Beacon Rock, Washington State Park is about an hour out of Portland along the Columbia River heading east on highway 14. This rock received its name from Lewis and Clark in 1805. Hike up the rock for amazing views of the Columbia River or hike down a number of trails like the Hamilton Mountain trail. It’s a great place for a picnic and just taking it easy. Don’t forget to pick up your Discover Pass.
An easy day trip from Seattle or Portland, Mt. Rainier National Park offers spectacular alpine scenery and hiking opportunities. The most popular destination is Paradise where you’ll find Paradise Inn, a visitors center, and paved trails for a close up experience with the mountain. You’ll see alpine flowers such as Bear Grass blooming in the fields during the summer. Get there early and enjoy the fresh clean air, mountain views, and peaceful old growth forests.
A short drive less than an hour east of Portland, the city of Stevenson, Washington in Skamania County offers the feel of a small Cascade mountain town plus the added wonder and magnificence of the Columbia River Gorge. You’ll find the classic Northwest mountain style Skamania Lodge, an assortment of village shops along the main street, the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Museum, and a riverfront for accessing, picnicking, and enjoying the historic Columbia River. Make a quick escape from the busy cities of Portland and Vancouver by traveling east on Washington State Highway 14, accessible from either I-5 or I-205. This route quickly sets you into the green forested hillsides along the Gorge where you’ll pass Beacon Rock State Park and find several opportunities for framing great photos. Traveling past Stevenson approximately 10 miles further east on Highway 14 at milepost 53 is the popular hiking trail head of Dog Mountain where you’ll find even more outstanding views of the Columbia River Gorge.
One Sunday morning we woke early and set out for Stevenson to enjoy an unusually warm and clear spring day in the Pacific Northwest. Our first stop was 9:00 a.m. Mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea where we were greeted, asked for our names, and welcomed to the community. Never before had we received such a welcome when simply entering a church. We knew we were in the right place to start out the day.
The church building of Our Lady Star of the Sea is warm and inviting, designed for plenty of outdoor lighting and with materials fitting for the Northwest. Local stone decorates the sanctuary to give it the mountain community feel and a custom altar and ambo is crafted from local cherry wood. We enjoyed the folk style music and after a proper Mass, we headed for the well-attended coffee and donut social to find more welcoming parishioners.
Our next stop was Rock Cove right across the street from the church where peaceful scenery along a paved trail was just right for Sunday morning. Geese and a stand up paddle-boarder were seen with basalt cliffs and Bridge of the Gods in the background. It was all refreshing and calming. We topped off our walk along the rocky shore of Rock Creek listening to its babbling flow of icy cold water. Next, a short drive to the Stevenson riverfront provided an outstanding view of the Columbia River with kiteboarders and windsurfers in the sun. Stevenson offered a quick trip for a scenic and restful Sunday away from the city. It was one more great experience in the State of Washington.
If you’re planning a visit to the Pacific Northwest and want to see a something spectacular, don’t skip a drive to Mt. St. Helens. Here you get to experience part of the Cascade Mountain Range and what makes it unique. You’ll see wildlife, tall Douglas Firs, cold mountain streams, lakes, a volcano, and perhaps Bigfoot. Easily accessible from Seattle or Portland, the road to Mt. St. Helens is only 53 miles long starting at Castle Rock, WA on I-5. There are many visitor centers where you can stop on the way but very few gas stations so start your trip with a full tank.
My wife asked what I wanted to do for my Birthday and I said visit the volcano. Unfortunately the kids were sick on my birthday so I delayed our trip to Mt. St. Helens for the next clear weekend when nothing else was on the calendar. The day finally arrived so we packed a picnic, the cameras, hiking poles, Washington State Discover Pass, and lots of water. Check out my post for packing an easy picnic.
Our first stop was Seaquest State Park, about 5.5 miles on Hwy. 504 from I-5. It was around noon and time for lunch. Seaquest is essentially a camping park but is great for a picnic too. It also has some hiking trails and one that leads to a visitor center across highway 504 where a boardwalk winds through some marshland and besides Silver Lake where we saw birds, fish, and lots of wildflowers. The Mt. St. Helens Visitors Center at Silver Lake contains some great displays and a video for a small fee. Of course we first had our lunch in the shade of the tall fir trees.
