T has been ready to do some hiking on his own for awhile now, but when we bring the big pack along “just in case”, he tends to ask for a ride after about a quarter mile, and has little interest in walking himself after that. I asked T what he would like to see on his hike and he exclaimed “waterfall!”. Another sunny spot in the forecast was coming up, so I found a kid-friendly hike that we were hoping he could do at least half of himself. It was short and easy enough that we could do shoulder rides if he wasn’t feeling it. The Northwest Timber Trail looked like an appropriate hike, but there weren’t many recent trip reports on it so we went in expecting to be flexible.
What we found was a well-maintained and pretty forest trail, in part thanks to the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance. There was not a single downed tree blocking the trail, and every creek crossing and gulch sported a wide bridge for easy crossing. We are fortunate to have so many organizations and people in the Pacific Northwest that maintain and improve the trails, and we were happy to share the trail with the several polite mountain bikers we encountered. Since Justin was wearing Si, I was able to bring my camera, but in a move of epic noobness, I didn’t check the batteries before we left, so I was stuck with a dying and dead battery.
The trail starts at the Tiger Mountain Summit parking area in the Tiger Mountain State Forest. While there are other spots to park, if you want to park in the lot with bathrooms near the trailhead, you’ll want to bring your Discover Pass. We left the lot around 11:30 am, after having a pre-hike lunch. The first section of trail is a connector trail that winds gently through second growth forests. There are massive old growth stumps with baby trees growing on them throughout this area. It made me a little sad that I couldn’t have seen the trees before it was clear cut many years ago, but I realize that the timber industry has always been a vital part of our economy here.
After crossing a gravel road and taking a right at the signed trail junction (although the sign for the Northwest Timber Trail is missing), the forest gets a little older and thicker. We took our first break near a medium size waterfall, on a large flat rock that T decided was a good slide. The trail runs through thick mossy trees, over gulches flowing with spring runoff, and up to a more recent clear cut. When we reached the clear cut, T had hiked about 2 miles on his own. He requested to ride in the pack a couple of times, but we reminded him that we left the pack at home and he’d have to be tough and walk himself.
He’s getting a little too clever for his own good. At one point, he asked if I would carry him and I told him “Sorry, you’re too big for me to carry now!” And he reminded me that my “boo boo all better now!” (referring to my C-section recovery). Nice try kiddo. Shortly after entering the clear cut, T stopped and sat down in the middle of the trail. He started chucking little pebbles off into the brush and was very clearly “done”. Justin picked him up, put him on his shoulders, and we continued to the end of the trail. Near our turnaround point (the junction with the Joy Ride trail), there was a stump that had been cut into a seat of sorts. It turned out to be a great place to nurse and have another snack before heading back. On the way back, T alternated between walking and riding on Justin’s shoulders.
While this trail is easy and short, it appears to be a bit longer than the listings I’ve seen online. I’m not sure if that’s because we started at the parking lot and added the connector trail, or if the distances are a bit off. The Garmin measured about 5.5 miles, while it was listed at 4.4 miles. My Fitbit estimated 5.3 miles. It took us 5 (yes, FIVE) hours to complete, but it was worth watching T navigate the trail and complete about 3-3.5 miles of it on his own feet. There is little in the way of trail hazards on this hike, and its a great choice for a family getting into hiking together, or a young kid trying out his trail legs. Just remember to be courteous and share the trail with the mountain bikers.
No matter how much your toddler likes the outdoors, getting them to move forward down the trail can be a challenge. Whether its because they are tired or distracted, it can wear on your patience.
- If he wanted to stop and look at a trail feature, we let him. They enjoy the trail on a closer level, and allowing kids the time to stop and feel the texture of different tree barks, count the fronds on a fern, or inspect an interesting mushroom is important. Those are the things that create a love for being outdoors. We ask him a lot of questions, too. When we hear interesting bird calls, we ask him what type of animal he thinks it was, and what they might be telling us.
- While we were patient with him stopping to look around, we also had to motivate him forward or we’d be out there till after dark. So, once he had stopped to look around, we reminded him that more little wonders lay further down the trail, and we’d have to get going if we wanted to see them. Waterfalls and bridges are his favorite.
- When he got a little tired towards the end, Justin would offer to carry him until the next bridge (choose whatever point that works for you), then he could walk for a bit. Sometimes it worked, sometimes he still wanted to be carried.
- Let them lead! We made a big deal about who got to lead, so he got excited about that. We let him make choices about how to navigate around puddles and over roots. We have a small dog too, and walking her seems to make him forget about being carried for awhile.
- Snacks. Many, many snacks. “When we get to the waterfall, we’ll have fruit snacks!”, “At the turnaround, we’ll have cashews!” Having defined stopping points for rest and snacks is really helpful in getting their energy up. We don’t give him much candy or junk food at home, but we bring one of those fruit squeeze packs, some jerky, and candy, and call it “special trail snacks.”
- We made sure we ate before we started, so he started on a full stomach (baby Si too, way easier to nurse in the parking lot first than to have to stop a half mile in).
- Chasing games. He loves to be chased down the trail, and he loves to chase us even more. So Justin would walk in the back, egging him on, and I would pretend to be scared and running away in front. Sometimes I’d run a little faster and (very conspicuously) hide behind a tree to pop out and scare him.
- We made a huge deal about how tough he was, and how he was a big boy hiker now. Every time he jumped over a particularly large root, or climbed a steep hill, we praised his trail prowess. Not so much on the empty “good job” but more making observations (“Wow, that was a big jump!”, “Look how far you climbed!”).
I’m certain that future hikes won’t always go this smoothly, lacking the whining and tantrums that can accompany any activity with a toddler. But I’ll take this day as a win, and hopefully it will help boost his confidence on our future hikes.
Date Hiked: March 23, 2017
Miles Hiked This Year: 12.5
WTA Hiking Guide: Northwest Timber Trail