By Judy Smith
I learned about the Elk Creek Conservation Area Trail when I signed up for the 2016 Thanksgiving Day 5K Run/Walk. A brisk hike sounded like a good way to burn 2off some calories in advance of our Thanksgiving feast, and my son and son-in-law wanted to tag along. They are runners and I am a walker, so they agreed to wait for me at the finish line.
Thanksgiving Day dawned extremely cold with an unrelenting downpour. It’s Forks, so things aren’t cancelled because of rain. We arrived at the trailhead, signed in, and got our race numbers pinned to our jackets. I was afraid that the boys would become hypothermic if they waited for me at the finish line, so I asked the race organizers if I could start early. I started up the trail about 25 minutes before the starting gun with a few other like-minded walkers.
Because of the deluge, I splashed up the trail in water that was sometimes up to my ankles. Honestly, I didn’t look around a lot, because I was watching where I put my feet to make sure I didn’t fall down in the mud.
About a mile up the trail when the runners started passing me. It was a good incentive to keep up the pace. The trail is an “out-and-back” hike with a loop at the end, so before long, there were runners and walkers both outbound and inbound. Everyone was cheerful, calling out encouragement to others, and generally having a great time in the mud and wet. I really enjoyed the sense of community.
I sloshed my way around the route, crossed the finish line, waved to the race organizers and met up with my chilled out family members. Less than 5 minutes later we were at home drying out and warming up in front of the wood stove. I forgot all about the number pinned to my jacket and it didn’t occur to me that they were recording finish times until I read my stellar finish time in the Forks Forum. Oops. I don’t walk that fast!
The trailhead for the Elk Creek Conservation Area is just about two miles up Calawah Way. It has become the place I go every week for a quick dose of fitness and nature. The trail starts off on the level, following an old road grade. It soon climbs up and over a small ridge and descends gradually into the Elk Creek drainage. There are interpretive signs at several points along the route. The first one at the top of the ridge offers a breather. The second one is shortly after you turn parallel to the creek. Here two impressive spruce trees, called “The Sisters,” stand sentinel over the trail.
This mostly level trail parallels Elk Creek for a mile and eventually you cross the stream on a log bridge. Soon there is a fork in the trail that marks the start of the loop. A sign with an arrow points directs you to take the counterclockwise. It climbs gently up and meanders through the timber before coming back down to close the loop. At this point, you retrace your steps downstream along Elk Creek, up over the ridge and through the flat back to the trailhead.
It bothered me that I’d been awarded an incorrect time for finishing this trail, so I started timing my hikes on this trail. I worked to shave a bit of time off the hike every week. For the record, I reached my goal of hiking this 3.3-mile trail in under an hour on my 59th birthday in January.
This hike is good for dogs, good for trail runners, and just might be a good one for you!
Judy Smith has been a resident tourist since moving to Forks for her husbands work five years ago. Retired from the federal government, she is an avid hiker, obsessive huckleberry gatherer, writer, proud Army Mom and “Granny Smith.”