Explore Your Own Backyard

Towards the end of 2021 I started to think about what I wanted the next year to look like. What intentions did I want to set for the coming year? I knew I wanted to travel more, but with work schedules and other responsibilities, I knew that big trips would have to be put off for a while. So I started to brainstorm how I could fulfill the need to see new places, and still be mindful about where I am in this season of life.

Samuel and I were taking a quick camping trip on the Kitsap Peninsula to test out taking school on the road. We decided to camp at one of the state parks that had been on our list for quite awhile. While Sam was playing in the chilly Pacific Northwest water, I sat by watching and writing random thoughts in my journal. Tucked in the back cover was the park map and a pamphlet for Washington State Parks. I pulled out the pamphlet and a question popped in my head. Why don’t we take advantage of state parks more often?

Scenic Beach State Park

Making an idea a plan

And that’s when I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the coming year! We would try to visit as many Washington State Parks as we could. I quickly picked up my phone and looked up the state park website. How many state parks does Washington have? Just what am I getting myself into? Do we count the parks we have already visited or start over? What constitutes a visit? I knew I needed to do some research and set up guidelines for the plan to be successful.

There are around 130 parks in the sate of Washington. That’s a lot of exploring to do! With so many parks I decided that we would prioritize the ones we have yet to visit. That would shorten the list by at least a dozen. The state park system has a mix of spaces with camping amenities, day use parks, and even a few that are only accessible by boat. With this knowledge I knew that what constituted a visit would vary by park. As much as I would love to camp at every available campsite, that just isn’t possible with everything else going on. So I needed to make a plan. With a calendar on one side and the map on the other, I started to make reservations, and plan out the year.

Getting things started

For our first park, we visited Wallace Falls which lies along the shores of the Wallace River near Gold Bar. This trip was especially fun because we were joined by friends from our Mountaineers Pathfinders program. During our visit we enjoyed a classic Pacific Northwest hike along the Wallace Falls trail. This hike included a bit of rain, lots of beautiful green and stunning views. The trail offers three view viewpoints from lower, middle and upper falls. The lower falls are just two miles from the trail head and has a large covered picnic area. This was a great spot to stop and have lunch before we continued on.

Wallace Falls State Park Map

Less than half a mile from the lower falls you come to the middle falls with even better views. From here you can watch the roaring water cascading through the canyon and carving it’s way down the valley. To finish off the hike we climbed the last half mile on the steepest part of the trail to the upper falls. The whole hike is just over 5.5 miles and is easily doable as a family with lots of opportunities to take breaks as needed. This trail will definitely be on the list of recommendations.

View from the middle falls

One of our next, and new favorite places is Saltwater State Park. It has all the amenities for being able to take school outside. With lots of picnic tables, it makes the perfect spot to bring along our school books and get a quick lesson in and then kick off our shoes and do some low tide exploring. This state park is just 25 minutes from home and is fast becoming a place to visit on those days we’re crunched for time, but need some fresh air.

On our first visit we found tiny starfish, brightly colored anemones, and tons of moon snail collars as we made our way down the beach. On this day we happened to run into a Naturalist program from the Seattle Aquarium. We found out they meet here, and at other local beaches May through August, and were a wealth of knowledge.

Homeschool Science at Saltwater State Park
Starfish at Saltwater State Park

Now that we are moving through July I would love to say that we have been checking off parks every week. And although that hasn’t happened, we have a made a dent that I am proud of. Our first set of parks have been those closer to home that we can visit in a day and make part of our homeschool week. And as summer moves along, we will continue to enjoy the variety of spaces that Washington has to offer. I hope you will check back to see where else our adventures have taken us around this beautiful state we call home.

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