The great thing about winter in Western Washington is how mild it stays. The coolness and dampness here are child’s play compared to Craig Romano’s native New England.
“You can’t go outside without pulling on a lot of clothes and dealing with a lot of serious weather” in New Hampshire, Romano said. “Western Washington stays pretty temperate. You can walk or run year-round, and 95 percent of the trails stay open year-round.”
Romano spent his youth hiking, running, cycling — and writing columns for his local New Hampshire newspaper, even while he was still a high school student. He was in his 30s when he decided to start pulling all those passions together.
Now Romano lives in Skagit County and operates his own cottage industry as the author of many Washington hiking guidebooks, frequent special guest on TV about hiking and the outdoors, and owner-operator of several websites, including hikeoftheweek.com.
His latest publication from Mountaineers Books, “Urban Trails: Vancouver, WA,” contains maps and detailed information about 44 different local pathways, from Vancouver’s popular waterfront and historical areas to farther-flung trails up in north and east Clark County. There are also some easy, scenic, city-park walks in Longview, Kalama and Castle Rock. All are rated by difficulty level, elevation gain and appropriateness for kids, dogs, bikes and fitness runners.
Whether it’s a forest trail or a flat, paved pathway, there’s never been a better time than this pandemic winter to boost your health and spirits with a relatively nearby, relatively easy walk, Romano said. Just make sure you’re observing the author’s No. 1 rule for hiking the changeable Pacific Northwest: bring both a rain jacket and sunglasses.
“Conditions can go back and forth frequently during the same day,” Romano said.
Add some waterproof footwear, and the food and water you need if it’s an outing of any length, and you’re ready to enjoy the uncrowded explorations that winter can offer.
“This is a great time to check out the more popular parks,” he said. “It’s quiet in January and February at Vancouver Lake and Frenchman’s Bar. On a slightly overcast day you’ll have it all to yourself.”
All to yourself except for the flocks of migratory birds, that is. Much of the land between those neighboring sites is protected bird habitat, and Romano said he’s seen hundreds of wintering sandhill cranes while walking the easy, paved path that connects them.
“People should embrace the winter. It’s a nice time to get out,” he said. “You’re going to see things you won’t see in summertime.”
Even people who’ve lived in Clark County for years don’t know about some of the rich hiking and walking opportunities just minutes away from home, Romano said. Instead they flock to the trailheads and pathways they already know — which can create problems.
“People are frustrated dealing with crowds,” he said. “Why are you going to places like Dog Mountain (in the Columbia River Gorge) where there are a thousand people on the weekends? That’s when places like the Yacolt Burn State Forest becomes a wonderful alternative.”
When Romano and a friend hiked the Yacolt Burn’s Tarbell Trail on a weekday earlier this year, he said, they saw not another soul for the entire 26-mile stretch.
“It’s so much easier to disperse” on Clark County’s lesser-known but equally gorgeous trails, he said, and that’s important both for enjoyment and for social distancing during the time of coronavirus.
“I’m on a mission to get people to try the trails less traveled,” Romano said.