By Joanna Bastian
I love the winter. I love the spring. I’m not a big fan of mud season.
Mud season is a tease with reassuring sunny skies above and treacherous footing below. Either the trails are socked in with mushy snow, or stream crossings are impassable by high-water torrents of turbulent runoff.
There are not many options for shoulder season hiking, but the lower valley offers up some hidden gems that are best enjoyed before the heat of summer, and before rattlesnakes become active.
One such gem is the Golden Doe unit of the Methow Wildlife Area. Nestled beneath the McClure scar, in a narrow hanging valley, the Golden Doe area is 1,514 acres of shoulder season beauty, complete with mountain views, riparian areas, forested trails and open meadows.
Starting from the Methow Valley Community Center, set your odometer to zero and head down Twisp-Carlton road. The hidden driveway is 5 miles from the community center, on the right side of the road. The driveway takes a sharp turn to the left and goes uphill to a parking area in front of a haunted cabin. You’ll see what I mean when you get there.
Follow your ears to the sound of Alder creek and find a locked gate with a pedestrian-sized opening. Follow the jeep trail up a gently sloping hill, keeping Alder Creek on your right. The trail turns left and opens into a wide sweeping meadow encircled by small rounded hills.
The trail may disappear into the grasses. Look for it to reappear on the hillside to the west. Follow the trail up and over this hill, where it becomes apparent once more along a barbed wire fence.
At a quarter-mile, Alder Creek widens into a large wetland area, full of redwing blackbirds. The trail continues up above the wetlands for another quarter-mile before it bisects two hillsides to enter the small valley at the base of Mt. McClure. Here, the trail splits. Turn right and travel north for forested hiking and views of McClure. Turn left and travel south for open meadow hiking.
The southbound trail follows the base of the hillside until the hanging valley spills into open farmland. At this point, follow the trail east up and over a small saddle. The trail again disappears into the grasslands as it drops down into a meadow. Two deep craters whisper of glacial lakes long gone.
This meadow is typically full of mountain bluebirds in the early spring morning. Walk around the edge of the meadow and stay along the base of the hillside, traveling north for about a mile to intersect once again with the beginning of the trail near Alder Creek.
Golden Doe is part of the larger 31,000-acre Methow Wildlife Area. Beginning in 1941, the U. S. Forest Service began purchasing private parcels in an effort to contain damage done by mule deer on local farmland. The seven parcels form a migration corridor and provide protected habitat for other wildlife, including songbirds and salmon. All seven units are open to the public for wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. The seven units are Big Buck, Big Valley, Early Winters, Methow, Rendezvous, Texas Creek, and Golden Doe. For detailed maps of each area, visit Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/methow.