Trail Tips from Central Washington Outdoor

Trail Tips from Central Washington Outdoor

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In Central Washington, experiencing the outdoors is in our nature. We are committed to inspiring your love and appreciation for the natural world, but we also aim to help you protect and care for it, as well as stay safe as you explore it. We're happy to help you discover your passion for the wilderness, learn how to navigate it safely, improve your on-trail experience, and lessen your impact on the places you love for adventurers of the present and future.

Eager to begin your next adventure? Jump to:

Leave No Trace | Safety Essentials | Trail Etiquette | Prepare for Unexpected Weather | Stay On Trail | Water Crossings | Campfire Safety | Choosing a Tent Site | Leave What You Find | Respect Wildlife | Pack It In, Pack It Out | Winter Safety Tips

Leave No Trace

One of the easiest ways to protect our beloved trails and natural places is to leave those places untouched by your visit. The seven principles of Leave No Trace are:

1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What You Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

By following these principles, not only will you preserve the natural experiences for those who follow in your footsteps, but you'll also be making sure the trail is in good shape when you return. A little responsibility goes a long way.

Safety Essentials

Before you hit any trail, make sure your backpack is loaded with the ten essentials. Carry each one and know how to use them.

1. Firestarter - Always bring along waterproof matches in a water-tight container and have a dry or waterproof striker.

2. First Aid Kit - Make sure you have the supplies to deal with major injuries and make sure you have the knowledge to properly treat them. You can purchase first aid kits at outdoor stores or put together your own (see list below).

3. Hydration - It is essential to drink a lot of water while hiking. Without water, your body doesn't perform as well and you could grow more susceptible to heatstroke, hypothermia, and altitude sickness.

4. Illumination - A light source is vital if you get caught in the woods after dark. Carry spare batteries and make sure you test your light before each trip.

5. Navigation - Always carry a detailed map of the area that you are hiking in and a compass. Stop by one of Central Washington's Visitor Centers before your journey to collect local maps and guides!

6. Nutrition - Always bring extra food when hiking in case an unexpected situation delays your return. Carry at least one extra day's worth of something that stores for a long time, requires no preparation, and is high in energy. Many people choose things they dislike so they won't be tempted to break into their emergency rations unless they really need them.

7. Rain Gear & Insulation - Weather can change quickly in the mountains. A sunny, warm day can turn into a cold downpour in a very short period of time. Always tuck rain gear into your backpack and bring along layers of clothes.

8. Tools - Knives or a multi-tool are indispensable. They can help you prepare food, cut bandages/gauze, repair gear, and more. Duct tape can fix everything from tent poles to ripped boots and packs.

9. Shelter - An emergency tarp or space blanket can help protect you through a sudden storm or shelter you through an unexpected night outdoors.

10. Sun Protection - Your eyes need the protection of sunglasses, especially if you are on snow or above treeline. Sunscreen is also important for people of all skin types and should be reapplied frequently to avoid the damaging effects of strong rays.

First Aid Kits

A first aid kit is one of the essentials you should always take on a hike, and it's especially important on an overnight backpacking trip. Some of the items inside you'll use fairly regularly and should be replaced often, while others are rarely used but may be critical in an emergency. Organize and waterproof your kit with small resealable bags and plastic bottles. You can also include other commonly used items in your first aid kit: lip balm, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a small roll of duct tape.

This checklist is by no means comprehensive, but a basic overnight first aid kit may benefit from the following items:

• Aloe vera gel - Found in packets or small bottles for relief of minor burns.

• Antihistamines - For relief of pollen allergies or to reduce reaction to bites and stings.

• Antiseptic towelettes - For cleaning small wounds.

• Bandages - Assorted sizes for small cuts, blisters, etc.

• Cotton swabs - For removing foreign objects from the eye or applying antibiotic ointment.

• Gauze roll - Holds dressing in place.

• Hydrocortisone cream - Relieves skin irritation from bites, poison oak, stings, or allergic reactions.

• Multi-use tool or knife - Should include a knife and scissors.

• Pain relievers, including Aspirin and Ibuprofen - Provides relief for minor aches and pains, reduces fever, helps reduce inflammation of sprains and other injuries.

• Sterile dressing pads - To apply pressure to a wound and stop bleeding.

• Antibiotic ointment - For application to wounds. Vaseline can also be used.

• Tweezers - For removing splinters, ticks, and removing debris from wounds.

