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Saturday, July 11, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Short hikes are cheap outdoor elixir for mind, body, social well-being

Heading out on a trail for a day or even a few hours is one of life’s simplest active pleasures.

Craving fresh air, wildflowers, wildlife and healthy exercise? Taking a walk is the universal alternative whether you’re young or old, rich or poor.

I look at day hiking as backpacking without the baggage – knee-friendly ventures that can be short and easy or long and challenging. Your choice.

Day hiking has an attractive cost/benefit ratio compared with other means of venturing outdoors. It requires a minimal investment in equipment for traveling the widest variety of routes.

Since day hikers often need little time for packing and planning, they have more time and incentive to discover new places.

Carrying less weight, a day hiker can cover more ground and tackle more elevation than he could carrying a heavy backpack – with lower toll on the back and other body parts.

Day hikers are more likely than bikers, paddlers and backpackers to “stop and smell the roses” or snap photos, identify a new bird species through binoculars, investigate a track or scat, take a side trail or pause to harvest a quart of huckleberries.

Bottom line: Day hiking is so cheap and uncomplicated even pessimists are left with few excuses to stay inside.

A gray sky and drizzle don’t have to be a deterrent, since a day hiker can launch out to enjoy the vibrant colors of a wet landscape with the promise of heading back to the comfort of a car camp, restaurant or home.

For many people – perhaps all of us sooner or later – this is the way to go.

Day hiking is genuinely good low-impact exercise for the body and soul. It’s equally rewarding solo or with a group; a chance to lighten up for a few hours or reflect on what’s truly important.

Hiking is a perfect scenario for conversation with a partner. Slow down for the good parts; pick up the pace when drama is imminent.

As America grows more urban and attached to electronics, day hiking is an attractive antidote to the temptation of being sedentary. Families in particular can take advantage of day hiking to meet the limits of their budgets and busy schedules while still confronting the “nature deficit syndrome” afflicting our nation’s youth.

Good walking routes are found throughout the region’s parks and national forests, while a surprising number of options are virtually under our noses even in the cities and suburbs.

For example, the route connecting 18 bridges over the Spokane River in downtown Spokane is inspirational and handy for Spokane residents – particularly attractive in May when the falls are roaring. Bateman Island, Chamna Nature Preserve, Amon Basin, and Badger Mountain are situated in the Tri-Cities.

On the other hand, serious backcountry isn’t far from anyone on the East Side of the state. Day hikers with a yen to get away from it all will find fascinating one-day routes in the 7,140-acre Juniper Dunes Wilderness just outside of Pasco. Or make a base camp for a week of one-day jaunts in the extreme northwest corner of the state. Remote areas of the 40,000-acre Salmo-Priest Wilderness are within a day-hiker’s range.

Setting out on foot reveals captivating subtleties even in the Eastern Washington scablands most people drive throughout without a glance. From the sage-steppe flats and canyons of the Columbia Plateau to lush forests and fire lookout sites of past and present, Eastern Washington has more than meets the eye from a car.

Looking back at my transition from being single to getting married, raising kids and sending them off on their own – day hiking is in every phase.

A walk with kids, friends, spouse, groups your spouse or dog, or even alone, is perhaps the most wholesome physical and mental health therapy available at any price.

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