Monday, July 13, 2020
July 13, 2020

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Washington state parks free day after Thanksgiving

Here are day trips to get out and enjoy

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
8 Photos
The flat, easy bike trail from Chehalis to Rainbow Falls State Park -- and beyond -- combines a few paved sections, long stretches of compacted gravel and fun features like this bridge.
The flat, easy bike trail from Chehalis to Rainbow Falls State Park -- and beyond -- combines a few paved sections, long stretches of compacted gravel and fun features like this bridge. (Washington State Parks) Photo Gallery

One week from today, the day after Thanksgiving, you just might awaken to find yourself stiff, overstuffed and stir crazy. A change of scenery and a little outdoor exercise might freshen up that fading feeling of holiday gratitude.

Nov. 29 will be a free-admission day at all Washington state parks. Vehicle entry at those parks normally requires a Discover Pass, which costs $10 for one day or $30 for an annual pass. The latter in particular seems like a terrific bargain — $30 for admission to all state parks, all year long — but if you’re eager to sample a state park for free, Nov. 29 is your chance.

Here are a few recommendations for state park visits that will draw you outside of Clark County (where Battle Ground Lake is the only substantial state park), but not so far outside that you can’t make the trip in a day.

Willapa Hills State Park Trail and Rainbow Falls State Park

Bike-path explorers who thought they’d exhausted all the best byways in the region — from our own Salmon Creek and Burnt Bridge Creek greenway trails, all the way out to the epic Banks-Vernonia Trail, beyond Hillsboro, Ore. — simply must check out the lesser known Willapa Hills State Park Trail.

It’s a charming, rustic path that starts just west of Interstate 5 at Exit 77 and runs approximately 15 miles to Rainbow Falls State Park. New pavement gives way after the first few miles to compacted gravel, but that’s really no problem. The whole rail-to-trail bike path is pleasingly flat and easy. Farm fields, deep forests, tiny villages and a couple of impressive pedestrian bridges over the Chehalis River provide lots of diverse scenery.

If you like the sound of that but aren’t quite up for a 30-mile round trip, choose one of several smaller trailheads and parking areas along the way. “I often start from Adna, 6 miles west of Chehalis, and bike 10 miles to Rainbow Falls,” state parks spokeswoman Meryl Lassen said. “Have lunch at the falls, noodle around there and ride back.”

Rainbow Falls State Park features miles of old-growth hiking trails, but the footbridge connecting the main park to the hiking forest washed out years ago. To hike at Rainbow Falls today, you’ve got to leave the main park area, park somewhere along state Highway 6 and walk south into the forest.

Don’t let that complication stop you. The state calls Rainbow Falls as “a walker’s paradise.” Feast your eyes on towering trees and the small cascade on the Chehalis River. Don’t neglect several classic shelters and other historic structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935.

Lassen recommends stopping at the Antique Deli in Kalama for pre-outing coffee and lunch supplies. After your hike or bike, food and drink are available at Flood Valley Brewing in Chehalis or the waterfront McMenamins Kalama Harbor Lodge in Kalama.

Getting there: Willapa Hills trailhead at Chehalis is 79 miles from downtown Vancouver and Rainbow Falls is 96 miles. Head north on I-5, west on state Highway 6.


Lewis & Clark Park and Jackson House State Park Heritage Site

Lewis and Clark Park is a 616-acre campsite park, south of Chehalis, that offers some spectacular greenery and cathedral-like stands of old-growth forest. Enjoy 8 miles of hiking trails, 5 of which are open to horses too.

You might also enjoy stopping at the Jackson House heritage site, a modest little 1.4-acre park a couple of miles to the north, which features a reconstructed 1850 homestead cabin, the home of pioneer John R. Jackson, one of the earliest white settlers north of the Columbia River. In 1915, the reconstructed cabin became one of Washington’s first state parks. Tours are available year-round by appointment; call 360-864-2643.

Getting there: Seventy miles from downtown Vancouver. Head north on I-5, east on state Highway 12.


Beacon Rock State Park

Rising majestically from the north bank of the Columbia River, Beacon Rock is a monument to the powers of time and nature. It’s the hard basalt core of an ancient volcano, exposed when the Missoula flood eroded away all the outer, softer material 13,000-plus years ago.

Henry J. Biddle installed the zigzagging, switchbacking, milelong staircase up the 848-foot rock when it was his private property, just over a century ago. If you’ve never climbed those stairs, get ready for a scenic adventure that isn’t nearly as difficult as it looks. The staircase is entirely protected and the views up there are extraordinary.

But there’s lots more to 4,464-acre Beacon Rock State Park. Across the highway, on the uphill side, you’ll find miles of hiking trails, bike trails and horse trails that loop, crisscross and — if you so choose — climb to some stunning viewpoints and the saddle-like summit of Hamilton Mountain. If you’re not up for a hardy hike, head down to the riverside and try the Doetsch Day-Use Area, which offers a flat, easy 1.2-mile walking loop, complete with benches.

From Beacon Rock, it’s just 10 minutes farther east to the big restaurant at Skamania Lodge — which makes for a fun visit in itself, and also boasts a spa (reservations recommended) — and barely farther to downtown Stevenson, which features numerous friendly restaurants and breweries, like the Big River Grill and Walking Man Brewing.

Getting there: Thirty-four miles from downtown Vancouver. Head east on state Highway 14.