Reaping the benefits of the forest – even in winter

Mount Spokane in winter

A snowshoer is bathed in moonlight Mount Spokane State Park.

November 30, 2017

Much has been written about the value of time in the forest—decreased blood pressure, glucose and stress hormone levels and increased serotonin, which helps fight depression.

The regenerative effect of the forest on people has been documented in studies worldwide, and the Japanese have even coined a term for it: Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing. (See sidebar.)

Fortunately for Northwesterners, Washington state parks are home to spectacular forests—and many stay open in winter.

From the lodgepole pines of eastern Washington, to the cedars and spruces of the Olympic Peninsula, these year-round state parks invite you to take a restorative walk and breathe in the forest, hike vigorously and breathe harder, or sit quietly and let the kids have a romp.

What is Shinrin-Yoku?


The practice of Shinrin Yoku—forest bathing— refers to the physical and emotional health benefits of consciously being in the forest, a phenomenon researched and practiced since the 1980s in Japan.

Studies worldwide show that trees secrete natural chemicals called phytonicides, which help protect and heal them. Forest therapists believe trees act similarly on people who bask in their midst.

Japanese studies claim Shinrin-Yoku may increase cancer-fighting proteins. Spending 30 minutes a day in the forest may prevent illnesses or restore health.

The Adventure

Fields Spring Mt. View 12.2016 (002)

Meditate in a marshmallow meadow! Fields Spring State Park is a forest wonder in winter or summer!

Fields Spring State Park

Rising up through pine, spruce and fir forests with understories of maple, elderberry and thimbleberry, Fields Spring State Park trails top out at dazzling prairies.

Winter sun bathes the landscape in snowy blues and whites at this southeastern Washington park.

Whether you’re skiing or snowshoeing, stop in at the Puffer Butte warming hut, or backpack in and stay overnight. Groups of up to four can rent Tamarack Cabin (reserve by calling 509-256-3332 this winter), and up to 20 can lodge and loaf at Puffer Butte or Wohelo Lodge.

If the chilly temperatures and higher elevation don’t leave you winded, the panoramic views of the Blue Mountains and Grand Ronde River Valley will take your breath away!

The flat Corral Trail is an excellent choice for families, and the park rents snowshoes. Good luck prying the kids away from the sledding hill next to Wohelo!  

Rockport State Park

Rockport State Park sits in a rare old growth stand that has never been logged. Many of  the cedars and Douglas-fir trees on its 5 miles of trails have been around 400 years.

Rockport Interpretive Specialist Amos Almy offers free, guided .6-mile walks during the  “Deep Forest Experience,” (December to February), in which he or a guest expert discusses fascinating topics such as lichens, edible plants, forest therapy and the wonders of underground mycorrhiza fungi.

“In a half mile, there’s a lot going on,” Almy said.

After the hike, most visitors duck into the cozy Discovery Center for Junior Ranger activities, light eats and cocoa by the wood stove.

Several of Rockport’s frequent flyers have taken the Healthy Hikes 100-mile challenge—to hike 100 trail miles in the park and receive a hand-carved, hand-painted walking stick by Don Smith, an artist and senior park aide. (Ask park staff how to get started.)

Those who enjoy waking up in the forest can rent a wooded cabin at Rasar State Park down the road.

rockport group photo

Rockport State Park offers guided walks among the old growth trees, promising fun and education for all who participate.

Kukutali Preserve and Hoypus Point, Deception Pass State Park

Nothing screams “forest!” like Deception Pass State Park. Washington’s most visited state park is blanketed by trees—Douglas-fir, grand fir, western hemlock, western red cedar and Pacific madrone. Within the enormous park, two lesser-known areas offer prime forest time.

Kukutali Preserve on Kiket Island welcomes visitors to marvel at its old growth trees. Located east of Deception Pass in Similk Bay, the Preserve encompasses Kiket Island connected by a narrow spit—or tomobolo—to Flagstaff Point (also called Flagstaff Island). Kiket Island offers three walks on the north, south and through the center where thick stands of trees end at stunning views of Fidalgo, Hope and Skagit islands.

While Kiket Island is a wonderful place to experience the forest, Flagstaff Point is off limits to people to protect a rare environment called a “rocky bald” that supports fragile native plant communities.

Kukutali Preserve is co-owned and co-managed by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and Washington State Parks.

Directions to Kukutali.

Hoypus Point near Cornet Bay engulfs hikers in tapestries of green, and the 3 miles of flat, loamy trails will not disappoint. Visitors seeking the benefits of the forest will find a bonus here: temperatures tend to be warmer under Hoypus Point’s canopy than they are on the park’s bluffs and beaches.   

Scenic Beach State Park

While the classic Hood Canal beach and historic Emel House are the main draws, Scenic Beach State Park’s  forest is not to be missed. Hikers can mellow out here, or work up a sweat, as the beach access path slopes down—and back up—through a stand of evergreen and deciduous trees and an understory of Washington’s state flower, the wild rhododendron. 

The trees at Scenic Beach make strange bedfellows: Keep an eye out for the cedar growing together with a maple tree.

Scenic Beach was named “Best romantic spot,” in the Best of Bremerton Readers’ Choice Awards. Ranger Steve Ryder says the park is well-loved by locals and by visitors from afar.

“Scenic Beach is the quintessential out-in-the-country neighborhood park,” Ryder said.

scenic beach

A maple and a cedar find happy symbiosis on a forested trail at Scenic Beach State Park.

Mount Spokane State Park

Mount Spokane State Park is a park for all seasons. Wildflowers carpet the forest floors in late spring. Autumn brings huckleberries and fireweed. And fluffy snow sparkles between November and April.

Mount Spokane offers 90 miles of trails in the Selkirk Mountains. Hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers stroll among the hemlocks and cedars, or venture into the higher-elevation pine forests.   

Ranger Jerry Johnson touted the park as a true back country experience, especially in winter. He recommends the lower Kit Karson Loop Trail for snowshoers and recommends a stop at the snowshoe hut.

Friends of Mount Spokane President Chris Curry urges cross-country skiers to glide through the Nordic Ski Area, with a warm-up at Nova Hut. Backcountry skiers can continue up the ungroomed road to the Quartz Mountain lookout.

The majority of Washington’s 3,000 moose live in the Selkirk mountains, so be on the lookout for these giants, and give them a wide berth.

Bogachiel State Park

Bogachiel State Park on the outer Olympic Peninsula lies in a dripping rainforest, on the Bogachiel River. Shafts of light stream through the canopy on sunny days. This park is bound to lower your blood pressure and lift your spirits, and you may see owls, elk and other wildlife.

For those needing more trail time, wander down the Bogachiel River trail (on adjoining U.S. Forest Service land) or visit the ancient Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park.

So, don’t let winter put the chill on your next adventure! Don your hats, mittens, scarfs, puffy jackets and wind shells, make a thermos of cocoa or tea and take a rejuvenating “forest bath” in a Washington state park! 

Caring for Washington’s state park trees

Spending time among trees can improve your health, but have you ever wondered who looks out for the health of Washington state parks’ trees? Meet our six-person Arbor Crew, the talented arborists who work every day around the state to serve the parks’ oldest and quietest residents.

Do you have a favorite year round hike in a Washington State Park forest? Share your story.



Bogachiel State Park on the western Olympic Peninsula offers dog and kid-friendly forest hikes.