Why not start a new tradition (unless of course you have already started) of doing a hike on Christmas day. Here are three Northwest hikes—easy enough for the whole family—and short enough to sneak in before the big feast. And while they’re Christmas-themed, generally they provide for snow-free hiking. So, you’ll have to seek other destinations for a White Christmas hike!
Swan Lake and Christmas Hill
A very merry hike minutes from downtown Victoria
Location: Saanich Peninsula, Vancouver Island, BC
Roundtrip: 3.5 miles
Elevation gain: 325 feet
Notes: dogs prohibited
Once a foul polluted body of water, Swan Lake is now a lovely urban nature sanctuary boasting a healthy avian population. Located in Saanich minutes from downtown Victoria, the restored lake and surrounding marsh are graced with a nature center and family friendly trails which include a floating bridge. A side trail leaves the lake passing through residential neighborhoods to the small preserve on Christmas Hill. From this small summit, admire stately Garry oaks and beautiful view of greater Victoria.
Start you hike at the Nature Center on the Lake Loop Trail. Scan the lake for ducks, geese, and in winter the occasional swan and then set out for your hike around the lake heading clockwise. Pass the Aspen Loop Trail before coming to a major junction. The trail left leads to Christmas Hill, a non-contiguous part of the sanctuary. Head left following the .5 mile Corridor Trail to the .4 mile Summit Loop Trail on 358-feet Christmas Hill.
This hill’s name harkens back to the 1840s. A First Nations woman had her baby carried off by an eagle one Christmas Eve. Folks from throughout the region searched for the child finding it alive on Lake Hill. Many locals then began referring to this landmark as Christmas Hill in recognition of this miracle. A great hike any time of year, Christmas Hill contains Garry oak groves, camas fields, nice views—especially of the lake, and is home to endangered sharp-tailed snakes. After your merry meandering on Christmas Hill, return to the lake loop.
Then undulate between field and thickets and the occasional boardwalk. Rounding the lake’s southern shores enjoy views of Christmas Hill in the background. Eventually reach the hike’s highlight—a floating bridge across Swan Lake’s open waters. Take your time crossing, counting blackbirds and swallows en route. Soon afterward close the loop by returning to the Nature House.
Details of this hike can be found in my Day Hiking San Juan and Gulf Islands book which has a whole chapter on Victoria hikes
Yule like this hike along the Iron Horse Trail
Location: Snoqualmie Valley near North Bend
Roundtrip to Cedar Butte: 4.0 miles
Elevation gain: 900 feet
Notes: Dogs must be leashed
Image from Green Trails Maps 206S Rattlesnake Mountain Map
Oregon has its Christmas Valley. New Hampshire and Pennsylvania have a Bethlehem. Alaska even has a North Pole. And here in Washington State, are there any places on the map named for that most wondrous time of the year? Christmas Lake! But don’t think its name was inspired for Peanuts characters skating about humming “Christmas time”—nope this lake was named for a tragedy. And little Christmas Lake isn’t exactly a holiday extravaganza of a lake either; it’s more of a marsh.
So how did this little body of water near Rattlesnake Lake come to be named in honor of one of America’s most beloved holidays? Well, it wasn’t exactly for good tidings, comfort and joy. Little Boxley Creek flooded on December 23, 1918 taking an entire town off of the map. The creek drained Rattlesnake Lake and had earlier been dammed by the City of Seattle for a power project. After weeks of heavy rain, the dam burst sending a surge of water 150 feet wide down the valley towards the logging town of Edgewick. The entire town, mill and all, was destroyed. Miraculously the 60 residents of the community survived but didn’t exactly have a wonderful Christmas Eve the next day. Many of the locals began referring to Boxley Creek as Christmas Creek. The name Boxley remained on the maps for the creek, but the small wetland pond it fed took the Christmas moniker.
Begin your hike on the Iron Horse Trail (also known as the John Wayne Pioneer trail). Follow this former rail line east and within .3 mile come to views of Christmas Lake off to your left. It’s a pretty peaceful place these days and not much of a hike. Since you’ve hardly broken a sweat, continue up the Iron Horse Trail another .6 mile. Shortly after crossing Boxley (Christmas) Creek on a trestle, look for a signed trail taking off right. Follow this well-defined path for a steep 1.1 miles 800 vertical feet grunt to 1,860-foot Cedar Butte. Find the misspelled geodetic marker and enjoy the view here of the Snoqualmie Valley including little Christmas Lake below. Hopefully all will be calm.
Details for this hike can be found in my Winter Hikes of Western Washington card deck
Candy Cane Park
Sweet little trail for a holiday stroll
Location: Mountlake Terrace, Snohomish County
Roundtrip: 2.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 150 feet
Notes: dogs permitted on leash
A pretty little greenbelt in the heart of suburban Mountlake Terrace, this 60-acre park protects a swath of forest alongside Lyon Creek. It also provides for residents and visitors a well-groomed one mile hiking trail. But, it’s the park’s playground that is responsible for this park’s sweet and holiday-themed name. Officially known as Terrace Creek Park, it was established in the early 1950s not too long after the city’s incorporation. The first play piece set in the park was painted with red and white stripes. Then in 1956 according to Parks Services director, Ken Courtmanch Parks, “the Lady Lyons Club donated two new metal play structures consisting of a swing set and a two level climber making sure to keep the red and white painted theme. The children at the time affectionately called the park “Candy Cane Park” and as they grew their children continued the tradition.”
By the late 1990s the original play equipment was replaced with new play structures. “There were no commercial structures available with the Candy Cane theme,” says Courtmanch. “So the city purchased white swing sets and worked with a Boy Scouts of America troop who (using hundreds of rolls of tape) taped the swing sets and painted them to reflect the “Candy Cane” theme of the past.”
To explore the park, walk past the candy cane play equipment following a paved path through a big field. Then follow Lyon Creek upstream through a lush emerald ravine. The area’s original forest cover was logged long ago and you will see several big stumps testifying to the big trees that once grew here. But you’ll walk past a few big trees in the mature second growth forest that now flourishes here.
The trail now a wide soft surfaced path is marked with ¼ mile posts. At the halfway point cross the creek at a junction with spur paths leading left and right. The main trail continues up the ravine alongside the creek. During the wet months the added flow makes for a few little cascades. At 1.0 mile the trail terminates at 221st SW. Turn around and enjoy the walk downstream now. Return often—during the holiday season and throughout the year.
Details for this hike will be in my upcoming Urban Trails Everett book. In the meanwhile check out excellent winter hiking ideas in my Urban Trails Bellingham book!