The Swauk Discovery Trail is a gem of a hike just off Highway 97 at Blewett Pass. At a little under 3 miles, and a little over 500 feet vertical gain, this interpretive trail makes for a great family hike. There are a number of signs along the trail identifying and providing information about the trees and plants, as well as signed markers that you can read about in a brochure which detail the (note, there were no hard copies of brochures available when I hiked, but you can download a pdf version before the hike).
The hike starts at the large sign in the parking lot, and winds its way through the forest above Highway 97, before trending south and then east away from 97. You will find a mix of forest and grassy areas, with nice vistas of Diamond Head. There is an option to keep the hike around two miles by proceeding left at a junction, however the next section of trail ascends providing sweeping views of the valley and Mount Rainier. The trail then descends back down and ends across from the parking lot.
On my way to the Seattle airport, I decided to squeeze in a quick hike. As many times as I have driven through Blewett Pass over the last couple of years, I have never spent any time exploring the area, other than a quick stop for my kiddo to get some sledding in. The Swauk Discovery Trail looked like a nice quick hike, and definitely was worth the visit.
There were no other cars in the parking lot, not entirely unexpected as it was a late Tuesday morning with mostly cloudy skies. Interestingly, there was no signage indicating a forest pass was needed, and the money deposit box was wrapped in plastic, not sure if they just hadn't gotten around to getting the trail ready for the summer yet? Anyways, I read a little info about the area on the large sign in front of the trail, saw that there were no brochures available and went on my way.
I passed a plant that looked like a strawberry, and sure enough, after using the plant identification feature on my phone, determined it was a virginia strawberry and one of two species hybridized to create domesticated strawberry - never knew we had wild strawberries growing in Washington State...
I passed by a large display with information on how they manage the forest, as well as a couple of the numbered markers. I didn't have a brochure, and thought about trying to see if there was an online version, but was pressed on time and already stopped enough to read the interpretive signs about the trees. They had some interesting info, like who knew that Ponderosa Pine bark smells like vanilla?
As the trail turned south and started heading away from Highway 97, the noise from the road vanished. It was never that loud, but you could definitely hear the highway and it was nice to only have the sounds of the gentle breeze and birds. It also started to open up, with less dense forest and more views of the surrounding area. I passed by the first of the five benches along the trail.
I kept motoring along, and passed by a number of different wildflowers. The Balsamroot was past its prime, but there was a good amount of Indian Paintbrush in bloom, as well as some other flowers I didn't recognize. I came to a trail junction and was perplexed as there was no signage and I wasn't sure which trail to take. Fortunately, I had snapped a photo of the trail and the interpretive stops at the start, and figured out that the left was a shorter loop.
I was good on time, and the longer loop looked interesting as it climbed up higher on the ridge. The elevation gain allowed me to get nice vistas of Diamond Head, Mount Stuart and Mount Rainier, granted Rainier and Stuart were a ways off in the distance. I would definitely recommend doing the longer loop, as this part of the trail was really nice.
There were even more wildflowers higher up along the ridge. Eventually the trail started descending and heading north towards the parking lot. I was on the final stretch, but couldn't resist from stopping to take more photos of the wildflowers along the way.
Upon reaching the car, I was smitten with this hike. While it is short, it seemed to pack in a lot of different environments, from shady forest to alpine meadows and it was fun learning about the vegetation along the way. I will definitely take the family on this hike when we are in the area.