April may be the most delicious month of the year for taking a hike.
Ski resorts are closing because even skiers are losing their appetite for snow. It’s time to feast on colors bursting from the winter-weary lowlands in the window before summer bakes the landscape to a golden brown.
Hikers who relish the mountains this early in the season will need snowshoes, but they’ll find rewards for their efforts. Mount Spokane State Park Manager Steve Christensen said his favorite time for snowshoeing the mountain’s ridges and glades is in the few weeks after the downhill ski resort closes – that’s today.
“It gets very quiet up here all of a sudden,” he said. “You can really cover ground on the spring snow, the weather can be great and you’re not likely to see a soul.”
But this also is the month that sees buttercups and grass widows livening up the floors of lowland ponderosa pine forests. The showy golden bouquets of arrowleaf balsamroot soon will be decorating trails from the South Hill Bluffs below High Drive and shores of the Spokane River through Riverside State Park to the scablands of Lincoln County.
Todd Dunfield of Spokane photographed one of the first balsamroot flowers of the season bursting into bloom last weekend on Beacon Hill, where an inviting trail takes off near Esmeralda Golf Course.
The Inland Northwest Hikers pushed the envelope last weekend with a group hike to Marie Creek Loop Trail 241 just north of Lake Coeur d’Alene’s Wolf Lodge Bay.
The route winds through forest from elevation 2,370 feet at the trailhead to 3,500 feet on the ridges – still a bit too high for clear trails.
“Muddy on the switchbacks from the trailhead,” said the group’s leader, Jim Rueckel, describing the conditions. “Patchy snow and ice under the cedars along Marie Creek with snow on the northern downhill side of the trail after we had climbed the switchbacks out of Skitwish Creek. Other than that pretty clear.”
Although his group was ready for the conditions – “We had a great time” – he said he’ll likely scheduled the trek a couple of weeks later next year.
On the other hand, an even higher hiking destination in the region, Kamiak Butte, is snow-free and wildflowers are sprouting. This Whitman County park east of Colfax rises from the Palouse to 3,641 feet. It features about 3 miles of trails and eye-candy views over the wave-like Palouse hills – a scene that changes every month with the seasons of the farm fields below.
The 446,000 acres of land managed in big blocks west of Spokane by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management are at their best for hikers this month.
And this may be the best week of the year to visit the 13,000-acre BLM’s Escure Ranch area south of Sprague. The scabland area is green, Rock Creek is flowing nicely over Towell Falls, wildflowers are blooming and the cheatgrass hasn’t turned brown and full of spears.
Also, this may be the last week hikers can enjoy the main route to Towell Falls before all the mud dries and BLM opens the gate for the few months that motor vehicles are allowed on the road.
The Spokane Mountaineers and other hiking groups have group trips scheduled to Escure and other BLM trails at Fishtrap and Hog Canyon lakes, Crab Creek and Twin Lakes – all good choices in April.
Spokane hikers don’t have to leave town for great spring-wildflower strolls along the Spokane River in Riverside State Park. Start from the Bowl and Pitcher area, cross the footbridge over the river and head upstream or downstream to your heart’s content.
Or go to the Ninemile area of the park and hike in and out of Deep Creek Canyon to the Pine Bluffs. You’re likely to see white-throated swifts twittering off the basalt cliff walls, flowers blooming on the slopes and scenic views that reward the climb from the canyon up to Pine Bluff.
Look down the powerline from the bluff and see if the osprey nest is occupied.
The Spokane County Conservation Futures program has preserved more than 7,200 acres of open spaces, most of which are ripe for hiking in April.
The Spokane Mountaineers, with nearly a century of experience in hiking the best routes in this area, have spring group hikes scheduled for Conservation Futures areas such as the Rocks of Sharon, Saltese Uplands, Palisades Park, McKenzie, McLellan and Slavin conservation areas.
Trust their judgment.
In the Coeur d’Alene area, top April hikes include Tubbs Hill from the Coeur d’Alene Resort and Mineral Ridge out of Wolf Lodge Bay.
Hikers willing to commit more time and travel to April hikes should consider:
• Steamboat Rock and Northrup Canyon in Steamboat Rock State Park.
• North Fork Asotin Creek in the Asotin Creek State Wildlife Recreation Area south of Asotin.
• Ancient Lakes in the Quincy State Wildlife Recreation Area near Quincy.
• Yakima Skyline Trail in the L.T. Murray State Wildlife Recreation Area near Yakima.
• Lake Chelan Shoreline Trail in the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.
• Wenaha River Trail in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness out of Troy, Ore.
• Kirkwood Ranch and Suicide Point along the Snake River in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, starting from Pittsburg Landing near Whitebird, Idaho.
Finally, here’s a close-to-Spokane hike, lavish with wildflower by late April, that’s not on many maps.
The Medical Lake Trail runs 3 miles around its namesake lake starting from the town’s Waterfront Park. The west shore in particular will be busy after Washington’s lowland lake fishing season opens on April 26. But it’s very quiet now.
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