doesn’t require too many twists and turns!

Beginning on Trail no. 215, head through a swampy draw graced with a few big Doug-firs and cedars. Bear right at a junction continuing on Trail no. 215 and start climbing—steeply at times. Ferns, moss, and salal line the way. Stay right at another junction and continue climbing under a canopy of mature Douglas-firs working your way up and around a series of mossy ledges.


In spring, Sugarloaf’s open summit sprouts lots of wildflowers.

At 1.0 mile, another trail junction is encountered. Here Trail no. 215 continues straight, descending Sugarloaf’s south face and reaching the Mount Eire Road in .3 mile. Go left through a stile and follow hiker-only Trail no. 227 a short distance to another junction. Turn right here onto Trail no. 238 soon arriving on the blocky summit of 1,044-foot Sugarloaf. Pass Trail no. 228 and shortly afterward come to a spur trail branching right. Follow it to sunny ledges and some sweet viewing of Whidbey, Burrows, Allan, and Lopez Islands. The big blob in front of you is Mount Erie, highest point on Fidalgo Island. But with its summit road, a little bit busier than the peak you are enjoying. Return when you must or consider exploring many of the side trails in this great community forest.


For more information (including detailed maps) on this hike and others near Anacortes, pick up a copy of my Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands. You’ll find 136 hikes on 28 islands in this new and comprehensive guide to this fascinating region.


For more information on places to stay and other things to do on Fidalgo Island and the Skagit Valley, check out Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15.

Beaver Lake — Trail holds a “slough” of surprises


The way travels across Beaver Lake.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 3.8 miles

Elevation gain: 100 feet

Green Trails Map: Green Trails, Sloan Peak, WA- no. 111

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest 

Notes: Northwest Forest Pass required

Access: From Darrington, follow Mountain Loop Highway for 9.0 miles to brand new trailhead (located on right just after crossing Sauk River).

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow free winter hiking; wildlife watching

This is an easy near-level family-friendly trail along the Wild and Scenic Sauk River to a series of beaver ponds in an old slough. The way follows an old logging railroad grade still harboring old ties and trestle remains. En route you’ll pass through a grove of ancient cedars left by the early loggers. The Beaver Lake Trail is a birdwatchers delight toot, providing ample opportunities to scan the river and surrounding wetlands for eagles, dippers, mergansers and kingfishers.


The river has cut into the original railroad bank.

Start from a brand new parking lot sitting on a bluff above the confluence of the Sauk and White Chuck Rivers. The way dips slightly from the parking lot onto the old logging railway grade. Rotting trestles can be seen just to the right. On a near straight-away the trail cuts through a thick stand of second growth hemlocks and a tunnel of alders. You’ll pass a spur leading right to a river gauging station. Feel free to check it out if you’d like. Then continue down the trail soon swinging left onto a high bank. Here enjoy a good view out to Mount Pugh and the Monte Cristo Peaks while the Sauk River churns and roars below.

The mighty river continuously pounds the gravel-layered riverbank causing portions of the shoreline hugging trail to slump. Storms in 2006 took out sections of the trail here, but volunteer work crews from the Washington Trails Association repaired the damaged tread. Pick up the old rail grade again and then follow a new reroute around a muddy section and old puncheon.  After passing through patches of skunk-cabbage (return in spring for a pungent hike) come to a delightful bridge crossing Beaver Lake.  Okay, it’s more of a pond than a lake—an old slough actually. Check out the bridge more carefully inspecting its span built upon some of the original railroad trestles. Pause to look and listen for bird activity. And of course look for signs of beaver—a dam, a hut, perhaps even one of these industrious rodents?


Mount Forgotten across the Sauk River.

Beyond Beaver Lake, the trail traverses an impressive old-growth cedar grove. The trees are remarkable in size and girth, but also in the fact that they were spared the axe. The trail continues for a short way beyond terminating at an impassible washout along the Sauk River. Pause and look out across the river to Mount Forgotten. When the sun is out, this is a nice spot to sit on a log and soak up some warmth and scenery. Otherwise, start retracing your steps back to your start.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Beaver Lake, visit www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For a great cup of coffee and snack afterward, visit the Mountain Loop Books and Coffee in Darrington.

