Hiking book author Craig Romano, ’94, ’97,
slowed down long enough to tell us about
his passion for nature—and some urban hikes
that are off the beaten path.
Hiking book author Craig Romano, ’94, ’97, is an award-winning author and outdoors writer. With many trails temporarily closed due to COVID-19, he told us why his enthusiasm for nature remains undiminished.
“I was raised in New Hampshire, but Washington state has been home since 1989. It is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and I have thoroughly hiked it—over 25,000 miles—from Cape Flattery in the northwest to Puffer Butte in the southeast; and Cape Disappointment in the southwest to the Salmo-Priest Wilderness in the northeast.
“I live with my wife, Heather; son, Giovanni; and cat, Giuseppe, in Skagit County. I’m an avid hiker, runner and paddler. I write about these passions for books, magazines and websites.
“Now more than ever as we’re dealing with this pandemic, we need the rejuvenating powers of nature, the outdoors and our community connection. We cannot let despair, anxiety and fear permeate in our minds, families and communities. It is the perfect time to discover—or rediscover—our own neighborhoods, local parks and trails.”
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Romano has curated a few of his favorite urban hikes for University of Washington Magazine readers. He chose these four for to highlight amazing natural beauty, family-friendliness, history and diverse habitats. Because these parks and trails are not as well-known, they offer some great opportunities to be outside and maintain a social distance.
Romano has two new Mountaineers Books hiking guides out this summer: “Urban Trails Eastside,” and “Urban Trails Tacoma.” To order these and many of his other books, visit ubookstore.com or mountaineers.org.
Distance: More than 10 miles of trails
Driving: From Seattle, take Washington State Ferry at Fauntleroy to Vashon Island Ferry Dock. Then drive 6.5 miles south on Vashon Highway. Turn left onto SW 204th Street and drive 0.4 mile. Bear left onto SW Ellisport Road and continue 0.7 mile turning right onto George Edwards Road (Dockton Road SW). Continue onto Maury Island coming to Dockton Park and trailhead at 4.4 miles.
Transit: King County Metro Route 119
The Dockton Forest and abutting Maury Island Natural Area consists of more than 400 acres including a wild coastline. One of the largest tracts of public land on Vashon Island, there are more than 10 miles of multi-use trails to explore here—plenty of room for social distancing.
Dockton Forest was once managed by the Washington DNR for timber production. The Maury Island Natural Area was owned by a gravel-mining consortium. In the late 1990s the owners proposed a massive mining operation. This excavation would have required building an immense dock for loading barges around-the-clock. The operation would have destroyed eel grass beds and some of the largest madrona stands in the state, and it would have threatened water supplies. After a long battle led by Preserve our Islands and other conservation groups, the mine was stopped. In 2010, the 235-acre quarry property became a King County park.
Have fun exploring it via a series of trails and old woods roads. Meander through an attractive forest of Douglas fir and madronas. Follow the old quarry access road winding down into the quarry, passing rusting conveyors and other old excavating machinery to the old dock site. Hike an old road along the rim of the quarry to excellent bluff-top viewpoints. Gaze across the dormant rock pit to Puget Sound, South Sound cities, the Issaquah highlands and Mount Rainier.
When the tides are favorable, enjoy great coastal walking on the park’s mile-long cobbled beach. Walk along the base of steep forested slopes and try to envision how this coastline (along with nearby Maury Island Marine Park), the longest undeveloped stretch in King County, would have been compromised.
Distance: more than 7 miles of trails
Driving: From Tacoma, follow I-5 south to Exit 124. Then turn right onto S 74th Street and proceed for 2.2 miles. Then continue on Custer Road W and drive 1.2 miles bearing right onto 88th Street SW. Follow for 0.3 mile merging onto Steilacoom Boulevard S and continuing straight for 1.0 mile. Then turn left onto 87th Ave SW and continue for 0.1 mile. Next turn right on Dresden Lane SW and enter Fort Steilacoom Park.
Transit: Pierce Transit Line 212
Explore a former US army fort turned mental health hospital farm turned one of the largest and finest urban parks in the South Sound. Walk, run, or hike on miles of trails traversing woodlands, prairie, rolling hills and lakeshore. Fort Steilacoom Park is a happening place with a long and colorful history. There is plenty of room to roam in this 340-acre park, with many of the trails in the southern and western reaches of the park void of crowds.
Learn about this park’s fascinating history by following the Discovery Trail; a route lined with interpretive signs and leading to historic structures and sites. The area was homesteaded in the 1840s and became part of Fort Steilacoom (one of the first US military instillations built north of the Columbia River) in 1849. In 1871, the fort was repurposed as an insane asylum eventually becoming Western State Hospital. A good portion of the original fort grounds south of Steilacoom Boulevard were operated until 1965 as a farm for the hospital. Patients worked on the farm alongside staff. Several farm buildings are still standing, as well as the orchard.
If you’re looking for easy running and walking routes, several level paved paths lie within the park. The most popular trail is the near-level, 1.2-mile paved lollipop loop around Waughop Lake. Named for Doctor John Waughop, a former superintendent of the hospital, the lake is lined with stately ornamental trees brought to the grounds courtesy of Waughop’s wife Elizabeth.
From the lake loop, a paved path leads to the Hill Ward historic area. Beyond Hill Ward, follow soft surface paths to an open hillside in the park’s southwestern corner and enjoy a breathtaking view of Mount Rainier rising above the grounds. Enjoy, too, views of the Cascades, Olympics and McNeil and Fox islands.
Distance: 4 miles of trails
Driving: From Bellingham follow I-5 to Exit 253. Then follow Lakeway Drive east for 2.7 miles onto Terrace Ave. Continue 0.2 mile onto Cable St. Then after 0.3 mile turn right onto Austin Street. Proceed for 0.4 mile bearing left onto Lake Louise Road. Then drive 1.1 miles to trailhead.
Transit: Whatcom Transit Route 512-to Sudden Valley
The Stimpson Family Nature Reserve encompasses more than 350 acres of mature forest and two wildlife-rich wetlands on a ridge above Lake Whatcom. Whatcom County Parks manages this natural tract, but it came to be thanks to various conservation-minded folks. The Stimpson family made the initial land donation to the Whatcom Land Trust. Subsequent land donations from Western Washington University were added, along with the adjoining Washington Department of Natural Resources’ Lake Louise Natural Resources Conservation Area. All of the groups agreed that this special place to be a reserve and outdoor classroom for introducing children to nature. No bikes, dogs or horses allowed.
From the trailhead, skirt a large beaver pond and traverse a grove of big trees—some more than 400 years old. From the main loop you can divert into a smaller loop leading to Geneva Pond. You’ll pass an old dam where you get excellent views of the pond, which often reflects the towering timber lining its shoreline. Bird watching is excellent.
The Main Loop skirts more wetlands and traverses more impressive groves of big trees including two giant Douglas firs. The trail weaves and switchbacks up and along folds in the ridge, providing hikers with a decent workout. It then follows an old skid road back to the big beaver pond. Reenter old forest, but look for younger trees that succumbed to the resident beavers’ master plan for the area.
By Craig Romano
It’s imperative that we do all we can to prohibit a second devastating outbreak of this disease. We can do that by adhering to the following while we enjoy our trails: