I guess it should come as no surprise that even after 6+ years of full-time RVing we are still figuring things out. It seemed so simple in the beginning. We would travel around for a few years, fall in love with a new place to live, buy a house, and settle down again. Except that is not what happened. Instead of falling in love with that one amazing place we want to call home, we have fallen in love with travel, adventure, and seeking out new places.
Full-time travel forces you to live deliberately, and as a result, we spend a lot of time talking about what comes next. We are constantly thinking about what the next week, month, or year will bring. But what about beyond that? There is no doubt that we want to live stationary again someday. We dream of a small house with a modest yard and large barn/garage for creative pursuits. We dream of joining a community and fostering personal interests that simply do not fit with constant travel and the tiny 25′ x 8′ metal tube that we call home. Yet despite these desires, the discussion about what comes next always leads back to the fact that we are not yet ready to give up the freedom and excitement of full-time RVing.
These discussions occur at fairly regular intervals — usually during stretches of bad weather or those times when full-time RVing feels more like a hassle than a blessing. The recent time we spent on the Washington coast dealing with a crazy amount of rain and cold weather spurred on a lot of talk about how and when we might do things differently. We looked at real estate listings, contemplated renting somewhere for a season or two, and even spent an afternoon at an RV dealership looking at (gasp!) small motorhomes. In the end, we once again decided the best thing to do was nothing at all. Stay the course, continue exploring, continue seeking adventure, and continue making small changes to ensure that we are on the right path.
One of those small changes is a vow to spend more time in the places that make us the happiest. It sounds easy because…well, I mean we do live in a house with wheels. But life and weather and work stuff all get in the way and sometimes we find ourselves spending time in the places we think we should be instead of the places we really want to be. And where is it that we want to be most? The mountains! After a fantastic spring and early summer hiking around the Sierras in CA and Cascades in OR, the abrupt change in course that took us to the coast (100% a weather-related) left us both struggling to maintain the feeling of exuberance that followed us through our time in the mountains.
So with all that in mind, we left Bay View State Park and turned east to the mountains. The mountains of the North Cascades National Park to be exact. We first visited this underrated and little known national park six years ago. At the time we were on a mission to reach the coast and moving fast. We came in from the east and drove up and over the mountains past jagged peaks and turquoise blue glacier-fed lakes. It was a short stay of only two nights. But we fondly remember our site at the Nehalem Campground tucked in a dense forest dripping with moss, the hike we took up to Cascade Pass, and of course, the amazing waters of Diablo Lake.
This time around we arrived with low batteries after a week of dry camping in the dark forest and headed straight for the nearest private park with full hook-ups. Another of the small changes we are making is to up our comfort level by staying at more campgrounds with hook-ups. While we will always prefer the privacy and scenery found in public parks or boondocking spots, it seems that our priorities are shifting in the direction of comfort and ease of living. Also, by the end of September most RV parks this far north are very, very quiet which makes them more appealing.
That was certainly the case at Glacier Peak Resort which was nearly deserted during our week long stay. The park is an eclectic mix of various style cabins, grassy tent sites, and heavily wooded full hook-up RV sites. As of this year, they are under new ownership and in an ongoing process of updating and renovating. We enjoyed the indoor jacuzzi and cheap laundry room but never made it to the onsite bar or cafe. Our site was tucked into the forest with just the right amount of dappled sunlight filtering through the trees. I think we might have gotten an off-season rate because the price of only $30/night was very reasonable. Sadly, I once again failed to take a single photo of the campground or our site.
The campground was nice and the endless showers a luxury, but our stay was were really all about the mountains. Did you know that North Cascades National Park is home to over 300 glaciers? That is more than anywhere else in the continental U.S. Along with all those glaciers comes some pretty incredible mountains and SO MANY hiking trails. Seriously, I think we could spend an entire summer here and still not hike all the trails. As it is, during our week-long stay most of the trails we hiked were not even inside the park and instead located on adjacent national forest land. Despite the not so great weekend weather combined with decreasing daylight in the afternoon, we still managed to get out and hike three amazing trails throughout the week.
