Scott Hewitt / The Colombian
I was on a trip home from Seattle, driving Interstate 5 at 70 mph like we do, when one of those brown state park signs reached out and grabbed me.
Nothing bothers me more than to pass up the possibility of a little outdoor discovery. And I had no particular reason to hurry home. So I pulled off the highway and took a surprisingly beautiful hike through shimmering forest, cheered on by the chirping of birds.
“Oh wow!” I kept thinking. “Who knew?”
The I-5 corridor north of Clark County — but still in southwest Washington — is home to many state parks that most of us drive through at highway speed. I recently decided to slow down and explore them.
If you’re in the mood for a little outdoor discovery that doesn’t require more than a day trip, here’s a sampling of six adorable state parks and one fabulous National Wildlife Refuge just waiting for you. up the road.
The gateway to Mount St. Helens is a wonderland in its own right. Seaquest State Park, straddling State Highway 504 just east of Castle Rock, is a 505-acre camping and hiking park with miles of varied forest trails as well as an easy, flat loop trail at the foot of Silver Lake.
According to an interpretive sign, Silver Lake was formed after a massive volcanic eruption and a landslide dammed streams that overflowed their banks. It may sound familiar, but the explosion in question happened 2,500 years ago. Silver Lake is historical evidence of the cycle of volcanism.
To learn more about the volcano, visit the impressive Mount St. Helens Visitor Center on the south side of the road, which has a museum exhibit ($5 admission for adults, $15 for a family) and friendly park rangers ready to share local tips.
A pedestrian tunnel connects the visitor center to the rest of Seaquest, providing picnic tables and shelters, a primitive play area, and horseshoe pits in the central day-use area. But if hiking is what you’re here for, continue northeast, park at the yurt village, and walk north. A 7-mile network of hiking trails will take you through seas of ferns and second-growth forests.
The name Seaquest does not relate to the voyage of the pioneers in the Pacific. The park is named after Swedish emigrant Charles John Seaquest, who settled here in 1870.
Your GPS may suggest a southerly approach through Toledo, but the quickest connection to this reconstructed pioneer cabin is directly east of I-5 on State Route 12. Turn right onto Jackson Highway, where you can’t miss the closed stone wall and weathered hut. behind. The parking lot is just beyond.
The John R. Jackson House is the first American pioneer house north of the Columbia River. According to Washington State Parks, it was built in 1848 and quickly became a key hangout and hotel in the area. Ulysses S. Grant and Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens were among its tenants. The U.S. District Court convened at the Jackson House in 1850.
The cabin deserves a brief look or a visit by appointment. Call 360-864-2643.
Lewis and Clark
A quick hop south of the Jackson House is the 616-acre Lewis and Clark State Park. It’s a great example of public works that has stood the test of time, according to a three-panel kiosk in the central day-use area. The area was set aside in 1922 to preserve old growth forest, but its cabins, toilets, shelters, roads and trails were built in the 1930s by young men who needed work during the Great Depression. They lived locally in a Civilian Conservation Corps camp.
“The park’s day-use area still appears as it did after the CCC’s work was completed, with several rustic picnic shelters and native log and stone restrooms,” the park’s website says.
Two information stations near the entrance aim to educate visitors about local Aboriginal forestry history and practices.
Ready to hike? Turn right to reach a parking loop and a forest information booth filled with photos and data that will help you identify flora and fauna in the ancient woods beyond. (Take a photo to keep this information handy.)
There are 5 miles of tight, narrow hiking trails here, connected to another 8 miles of shared horse trails across Jackson Highway. Towering doug firs and red cedars dominate a dense landscape deeply criss-crossed with wetlands, streams and wildflowers.
State park goers can venture about 20 miles further east along State Highway 12 and Silver Creek Road to Ike Kinswa State Park, a scenic little campground and a water park on Lake Mayfield.
Not much hiking here, but there is a picnic area and playground, plus separate swimming areas in the lake. The name Ike Kinswa commemorates an influential member of the Cowlitz tribe who lived here in the 1880s.
To reach the 129-acre Rainbow Falls State Park, you can drive approximately 16 miles west of Chehalis on Highway 6. Or, you can bring a bike, park at one of the many points convenient access to Willapa Hills State Park Trail and ride the rest of the way. The trail begins at Chehalis, a turn south of I-5 Exit 77.
The beautiful, flat, fun trail is an old rail line that is paved in some parts and gravelled in others. It passes through agricultural fields, lush forests, small villages and some impressive pedestrian bridges over the Chehalis River towards Rainbow Falls (and beyond).
This summer, half a mile of the bike path east of Adna village is closed while the viaduct is being built. State Parks spokeswoman Meryl Lassen recommends parking at Adna and heading west from there. Intrepid cyclists who don’t mind a detour on the road itself can still do it all.
Cyclists resting at Rainbow Falls will enjoy hanging out in the limited day use area and hiking to the smaller falls. But if you’re driving here to hike, avoid this area. Stay on Hwy 6 and watch for an old wooden trail sign. Park on the other side of the road and climb on loop trails that intersect.
Millersylvania State Park was the temptation I couldn’t resist on my way back from Seattle. I’m so glad I succumbed, because this 903-acre park south of Olympia turned out to be huge, lush, and historic.
Millersylvania is another Civilian Conservation Corps park, built by unemployed youths in the 1930s. Up-to-date interpretive signs note that the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps includes not only strong and attractive work, but also racism and the segregation.
Even so, Millersylvania offers plenty of fun, including swim and watercraft rentals at Deep Lake and a boardwalk that transports hikers through a rich, swampy area in a 7-mile network of looping trails. But perhaps the best reason to celebrate (and the best place to do it) is the Lakeside Taphouse, a summer-only business inside the park where you can enjoy beer, wine and appetizers. -mouths while soaking up the scene.
But damn, the Lakeside Taphouse wasn’t open for the season yet when I stopped in May!
This one isn’t a state park and further down the I-5 corridor just past Olympia, but it’s a real gem worth a long stop.
The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, located at the southern tip of Puget Sound, encompasses 4,529 acres of estuary—a coastline where freshwater streams meet salty seawater , creating an area ultra rich in biodiversity of birds, fish and plants.
The walk here is entirely flat and the sky is big. Just beyond the Norm Dicks Visitor Center is a short birdwatching walkway through wooded wetlands, but Nisqually’s star attraction is the scenic boardwalk that stretches 1.6 miles across the mudflats to the sea. Stay a while and you’ll be treated to the rising and falling tide below you, endlessly hiding and revealing the secrets of Western Washington’s natural beauty.