Thursday, December 3, 2020
Dec. 3, 2020

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The trails less traveled in Vancouver

Explore local hikes and walks with new 'Urban Trails: Vancouver, WA' guidebook

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
Published:
3 Photos
Guidebook author Craig Romano takes notes while hiking the Yacolt Burn State Forest's Tarbell Trail.
Guidebook author Craig Romano takes notes while hiking the Yacolt Burn State Forest's Tarbell Trail. (Contributed photo) Photo Gallery

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. 

Craig Romano's top Clark County hiking picks

What can a guy who lives way up in Skagit County tell us about our local hiking and walking scene? Craig Romano is no carpetbagger: his wife, Heather, grew up in Vancouver, and Romano spends frequent time here, he said, staying with his in-laws and checking out the trails.

Here are a handful of his favorite local hikes -- some obvious, some obscure -- plus a little commentary from his new guidebook, "Urban Trails: Vancouver, WA."

• Washougal River Greenway Trail, Camas. "Peaceful and feels like it's far from the bustle."

Columbia River Waterfront Renaissance Trail, Vancouver. “Teems with history, sweeping views and folks from all walks of life.”

• Vancouver Lake and Frenchman's Bar. "Marvel at ospreys, cranes, geese, eagles, and myriad of other birds, and savor some excellent views."

• Salmon-Morgan Creeks Natural Area, north of Brush Prairie. "Its stand of mature cedars is one of the finest in western Clark County."

• Lauretta Norene (Groth) Forest Preserve, west of Brush Prairie. "Peaceful meadows alongside forests." (And thanks to a remote location and obscure access, Romano added, "People have no idea it exists.")

• Brezee Creek and Heritage Trails, La Center. "Explore a lush ravine, quiet neighborhood, bird- and amphibian-rich wetland, tall timber grove and a couple of small chattering creeks."

• Yacolt Burn, east Clark County: Hidden Falls and Tarbell Trail. "Plenty of scenic delights, including mature groves of forest, sweeping views and a spectacular waterfall."

-- Scott Hewitt

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.

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