Trail Etiquette

Although many hikers enjoy their fair share of peace and solitude on the trail, odds are you will eventually end up sharing the trail with others. Whether you encounter mountain bikers, equestrians, or fellow hikers along the way, there are general guidelines for how to share trail space with others.

Hikers vs. Bikers

Mountain bikes are considered more maneuverable than hikers' legs, so bikers are generally expected to yield to hikers on the trail. However, because those mountain bikes are moving considerably faster than said legs, it's usually easier for hikers to yield the right of way-especially if a mountain biker is huffing and puffing up a tough incline. A biker should never expect a hiker to yield, though.

Hikers vs. Hikers

Start with a polite, "On your right (or left)!" if you are coming up behind them. If you're coming towards each other, make eye contact. Trail etiquette states that the person going uphill has the right of way. This is because, in general, hikers heading up an incline have a smaller field of vision and may also be hiking in a rhythm, not wanting to waste energy by breaking their pace. Not everyone knows these practices, so if there's confusion, communicate with each other.

Hikers vs. Horses

As the largest, slowest-to-maneuver, and least-predictable creatures on the trail, horses get the right of way from both hikers and mountain bikers. If you're sharing the trail with equestrians, give them as much space as possible, try not to make abrupt movements as they pass, and talk calmly when approaching to avoid startling the animal.

Prepare for Unexpected Weather

A rainy day hike can add solitude and a special ambiance to your next Central Washington adventure, so long as you come prepared and stay respectful of your surroundings.

The rainy season in the Pacific Northwest can continue through the middle of June, so pack to stay dry and warm if you plan to explore our backyard of forests, mountains, lakes, and rivers. While you don't need expensive or new gear to hike in the rain, you will need to include a few basics, such as good base layers and thick socks, to stay safe and comfortable. Avoid cotton, as it's a poor insulator when wet, making you feel colder and increasing your risk of hypothermia. Instead, look for synthetic (like fleece) or wool materials that wick moisture away from your skin.

Pick trails suitable for the weather and avoid ridge walks or hikes involving scrambling over slick rocks. Even if you select a trail that appears to be safe, it's always a good idea to exercise caution and watch your footing.

In some cases, it may not be appropriate to visit a trail in wet weather. If a trail is too wet and muddy, turn back and save the hike for another day. Using a muddy trail can be dangerous, damage the trail's condition, and damage the ecosystems that surround the trail. Give the trails some time to dry out after a big rain or snow to preserve the area and stay out of harm's way.

As outdoor enthusiasts and those who are just discovering their passion for the outdoors, it is also essential to remember that just because it is spring on the calendar doesn't mean that it looks like spring in the mountains. Higher elevations in our area can have snow until July, in some cases, so even if it is sunny and warm at your house doesn't mean winter danger is over. Stay safe, pack warm clothing, and know your limits.

Stay On the Trail

Concentrating travel on trails reduces the likelihood that multiple routes will develop and scar the landscape. It is better to have one well-designed route than many poorly chosen paths, so don't venture off-trail unless you absolutely must when yielding. Otherwise, going off-trail can damage or kill certain plant or animal species and can hurt the ecosystems that surround the trail.

Always walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy. Trail braiding-when hikers go around established trails (usually due to a puddle or other obstacle) and widen the trail-dislodges soil and can lead to sediment getting washed into our waters, degrading water quality and fish habitat. Overtime, off-trail boot prints can also badly erode switchbacks and destroy drainage diversions.

Water Crossings

Central Washington's natural lands are scattered with crystal lakes and rushing rivers that can be thrilling to explore. When hiking alongside a river, creek, or stream, keep in mind that water is powerful, even in seemingly calmer sections. Always exercise caution when in and around water sources. Here are a few key points to remember when hiking or backpacking:

• Always unhook backpack straps before getting near a water source. That way if you fall into the water, your pack won't weigh you down.

• Avoid injury by wearing proper footwear when crossing. Carry water shoes when you know water crossings are inevitable.

• Avoid water that is higher than your knees. Deep water makes it easier to lose your balance or be swept off your feet.

• Logs, rocks, and other materials near water can be slick, test their stability before moving. Using a hiking pole or a single foot will help you determine if your next step will be stable.

• When crossing, face upstream to pinpoint where faster currents are flowing.

Crossing rivers, creeks, or streams can seem intimidating, but following these tips will help make your next crossing a safe and enjoyable one.

Campfire Safety

We all share fond memories of roasting s'mores over a fire on summer camping trips, however, exercising fire safety practices is becoming more important than ever as wildfire seasons grow longer and more dangerous each year.

Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry, so it may be best to avoid having a campfire altogether, especially during high-risk times. Instead, use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light. Stoves have become essential equipment for minimal-impact cooking because they are fast, flexible, and eliminate firewood availability as a concern in campsite selection. Stoves operate in almost any weather condition and they Leave No Trace.

If you must have a fire, lessen your impact as best you can. Make sure a campfire is allowed and check fire danger levels and burn bans, which can change daily. Always use established fire-rings, keep fires small by using only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand, and never leave a fire unattended. When leaving, extinguish your fire with water (not dirt) and carefully feel all sticks, coals, and ashes. If any remaining materials are too warm to touch, it's too hot to leave. A true Leave No Trace fire shows no evidence of having been constructed.

Choosing a Tent Site

Selecting an appropriate campsite is perhaps the most important aspect of low-impact backcountry use. A decision about where to camp should be based on information about the level and type of use in the area, the fragility of vegetation and soil, the likelihood of wildlife disturbance, an assessment of previous impacts, and your party's potential to cause or avoid impact.

Avoid camping close to water and trails, and select a site that is not easily visible to others. Camping 200 feet away from the water's edge is recommended because it allows access routes for wildlife. Overall, keep in mind that good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not usually necessary.

Leave What You Find

Always practice Leave No Trace principles by leaving rocks, vegetation, and artifacts where you found them for others to appreciate. Natural objects of beauty or interest such as antlers, petrified wood, or colored rocks add to the mood of the great outdoors and should be left so others can experience the same sense of discovery that you have enjoyed. Picking a few flowers, for example, does not seem like it would have any great impact and, if only a few flowers were picked, it wouldn't. But, if every visitor thought "I'll just take a few," a much more significant impact might result. Take a picture or sketch the flower instead of picking it.

Responsible hikers and campers should make an effort to minimize site alterations. Leave areas as you found them; if you clear an area of surface rocks, twigs, or pine cones, replace these items before leaving.

Respect Wildlife

Central Washington is home to a large variety of wildlife, ranging from common critters like deer, elk, squirrels, goats, and marmots to more intimidating wildlife like bears, cougars, wolves, and moose. While viewing is encouraged, it is best to learn about wildlife through quiet observation. Do not disturb wildlife or plants just for a "better look."

The most important thing to do when encountering wildlife on a hike - regardless of the animal - is to keep your distance. Never follow or approach an animal on trail.

For the safety of both yourself and the wildlife, never attempt to feed a wild animal. It damages their health, habituates them to humans which alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers. Keep your food and other scented items close at hand and pack out any trash you bring in with you - including organic material like apple cores, banana peels, and orange rinds. Similarly, never attempt to pick up or touch a wild animal. It is stressful to the animal and it is possible that the critter may harbor rabies or other diseases. Furthermore, sick or wounded animals can bite, peck or scratch and send you to the hospital, and young animals removed or touched by well-meaning people may cause the animal's parents to abandon them.

Pack It In, Pack It Out

If you brought it with you, it's trash. Food waste and garbage can harm wildlife and the environment. Even seemingly natural food waste, such as cores, peels, and pits, are considered trash and should always be taken with you. If in doubt, just pack it out!

Watch out for little pieces of trash such as gum wrappers, twist ties, and bottle caps as well. These items seem small, but they add up to a major problem for nature and wildlife. Avoid an accidental drop by placing your trash bag in a zippered pocket!

Winter Safety Tips

Central Washington is a winter wonderland, offering ideal conditions for snowy season recreation. Winter backcountry exploration, however, can present dangers that far exceed those of hiking in the summertime. Hikers and snowshoers need to do plenty of advance planning and take every precaution before hitting a trail during the winter months.

• Always check avalanche conditions before going out on a snowy trail.

• Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return (and call them when you do return!).

• Bring plenty of layers, a headlamp or flashlight (because days are short and night comes quickly), plenty of extra food and water, and an emergency shelter in case you have to hunker down for the night.

• Choose your destination wisely. Don't assume an easy summer day hike will make a good snowshoe trip.

Getting late in the afternoon? Is snow starting to fall? Is the trail hard to follow? As tempting as it may be to push on to your destination, knowing when to turn back can prevent a dire situation from developing. Reaching a summit or making it to a lake isn't worth risking a night out in the cold or getting lost in a white-out. It's OK to turn back. You can always return on a different day.

Explore more resources for winter recreation safety from the East Cascades Recreation Partnership.


Leave No Trace :
Mountains to Sound Greenway :
National Park Service :
REI Co-op :
Washington Trails Association :

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