The summer may be winding down and the weather a little wacky (what’s up with all the thunderstorms?), but fall is still a great time to get out on the trail. The reliable sunshine, dry conditions, and wild flowers may have all but disappeared, but there are two great reasons to keep hiking through September and October: blueberries and mushrooms!
I just explored two great trails absolutely laden with both of these delicious trail edibles that will also please those seeking views, solitude, and some conditioning. Yes, these trails pack a bit of a punch in the quad burning department, but you can handle it — you’ve been hiking all season, right?
Easily reached from Seattle via 1-90, McClellan Butte was a really enjoyable hike even with some intermittent rain. The forest with its changing leaves and misty air seemed magical and all along the way we spotted lots of fun fungi: corals, cauliflowers, hen of the woods, chantrelles, and some huge king boletes! The edibles I could identify got taken along for the ride and really spiced up the pasta dinner I had later that night.
The cooler weather was actually quite welcome since after the trail crosses a few gravel roads, it is semi-exposed and climbs much of the way, though it was only truly steep in a few parts of the 4.5 miles. As you go higher, the path also passes through some ripe blueberry patches, which are a nice respite from the workout. The highway is within view or earshot a lot of the time, but the old growth trees are a good diversion and the nearly 360 degree views at the top are well worth it on a clear day. It was also a quieter trail. In total we saw less than a dozen people the whole day and had the summit completely to ourselves for lunch. Even with some clouds, the butte itself was pretty cool and offered a fairly easy (though very exposed) scramble to the top.
Johnson Ridge/Scorpion Mountain
This past weekend I did what will likely be my last backpacking trip of the summer season: Johnson Ridge. Late Saturday morning, I picked up my sister and we headed out on Highway 2 to Skykomish. While I’d hiked this trail once before, I walked it in complete clouds and a downpour so I was curious to see what the surrounding area actually looked like from the ridge. I also wanted to get some peace and quiet and figured this would be a less busy spot than other trails in the area.
From the small parking lot, the trail climbs continuously over a rocky path for the first 30 or 40 minutes to the ridge proper. From there it follows the spine of the ridge, rolling up and down (but generally up!) with a few steep dips until you come out to a huge open meadow. Along the way there are peek-a-boo views of the surrounding mountains, including Glacier Peak. However, the climax is definitely the open views to the north and south from the meadow near the trail’s end. If you are looking to camp, filter water, or go for a swim, lovely Joan Lake lies a short distance below on a steeply descending trail.
While I didn’t see quite as many edibles, the abundance and sheer size of the mushrooms here was pretty impressive. There were many with caps the size of saucers and some larger than a dinner plate! The perfectly ripe blueberries and huckleberries also made the trail worth the effort. We snacked on them along the way and enjoyed a bunch in our oatmeal the following morning.
For a late season hike, we were quite lucky on the weather with mostly sunny skies for the 24 hours we were out on the trail and not a drop of rain until we were on our way back and hit thunderstorms going through Monroe. Overall, it was exactly what I was looking for. We saw 8 people in total — all day hikers on their way out — and had the lakeside camp all to ourselves, which was truly blueberry heaven. I even got to enjoy the unique experience of snacking on blueberries directly from my hammock.
A word to the wise (and everyone else for that matter), only pick and eat the plants you know 100%-without-a-doubt what they are. Even if you do, please only pick what you can eat and be aware of harvesting rules in the area you are visiting.