It's Granite - and It's Hard
Day hikers in Seattle know all about Mount Si, the 4,200-foot semi-mountain in the western foothills of the Cascade Range. It's low enough to provide nearly year-round hiking, and high enough for a good view. It's also thronged with hikers just about any weekend day. With the snow lifting, a short drive farther east takes one to the trailhead for Granite Mountain, a taller and more serious peak than Mount Si. While Granite is still plenty popular, early birds will find the trails and view largely their own. To get there, take Interstate 90 east from Seattle. About 17 miles past the town of North Bend, take the Denny Creek exit. Cross I-90, and turn left where the road forms a "T." Trailhead parking permits are required (available at most outdoor stores). From the trailhead, the route ascends steeply to a junction with the Pratt Lake trail (elevation 2,600 feet). Bear right up a series of short, steep switchbacks. Soon the trail begins to emerge into clearings made from February avalanches sweeping down the steep face of Granite. At 5,200 feet the trail meets the summit ridge; hikers can stay on the trail, or ascend a massive staircase of jumbled granite boulders to the summit, 5,629 feet. Views are north to Mount Rainier, and east and north into the Alpine Lakes wilderness. The descent is swift and a potential ankle-buster. But stick to the trail - don't be tempted by still-snowy gullies. They're too steep to negotiate for all but experienced mountaineers. Call the North Bend station of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest office for details: 425-888-1421.
Something Different in Colorado
Not so colorfully named as their neighbors, the Sangre de Cristo (literally, "Blood of Christ") Mountains, and Colorado's Wet Mountains offer an unusual (for Colorado) blend of high western peaks combined with almost Appalachian-like scenery. Located in the San Isabel National Forest, the Wets offer a wide variety of hikes clustered around their four major peaks: Greenhorn (12,347 feet), North (12,220), St. Charles (11,784), and Deer (11,572). To get there, follow I-25 about 25 miles south from the town of Pueblo. Take Exit 74 - for CO 165. Drive west on CO 165 about 20 miles to the town of Rye. At a "Y" in Rye, turn right onto Cuerno Verde Road. You'll reach the Greenhorn Trail trailhead in about two miles. From there, the trail ascends 5,000 feet to near the summit of North Peak. It's a nine-mile hike, and can be round-tripped on a weekend, or you can arrange a shuttle for a return trip. You're apt to see black bear, mule deer and elk, while from the high point of North Peak you can see into Kansas, or across the Wet Mountain Valley to the Sangre de Cristo Range. Other popular hikes include the San Carlos Trail to the summit of St. Charles Peak and the Squirrel Creek Trail, located west of Beulah. For information, call the San Isabel National Forest headquarters at 719-545-8737.
Tennessee's Watery Retreat
The Big South Fork National Recreation Area, established in 1974, is a place where a hiker can become blissfully lost for days. With more than 106,000 acres, and 200 miles of trail, the Big South Fork area encompasses a vast swath of deep forests, sandstone cliffs and arches, and whitewater streams. To get there, drive to Oneida (Tennessee), then take TN 297 west 15 miles. Or, drive to Jamestown, on the west side of the area, and take TN 154 and 297 eastward. One of the best hikes in the Big South Fork area is a 42-mile hike beginning at the Bandy Creek Campground (accessible via the Oneida/TN 297 route). Head east through the Grand Gap Loop, with high points above the Big South Fork. Then head for the Twin Arches (the trails are well signed), a towering formation of naturally carved sandstone. Finally, return to Bandy Creek via the Laurel Fork Trail, making more than a dozen stream crossings along the way. Dozens of other trails crisscross the region - for more information, pick up a copy of the book "Hiking the Big South Fork" (available at local stores) or call the Big South Fork National Recreation Area at 423-569-9778.