As we continued down the road toward our destination we began to cross over many rivers. The Toutle River got our attention. We learned from the first visitor center how the river carried destructive mud flows during the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Around mile marker 20 you’ll see a sign leading to an overview of the Sediment Retention Structure. Here you can take a short hike for a closer look at the river and all the sediment that remains as a result of the mud flows.
Hoffstadt Bluffs is another great place to stop and you’ll find it around mile marker 27. They offer free yet interesting displays related to Mt. St. Helens, a restaurant, and a gift shop inside their impressive lodge styled building. On the outside they offer a great view of the mountain in the distance and helicopter rides if you want to get up close and personal with the volcano.
From Hoffstadt Bluffs you’ll notice the road beginning to climb and wind more as you head east. The Forest Learning Center is at mile marker 33 where you’ll get more awesome views of the mountain and the Elk grazing below along the Toutle River Basin. This impressive visitor’s center is free of charge and houses an indoor forest exhibit where you’ll learn all about the forest and the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. It’s ideal for all ages.
There are more great places to stop like Elk Rock and Coldwater Lake before you reach the Johnston Ridge Observatory. We opted to pass them on the way up. It was getting late and we all wanted to reach our destination to look squarely into the crater of the volcano.
Our excitement grew as we walked up the path towards the large open viewing area that was crowded with tourists from all over the world. The views of the crater, lava dome, and the landslide deposit were captivating. Fortunately there is a half mile walk, Eruption Trail, that leads away from the building where you can get even better views of not just the mountain but the entire surrounding area. You’ll also see Mt. Adams and the hillsides that contain the remains of downed trees from the 1980 eruption. Inside of the observatory you’ll find a comfortable theater and educational exhibits. The end of the film was truly spectacular. We were impressed by the high quality of the film and found it enjoyable as well as educational.
Driving back down to I-5 was quick and easy, although we stopped at Elk Rock for a few more pictures. We were also on the lookout for Bigfoot since we saw him on the way up and wanted to get a picture with him.
We stopped at the Mt. St. Helen’s T-Shirt and Souvenir Center, took some pictures with Bigfoot, and looked at the merchandise. It was actually a pleasant and unexpected surprise. The store had unusual items that we did not see in all the other visitor centers. Of course all the Bigfoot merchandise was unique too. If you stop here be sure to ask about the last time Bigfoot was spotted.
Not once were we bored when traveling on Hwy 504 and the observatory was outstanding. Bathroom facilities all along the road to Mt. St. Helens were acceptable to my wife and daughter, and that’s not something we’ve experienced everywhere. The views were incredible from many different places along the way. Overall, we had a great travel experience. Don’t miss out on this great American treasure if you’re ever in the Northwest.
Whether you’re on the road or at home, packing a picnic lunch can be easy. Ask my wife what she wants to do on a nice day and she’ll say, “Let’s have a picnic!” My first response is a period of quiet as I have visions of a slice of lunch meat and a piece of cheese between two pieces of dry bread. It’s nothing that encourages me to start packing the car.
I asked my wife what she wanted to do for Mother’s Day this year, and yes, you guessed it, she wanted to go on a picnic. Fortunately I’m a strategic thinker and was determined to make this enjoyable for my wife and the whole family. As I wandered through Fred Meyer I eventually passed by the deli and that’s when it came to me, “I’ll just get several salads and put them in an ice chest.” My wife was so pleased and we all enjoyed it so much we wanted to do it again.
Now, when my wife says picnic, we just head for the deli and load up. My perfect picnic consists of potato salad, coleslaw, pea salad, broccoli salad, chicken salad, cut fruit like cantaloupe or watermelon, and pita bread or crackers. The best of it all is that you can buy however much you want from the deli of your local grocery store. You get to pick whatever salads you want, they put them into sealed containers, and all you have to do is put them into an ice chest. Buy it the night before to get a head start. Just pack utensils, plates, and napkins along with your drinks and you’re ready to travel.
If you’re packing a picnic to save money or just to have fun, it’s easy and makes life so much easier when you’re on the road. Of course you can make you own salads and actually we like to make our own tomato and cheese salad with our homegrown tomatoes. Find the good in your day and have a picnic when you do it.