As we all know, March in western Washington can be a bit fickle. You never know what weather you are going to get. When I see a break in the rain and wind, I decide it is as good a time as any to head out with my son Jacob and his friend to explore the McLane Creek Nature Trail in Capitol State Forest. With a small bag of snacks, water and sunglasses (staying hopeful), we climb in the truck for the short drive across town.
Located just a couple miles off the freeway on Delphi Road, the McLane Creek Nature Trail is a perfect spot to take kids and four-legged friends. I have fond memories of exploring the “beaver ponds,” as the regulars call them, from my younger years. As we turn down the winding drive, I am reminded of how beautiful the area really is with the stunning canopy of timber.
When you arrive, there are two parking areas. I recommend continuing down to the second one, which will take you to the best hiking trails around the pond for families.
I have to laugh as the boys talk about not having any technology with us. I still carry my phone for emergencies, but no iPads, gaming devices (or anything else for that matter) are allowed. This is our time to unplug from the often chaotic world we live in and relish the outdoors. As we climb out of the truck and meet up with a friend and his dog, the boys are quick to point out the moss on the trees and ferns growing out of their trunks. The children’s excitement is contagious, and I smile to myself at how quickly they have changed their focus.
Directly to the left of a picnic shelter begins the perfect trail, in my opinion, because it involves an easy hike with lots to see. After dropping down through the trees, you get your first real glimpse of the impressive pond stretching out before you. My mind takes me back to a particularly cold winter day when my dad brought me and a friend here, and we ice-skated on the frozen water. Today we see a bevy of different species of ducks and birds; it is a nature lover’s dream. The boys eye a walkway over the water to the right of the path and immediately race out onto it.
Their enthusiasm continues to be contagious, and I lean over the railing, looking for the salamanders I remember from my youth. One of the information signs corrects me; they are brown newts I am trying to spot. The adorable little creatures usually swim amongst the green flora in the water, but today they must be hiding in shallower water resulting from the recent cold snap. As a child I knew of a few spots where I could actually catch the newts and play with them before returning them to the water.
The quacking of ducks cause my eye to gaze across the pond, and one lone mallard decides to make the trek over to us. Of course, now the boys have a new friend, and they decide to name all the ducks they can see. It is so great as a parent to watch a new generation enjoying this hidden gem, one that has not changed much over the years.
Continuing down the trail, we move across wetlands and into a dense forest of cedar and evergreens. A large platform provides an impressive view of McLane Creek flowing beneath it. In the fall it would be the perfect spot to watch salmon spawning, but be ready for the smell that comes with that natural wonder. Today, it is just a beautiful display of churning water from heavy rains.
Moving out of the woods and along the path, we once again arrive at the pond, but now we are on the other side. Here you can see the impressive beaver dam keeping the water inside. Sticks, grasses and mud display just what one small animal can accomplish, and the boys are impressed learning about it. Excitedly, I point out the brown newts I had been searching for, crawling slowing on the wet grass towards the water. The boys run over to see and are as enamored as I am by the little guys.
Just as we are rounding the last corner of the trail, the sky begins to darken, and the raindrops start to fall. I am glad we did not take the extended loop because we do not have extra clothes with us, and it is looking to be a downpour. After one more quick look at the ducks and a few unique birds, we make it back to the covered picnic area just as the skies unleash.
I spy a couple other hikers checking out the map, just beginning their adventure as the wind comes up. Suddenly, we hear a cracking like thunder and look across the parking lot to see a giant tree limb come crashing down. The boys scream in fear and run for the truck, and I will admit I am not far behind them.
All in all, our little hike only took about an hour, and we got to experience so many different eco-systems in one place. In my opinion, McLane Creek Natural Trail is the perfect spot to take someone of any age to explore. Just be aware that some parts of the trail will not be stroller friendly, so the adventure is easier with a backpack.
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