September 8, 2016

A TRAIL RUNNER’S GUIDE TO THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

The forests can swallow you up, the rocky mountain scrambles can shred your shoes, and the slick and rooted paths will cover your legs in mud. Yet the rugged, and at times, unforgiving Pacific Northwest is an uncaged trail running kingdom that will deliver bliss with its boundless variety of terrain, style, and difficulty.

It would take a trail runner several lifetimes to fully experience the region. So here are some of the highlights to get you started.

MAPLE PASS LOOP, WA

Maple Pass. Maple Pass. brookpeterson

A well-worn groove through a carpet of heather-covered slopes in the heart of the North Cascades, the Maple Pass Loop is a 7.2-mile trail that will embrace you between granite peaks and glaciated mountains. Snow free by late July, the trail’s most striking feature is the golden larch conifers that turn a brilliant yellow and colorfully awaken the landscape in early fall.

The trail is moderate and well maintained, but has the occasional rocky and rooted sections. It will deliver you from shaded forest to exposed and breezy ridgelines where alpine lakes mirror the clouds above. Overall, the route gains 2,200 feet to an elevation of roughly 6,650 feet. Those looking to pound through the elevation the quickest should consider running the circuit clockwise.

LOVER’S LANE, WA

Sol Duc Falls. Sol Duc Falls. Douglas Scott

Huffing your way through rain-soaked spruce and ferns, watching your breath mix with the misty air of a temperate rainforest, can be a sensational running experience even if the showers refuse to recede. The six-mile round trip Lover’s Lane Trail surrounds you with a swell of wildly lush moss and emerald evergreens that almost take over the trail beneath your feet.

While the rain can hamper your pace, this is one of the easier trail runs in the notoriously technical Olympics. With only 550 feet of elevation gain, and minimal switchbacks or turns, you are given the chance to take in more of the old-growth forest and potentially glimpse at migrating salmon below. There is also nothing more rewarding than a post-run dip in the nearby Sol Duc Hot Springs.

ROGUE RIVER, OR

Rogue River. Rogue River. Sam Beebe

The Rogue River Trail is a ribbon of dirt and fine gravel that gently ebbs and flows like the bubbling river it overlooks. The scenery and wildlife are in constant flux as lush forests sheltering black-tailed deer give way to rolling meadows and steep canyon walls above watery pools with playful river otters.

    

At a little over 40 miles point-to-point, with forgiving elevation gains that keep you under 1,000 feet, many who run through this wilderness elect to split up the distance over a few days in order to take advantage of one of the riverside lodges. Shuttles can be arranged to deliver you back to the starting point at the Grave Creek Campground. Rafting can be added to the trip through a local guide service.

ELFIN LAKES, BC

Elfin Lakes Trail. Elfin Lakes Trail. Su-Laine Yeo Brodsky

Further north, the nestled mountain town of Squamish boasts a thriving running community and an impressive amount of trance-inducing trails. Set your sights on Squamish if what you desire is gripping high alpine trails beneath a mountainscape and through wildflower-covered meadows and forests of dark pines.

A fantastic and moderate introduction to the area is the Elfin Lakes Trail that clocks in at 13.5 miles, out-and-back, and gains 2,000 feet to an elevation of approximately 5,000 feet. The trail is well-maintained and gradually glide leads to emerald lakes, open space, and a vista of Mt. Garibaldi. Following your run, be sure to explore Squamish, its community of trail runners, and the full spread of trails etched in the surrounding peaks and valleys.

THE ENCHANTMENTS, WA

Enchantments Crystal Lake. Enchantments Crystal Lake. laffertyryan

Many who live in the Pacific Northwest agree the Enchantments are utterly mesmerizing spectacle that cannot be missed. Trail running will give you the access needed to witness theit splendor when overnight camping permits are in short supply. The entire traverse, normally starting out at the Stuart Lake Trailhead and ending at the Snow Lakes Trailhead, will challenge you for almost 20 miles, 5,000 feet of elevation gain, and sections of steep rocky technical terrain. Other shorter but still rewarding options, include Colchuck Lake (an eight-mile roundtrip) or Snow Lakes (14 miles out and back).

Whichever route you decide on striking views will be encountered. The tightness in your quads and shortness of breath will be forgotten the moment you lay eyes on the coliseum of jagged granite peaks enclosing deep turquoise lakes and golden larches. Even the names along the trail­­—like Tranquil Lake, Dragontail Peak, and Aasgard Pass—epitomize the magnificence of this region.

EAGLE CREEK, OR

Eagle Creek Tunnel Falls. Eagle Creek Tunnel Falls. Mitchell Friedman

Within the Columbia River Gorge there is an ample selection of trails that will keep you absorbed regardless of the weather, and Eagle Creek Trail is one of the more exhilarating options that you can choose. A 12-mile out-and-back trail that gains 1,650 feet, Eagle Creek claims it notoriety from the precipitous drop-offs and numerous cascading waterfalls along its path. The trail eventually weaves its way up the canyon to the plummeting water of Tunnel Falls.

You may lose track of the number of waterfalls you pass. But don’t lose your footing or become gripped with vertigo, especially when the trail is slick and muddy. And while challenging in the rain, the Eagle Creek Trail embodies the spirit of trail running in the Pacific Northwest and will motivate you to explore more of this region.

Originally written by RootsRated for Superfeet.