There’s a new trail in town, Friends! I saw a few others post about it on social media, and we just had to check it out for ourselves. It did not disappoint. This trail is for everyone and if you are new to hiking or apprehensive about trying a hike by yourself or with your littles, this is the perfect place to start.
Willamalane Parks and Rec knows what’s up. They recently purchased 665 acres of land that they are now developing into a myriad of trails for hiking and mountain biking and they have done a spectacular job. We hiked this trail the week before the official grand opening celebration. While Phase 1 was already open, it may be that more has been added in the last month or so.
I’m going to give you the textbook information first and then I will tell you what we actually did and how we turned what we thought was going to be a 2 mile hike into a 7.5 mile hike and were so incredibly happy that we did. Grab your shoes and favorite hiking companions – you won’t want to miss this.
We brought friends along for this new adventure so there were 5 kids (10, 9, 7, 6, and 4). This trail was easily doable by all and we saw others ranging from toddlers to the grandmotherly all successfully traversing the trail.
Thurston Hills Natural Area
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Large parking lot right at the base of the trail
Parking Fee: FREE
Distance: 4.0 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: unclear
Bathrooms: CLEAN, Full flushing, running water
Trail: Well-groomed, compacted gravel
Cell Service: Yes
Potential Dangers: None
Safe to Hike Alone: YES
Carrier: Ergo or Hiking pack
Shoes: Trail runners
Kid Shoes: Hiking shoes
Backpack: Only for snacks if needed
DO NOT GOOGLEMAPS THIS ROUTE. Since it is new, GoogleMaps doesn’t quite have the trailhead right and we were nowhere we should have been and awkwardly had to turn around in someone’s driveway waaaaay off the beaten path. Don’t be us.
Instead, Take Hwy 126 east toward Springfield. Turn left onto Main Street. Go down to 75th Street. Turn right into the parking lot. It's seriously that easy. Berean Assembly of God will be on your left at 75th Street and you will see a big sign indicating Thurston Hills Natural Area on your right. You can’t miss it. The parking lot has ample parking and two clean, full-flushing bathrooms. The start of the trail is directly in front of you. It is clearly marked and just right there.
The trail then continues into a wooded area much like Spencer Butte. The morning we went was incredibly foggy and added an eerie beauty to it. The trail contains constant switchbacks throughout, tricking you into forgetting that you are actually climbing and keeping you wondering what’s around every corner.
Because the entire area is still under construction, the trail just ends right around the 2 mile mark. There’s no hill top experience, gorgeous vista, or shocking sight. There’s just more semi-blazed trails that are not complete or groomed. So if you are the kind of person who feels satisfied by this, perfect! Turn around now and head back the way you came and congratulate yourself for a job well done. Four miles! With littles! You did it!!
Now, If you are slightly (er, completely) obsessive about seeing a trail to its end or you simply want to explore the UNGROOMED area, then by all means, keep going. Just know that it is very, completely, unimaginably muddy. Oh so muddy. Squishy squashy - lose your shoes in it - muddy. But if you have kids able to walk their own like we did? It’s worth every single step.
At the juncture where the groomed North Access trail “ends”, and the ungroomed trails begin, you will see a sign that looks like this:
Stay with me. It gets a little confusing. The trail marker in that above picture says SPINE TRAIL. But at this point, we just kept going straight up. It leads you up and up towards what I’m thinking someday will be a summit. This way gets steeper and muddier and after 20 minutes or so we decided it wasn’t safe to continue because getting down was going to be a slippy-sloppy mess. (Plus we ran into a guy on the trail that said it continued for another 20-30 minutes of slow-going mud and never gets you to a definite destination.) So we turned back to the aforementioned juncture pictured above.
The SPINE TRAIL leads you down another 1.3 mile ungroomed, muddy trail that takes you to a small plateau. The youngers made it most of the way and could have pressed on, but there had been too many shoes lost, slips, falls, and rescuing out of sinking mud. One adult turned back with the smalls while I continued to the end with the bigs. As mentioned, it was very foggy, so I’m not sure what the views (if any) there would be from here.
There are signs for more trails and another large trail map.
We then trudged back through the trail, found the rest of the party, and made it back to the car way muddier and later and with many more miles in than we had planned.
To sum up:
We LOVED this hike. Loved. I am so so glad we took the time to slop through the mud and explore a beautiful area right so close to us. The kids loved getting muddy and being allowed to just get dirty and explore. If continuing on through the mud is available to you, do it. But GO PREPARED. Bring extra clothes, extra shoes, towels, blankets, boxes for muddy clothes in your car, etc. And maybe don’t wear your favorite clothing….or white.
If you are just starting out, have littler littles, don’t have time or desire to explore, you will STILL love it. There was a steady flow of people on the graveled path to make you feel safe, the trail is easy to traverse, and the elevation not too hard. We can’t wait to get back on this trail when it’s a bit drier and explore all the unseen things.
Have you tried this trail?
Do have some tips to add about hiking in mud?
Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
Jenna Eads is a full-time Special Education teacher, wife to a photographer, and mom to two kids ages 10 and 6. Their life is anything but slow or boring. She loves going on adventures with her kids and listening to them as they see and experience new things and new places. See all of her posts here.
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