At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we believe trails can lead to everyday and extraordinary adventures. That’s why we’re encouraging everyone to spend more time outside on trails in their day-to-day lives! To inspire you, we asked Kara Patajo (@YourNorthWestieBestie) to share how trails helped her discover adventure when taking a trip to explore the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest and locally, as a car-free way to get around Seattle.
Learn more about her #TrailMoments, then share your own photos, videos and/or written stories from the trail online at TrailMoments.org.
The connection between nature and our well-being is one I’ve explored my whole life.
During college, this passion found its voice through my column “A Breath of Fresh Air,” in the University of Washington student newspaper. Today, I use my voice as a Pacific Northwest travel writer and content creator, and my mission is to inspire my community to grow into nature lovers. For me, this means encouraging people to get outdoors. That’s why I share recommendations for activities like hiking, biking and road tripping around Washington State.
Equally as important as inspiration is education. So, in addition to bucket-list ideas, I also create a space for conversations around environmental sustainability, preparation for outdoor experiences and responsible recreation.
Through this, my biggest hope is to cultivate care for nature.
Discovering Adventure: A Fresh Take on a Favorite
When coming up with a plan for my Trail Moments this summer, my intention was to show how to connect with nature both inside and outside of the city of Seattle.
First, we visited the Olympic Discovery Trail. It’s located on the wildly scenic Olympic Peninsula, an area on the traditional lands of the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S'Klallam, Port Gamble S'Klallam, Skokomish, Quinault, Hoh, Quileute and Makah peoples.
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From Seattle, it took approximately three hours to get there by car, including a ferry ride.
The “secret” may be out about places like Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rainforest or Hurricane Ridge. However, rail-trails provide an off-the-beaten-path opportunity to explore amazing places in a whole new light.
While biking sections of the 90-mile Olympic Discovery Trail, I felt grounded. Without the noises that come with car rides–like music, traffic noise and voice directions from my map app–I found it easier to be present. In doing so, I watched Western Red Cedar branches sway in the wind, smelled fresh forest air and even noticed a wasp nest (from a distance!!).
Of course, part of this peacefulness can be attributed to the fact that there are far fewer people on the trail than other places nearby. This area remains ruggedly wild. To experience that in solitude is a gift.
Without a doubt, the Olympic Peninsula deserves to be on your bucket list. But after many visits, experiencing it by rail-trail feels most aligned with the spirit of the land.
Closer to home, we visited the Elliot Bay Trail. To me, this is the most beautiful walk in Seattle, as it skirts saltwater shores and is surrounded by the Cascade and Olympic mountains.
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As I like to say, adventure doesn’t need to be “big.” Road trips, hikes and weekend getaways are great, but choosing to travel by trail, foot, bicycle or mobility device in your daily life is a “small” way to find adventure locally.
You can opt to walk to meet a friend, go out to dinner or visit a coffee shop (like I did). When you do, I hope you will pay attention to nature.
As I walked the 3.4-mile Elliot Bay Trail, I was able to experience nature right in the heart of the city. Here are a few moments that stood out: Overhead, an osprey soared with its fresh catch of the day. Beneath the boardwalk, a lion’s mane jellyfish hugged the shoreline. To my left, birds bathed in rain puddles. To my right, bees buzzed around roses. In the distance, a harbor seal curiously stared back at me.
Can you believe the scene I’m describing is in a city? Not just the largest city in Washington State, but the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. Even better, the Elliott Bay Trail will be seamlessly linked to the Olympic Discovery Trail and thousands of miles of other multiuse trails when the cross-country route of the Great American Rail-Trail is complete, providing a way for people to plan all types of trail adventures, big and small, between Washington State and Washington, D.C.
So, remember: It’s not so much about where you go, it’s what you are looking for that matters. Nature has so much to give, just as we have so much to give in return.