I was exhausted when my wife pulled into the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. My kids and wife were on the opposite end of the spectrum. Usually, I bring along my tripod and camera bag loaded with lenses I will probably never use. This time I grabbed one camera and the lens on it and reluctantly followed my wife and children towards the trails.
I carelessly took some photos on a boardwalk leading to the trail. I groaned when I saw the trail’s name—Cutthroat Climb.
The funny thing about energetic kids excited about everything is that occasionally, you can siphon off some of that vitality and catch a second wind.
The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge had an unexpected and interesting twist I had not quite seen before—Art.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Willapa Trail Guide, University of Washington School of Public Art students (Go Dawgs), “designed, constructed, and installed the artwork for the trail under the direction of professors John Young, Ian Robertson, and Jim Nicholls.”
You can even take a virtual tour here. Make sure to check out what is arguably the coolest picnic table in the State of Washington or even PNW. The marble table and benches, designed by artist Gary Carpenter and named “Charismatic Minifauna,” wound up appropriately becoming the theme of our hike.
At the start of our hike up “Cutthroat Climb,” I was dragging behind and stopped to take a photo of one of the numerous pieces of art depicting birds that can be found in the area. At the same time, the rest of my family charged forward.
I came to a fork in the trail; one went up steep stairs, another headed down alongside a stream. I prayed my wife was feeling a bit sympathetic and took what looked to be the easier route, but echoing from above me on the hill, my kids screamed, “DAD!!! WHERE ARE YOU!”
I headed up the hill and caught up to them near an unusual triangle bridge built over a fallen tree. That is about the time my kid’s energy started to hit me. Usually, I am looking for scenic vistas, Wildlife, or a stream of sunlight hitting a heavily shaded trail. Still, they began pointing out the tiniest mushrooms, banana slugs, and plants hidden along the sides of the path.
Their excitement over each-and-every-one of their discoveries, pointing it out to me and asking me to take a picture, became a lot of fun. I was not even sure if my lens could shoot the small mushrooms. I have not spent a lot of time shooting macro photography. Turns out my Nikon 28-300mm lens was sufficient to take closeups of their various finds.
This section of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge had two trails, the Willapa Art Trail and Cutthroat Climb. The art was not solely relegated to the Art trail either. Cutthroat Climb had art depicting various bird species and informative stops posing questions about the animals that call the area home. My kids excitedly ran up to each one and loudly answered them.
Cutthroat Climb is not all that terrible. There is a steep section of stairs at the beginning of the trail and some muddier spots, but at 3/4s of a mile, it is not difficult for a healthy person. It is also intertwined with the Willapa Art Trail, which features a cool boardwalk, larger pieces of art off to the sides, and tiny statues of frogs and salamanders. There are about a dozen different species of frogs and salamanders that call the refuge home.
The Willapa Wildlife refuge is also home to the endangered Western Brook Lamprey, the circular mouthed species with ancestry dating back 450 million years.
The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge contains 11,000 acres in total. The Refuge has a unique variety of environments, including sand-dune-lined beaches at Leadbetter Point State Park to Long Island trails only accessible by boat.
We plan on returning to hike the half-mile Teal Slough trail. It is a half-mile hike through an old-growth forest. Those hikes are usually amongst my favorites. I think they tend to feel a bit more untouched, almost mystical sometimes. We stopped at the entrance and contemplated it, but the sun was setting. However, it is a hike that is now on my to-do list.
Cutthroat Climb did not seem to have many visitors in general, so If you are looking for winter, perhaps less crowded summer hikes, this might be the place for you, and it is an especially great hike if you want to take some time with your young kids and enjoy the little things.