The Moose is Loose in Washington State

Cow and calf moose in Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire.

I grew up hiking in New Hampshire, one of the moose-densest states in the union. Moose are everywhere in the Granite State. Highway signs warn of hitting them which is a real road hazard in the state. On return trips to my home state to hike and paddle, I almost always see these largest members of the deer family and it is always a trip highlight. When I moved to Washington in 1989 I noticed that other than the Mariners Moose (which never made sense to me—an orca would have made a better mascot) you just don’t see ole Alces alces in Washington. Well at least not in the western half of the state. But, that is changing.

The first time I saw a moose in Washington was back in 2003 while hiking at Liberty Lake County Park —just over the Idaho (a moose heavy state) line. I thought at first someone let their horse loose in the marsh. Nope, it was a genuine cow moose. Since that initial Washington moose encounter, I’ve seen a handful of them in the Kettles and Selkirks. And I started noticing fairly frequently, moose tracks and droppings on trails in the northeastern Cascades. They’re out there. In 2007 at Tiffany Mountain, north of Winthrop, to the chagrin of an amorous moose couple, I witnessed a rut. Wow—moose ARE in the Cascades!

Bull Moose in Tiffany Highlands, Washington.

But it was in 2011 when I got my biggest Washington moose surprise. I was trail running up Fourth of July Pass in the
Ross Lake-North Cascades National Park complex when I was startled by a large brown deer-like animal coming down the trail toward me. Must be an elk was my initial thought—what else can it be? A moose—that’s what else it could be—and it was. Boy was I surprised—that’s pretty far west in the Cascades. It was a young bull and he had no plans to yield trail right-of-way to me.

The trail was steep with nowhere to move aside. I immediately started running back down the trail to the first cluster of trees that I could ditch behind. Moose have notoriously bad eyesight. Just get behind a tree. I have done it scores of times before back east. Hunkered in my arboreal hideaway I safely watched Mr. Moose trot down the trail to the Thunder Creek valley.

Wow! Now with an extra adrenaline rush (a semi-charging moose will do that to you) I continued on my run up the pass, and then down the other side on the Panther Creek Trail following moose tracks all the way. I hypothesized that my deer friend probably came from British Columbia following trails along Ross Lake before heading up Panther Creek. I let the national park folks know about their visitor and was told by them that there have been other moose sightings in the area. So maybe—the Mariners Moose might not be such a bad mascot idea after all. Have you seen a moose in Washington, yet? In the Cascades?

Looking for moose in Washington? Pick up a copy of my (co-written with Rich Landers) Day Hiking Eastern Washington guidebook for detailed info on some excellent trails in moose country!

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