For more information on this hike and 124 others throughout the region, pick up a copy of my detailed Day Hiking North Cascades 0486guidebook.

Tracy Hill — Wild turkeys and sublime views


Tracy Hill provides sweeping views of the eastern Columbia River Gorge.

Quick Facts:

 Location: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Land Agency: Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area

Roundtrip: 5.0 miles

Elevation gain: 1150 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Contact: Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area

Notes: Dogs permitted on leash. Be aware of ticks and poison oak.

Green Trails Map: Columbia River Gorge East No. 432S

Good to Know: kid-friendly, dog-friendly, snow free winter hike; exceptional wild flowers

Access: From Portland, drive I-84 east to Exit 64 in Hood River taking the toll bridge ($1.00) into Washington. Turn onto SR 14 and drive 5.8 miles turning left onto Old Highway No. 8. Continue for 1.4 miles to trailhead.



Enjoy beautiful stately ponderosa pines along the trail.

The pine-oak savannah of the Eastern Columbia River Gorge’s Catherine Creek area is one of the most beautiful and ecologically important ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest. An area flush in endemic species and incredible biodiversity, these pine-oak forests also see ample sunshine and little snow fall. Its grassy slopes burst with showy wildflowers in the spring. But those same slopes harbor a myriad of ticks and clusters of poison oak, too! But late fall and winter offer a window of tick  free hiking. This area is also supports a large wild turkey population. Look for them on this Thanksgiving Day weekend.

wild turkeys

wild turkeys

The hiking here can be a tad bit confusing. This area was once private ranch land and a system of old roads still traverse it. That and a system of bootleg trails built by mountain bikers may also lead you astray.  Since the late 1980s, the Forest Service has been acquiring lands here at ecologically rich Catherine Creek. Recently the Forest Service has identified several of the bootleg trails to be removed and have finally gotten around to closing them off. The Forest Service is also with the help of such groups as the Washington Trails Association and Friends of the Columbia Gorge getting around to developing a series of official and well built trails here. The hike to Tracy Hill may change in the future, but it is part of the official trail system. Check with the land agency for updates.

To reach Tracy Hill in the heart of the pine-oak country, begin by following an old ranch road to an impressive natural arch. From the trailhead gate, two old roads diverge across the open grassy countryside. Take the one right sauntering across a bedrock flat draped with swaying grasses. Home to nesting western meadowlarks, it is imperative that you keep your dog under control here. The way soon meets up with Catherine Creek in a small canyon. Here the old Atwood Road-trail heads left climbing toward the Coyote Wall.  It makes a worthy side trip.


A group of hikers with the Friends of the Columbia Gorge on spring outing.

Continue right crossing Catherine Creek soon coming to an old corral and ranch ruins. Look up to your right at an impressive basalt arch. Common in the American Southwest, natural arches are rare here in the Pacific Northwest. Please stay behind the fence to not disturb this ecologically and culturally sensitive landmark.

Then continue hiking through open forest coming to a junction at 1.2 miles just after passing a power line. Head left up a small gully housing oaks and an intermittent creek before emerging onto a grassy flat. Then continue upward across rolling meadows sporting big majestic ponderosa pines. After passing through a small oak grove, reenter meadows near an old cattle pond. The views of the Gorge from this spot are excellent. Stay awhile and enjoy them. The Forest Service plans to eventually continue this trail as a loop. Until that happens, retrace the way you came savoring the splendid scenery you saw on the way up.


For  detailed information including maps on 100 other hikes in the Columbia River Gorge in both Washington and Oregon; check out my Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge.Columbia River Gorge Cover

For places to stay at and other things to do in and around the Columbia River Gorge, check out Northwest TripFinder.NWTFmasthead_layers15