Located about 25 miles south of the park entrance in the tiny town of Rockport, this is a short, steep hike offering mountain views and a really good leg workout. Even though the RV park was only 15 miles from the trailhead it took us 40 minutes to get there because the last 7 miles were up a steep, winding, pothole-filled dirt road. We were soon to discover that this is the norm for many trails in the area. The North Cascades are steep-sided mountains and the main roads around here all travel through river valleys flanked on either side by tall peaks. Many of the trails that go into or above the mountain peaks don’t start from the valley floor, but instead at the top of a long, winding, steep dirt road. I don’t know who I have to thank for this, but it was much appreciated as it allowed us to hike into the mountains within a reasonable distance.
The hike up to the top of Sauk Mountain is only 2.5 miles each way, but it gains 1,200 feet of elevation rather quickly. In fact, as soon as you step onto the trail you are climbing up. The long gentle switchbacks make the steep incline manageable but there is never any douth that you are going up!
In an effort to enjoy the “I can’t believe it’s not raining” mid-week weather, we hiked this trail on a Wednesday after work. It might not have been the best idea to start an 8-mile, 3,300-foot climb at 3:30 in the afternoon during the time of year when it gets dark at 7:30. But we came for the mountains and if that means hiking the last two miles by flashlight, so be it. After another bone-rattling drive up a narrow curvy dirt road to the trailhead, we piled on the layers and set off to find the hidden lake. The first few miles climbed steadily up through the forest.
Eventually, we left the trees behind and started climbing up through a hillside filled with grasses and bushes all dressed in their fall finery.
As native New Englanders, we’ve long lived by the sentiment that nowhere else does fall like we do fall. I don’t know though. While rolling hills covered with all shades of red, yellow and orange are nice and all, we’ve seen some pretty spectacular fall colors in California, Colorado, New Mexico, and even Utah. Which is why it should not have taken us by surprise that these mountains were awash in fall color. I guess we thought since most of the trees here are evergreens, there would be little change with seasons. What we didn’t realize was that the low growing wild blueberries, grasses, and various shrubs that cover the rocky hillsides here would turn colors just as brilliant as the maple and oak trees we know from the east.
This hike was steeper than the last one, and while we set a good pace, it was around 5:30 by the time we ran into a fellow hiker on his way down who told us we still had another 45 minutes to go until we reached the overlook. He sounded a little disapproving of our decision to keep going up, but we consider ourselves responsible adults who take all manner of precautions to stay safe, so on we went. We did stop just shy of the final climb to rest and eat some dinner. Tim was game to turn around, but I was determined to see the lake and after gaining some PB&J fueled energy, he agreed. We made quick work of the last little bit of hiking, scrambling up the boulders to the top of the saddle where we were able to peer over the edge at the hidden lake below. It was already in the shadows of the mountains by the time we arrived, but still quite a sight.
With only an hour left until sunset, we didn’t linger long before turning around to begin the 4-mile descent. The advantage of hiking at this time of day is that we had the immense pleasure of watching the sky turn golden, then pink and purple as it sank below the mountains.
We hiked the last two miles in the dark with the path lit only by flashlight. It was slow going as we had to pay close attention to each step, but really not all that difficult as the trail was well maintained and easy to follow. Not sure we will purposely make hiking in the dark a habit, but as we go into the season of less daylight it’s nice to know that a short after-sunset hike is not such a bad thing.
The last trail we hiked took us up to Thornton Lake. We did this one on our last day in the area which was a Saturday. The forecast was not ideal, with temps in the “wear lots of layers” zone, and a chance of rain in the afternoon, but we couldn’t resist one more trail. Compared to the Hidden Lake trail this one was a piece of cake. It clocked in around 7.5 miles total with less than a 2,000-foot climb. The first few miles were fairly flat along an old logging road.
We found more fall color along the way along with some mountains views. Even though the tops of the peaks were shrouded by clouds we did get a good view of one of the 300 glaciers that call the national park home.
As we crested the ridge, Thornton Lake came into view below.
There was an optional trail down to the lake shore, but that would have meant climbing back up, so we declined. It was a good decision as it started raining on the way back and we ended up hiking the last few miles through a steady drizzle.
I think a week in the mountains was just what we needed to help diminish the doubts we have been feeling about our current path. Realistically, we can’t spend all our time in the mountains (cold nights are coming on fast!) but it was a good reminder about what it is that propels us to live on the road.