One of the most striking features of my native Pacific
Northwest is the young, rugged, and very volcanically active
Cascade Mountain Range. Ranging from southern British
Columbia to northern California,
the range bisects Washington and Oregon. The more famous
peaks (all of them volcanic) are probably Mt.
Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mt. Hood, Mt. Baker,
and Mt. Shasta. These and the other dozen or so
volcanic peaks that form the range provide a wealth of four-season beauty and
recreation opportunity to residents and visitors.
Winter's World Of White
While the well-trod hiking trails and well-used campgrounds of summer are
buried beneath a blanket of snow, the Cascades still have a lot to offer in the
winter. Downhill and cross-country skiing are offered at dozens of recreational
areas, and snowmobile enthusiasts will find scores of Sno-Parks
throughout the Cascades. Snowshoeing is experiencing a renaissance as well, as
baby boomers discover the delights of this quiet, intimate means of exploring
the mountains. Pack plenty of warm, dry clothing along with the usual 10
Essentials you'd pack for hiking if you plan to take part in this sport, and
remember the days are short and weather fronts move in quickly.
Sweet, Soggy Spring
There's nothing quite like the smell of the mountains in springtime. There is a richness to the soil as it warms beneath the final crust
of snow. Tenacious shoots poke up through the ice, unable to wait for the touch
of sun on their leaves and petals. Foolhardy hikers head for the hills, only to
be stopped in their tracks by snow and ice blocking their route. The trails
open, but are mucky and debris-filled. It's not a time to stay away from the
mountains, but it is a time for caution, a time to keep your expectations in
check. Plan to help clear your favorite trail, pausing to move fallen branches
aside. Plan to take your time, too, and plan to get very, very muddy. But don't stay
away -- spring is the time for the most magnificent waterfalls, when the
greatest volume of snowmelt is gushing its way down the mountainside.
The Sumptuous Summer
No one needs to be told that summer in the Cascade
Mountains is sublime. Hikers from all over the world come to the
North Cascades to trek our amazing trails, to view the wildflower meadows, to
gaze at the glaciers. Car camping, backpacking, and daytripping
possibilities abound. Whether you're taking a toddler on her first 1/4-mile trek
to see old-growth timber, or you're hoisting your pack to take on the Wonderland
or Pacific Crest trail, you can't help but love the Cascade
Mountains in the summer. Steer clear of Mt.
and Mt. Hood's Timberline Lodge on crowded July
and August weekends, but don't let that keep you home. There are plenty of
stunning, lightly traveled trails on these mountains as well as on other
Cascade peaks such as Glacier Peak, Mt.
Jefferson, Mt. Adams,
and the Three Sisters, to name but a few other gems in the chain.
The Fullness Of Fall
For me, the year's splendor culminates in autumn. The crowds thin, the nights
are chilly, but the days are often glorious -- sunny with sparkling blue skies
and comfortable temperatures. Waterfalls are less dramatic, but the trails are
cleared, dry, and quiet. Wildflowers remain plentiful, especially in the higher
elevations. Snow may begin dusting the mountaintops as early as September, but
many trails remain open well into October and even beyond. Wildlife can often
be spotted this time of year -- deer, marmots, chipmunks, black
bear -- as they prepare for the winter months ahead. It is a time of intense
beauty in the Cascade Mountain Range. But then again, these mountains are
amazing any time of year.
Sally O'Neal is a travel writer who writes about her hiking, bicycling, and
other adventures worldwide, but always returns to her native Pacific
Northwest and the Cascade Mountain Range. Her books include "Hot
Showers, Soft Beds, and Dayhikes in the Central Cascades."