Only a half-hour drive from campus is a hidden gem of a hike, Colfax Trail.
The trail follows the path of an old railway line, which means it’s nice and flat. It’s more of a walk than a hike, and it’s an out-and-back trail. You walk however far you want, then turn around and head back. If you walk the whole route, it’s a 5-mile round trip.
It took me about three hours to hike the trail. I stopped and enjoyed lunch at one particularly nice viewpoint. Including travel time, four hours is plenty to set aside for this half-day trip.
Bring water, snacks and lunch. It’s a picturesque picnic trail. I also highly recommend a pair of binoculars. Grab a sweatshirt or windbreaker and a pair of sunglasses on your way out the door since the weather is unpredictable this time of year. It’s a dog-friendly trail, so feel free to bring your four-legged friend along too.
The trail boasts a variety of habitats: grassland, farmland and wetland. Near the beginning of the trail are cattle pastures and fields. As you walk farther, you are surrounded by alternating open grasslands and stands of pine trees. The main attraction of the trail is the winding creek it loyally follows.
I saw a bunch of birds on this hike! The combination of habitats is the key.
Keep an eye out in the tall deciduous trees for downy woodpeckers and northern flickers. You’ll hear the flickers before you see them. In the pine trees, listen for pygmy nuthatches, tiny birds that sound like squeaky toys.
Chickadees frequent the bushes next to the trail, cheeping a “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” as you pass by. Cedar waxwings, American robins and ruby-crowned kinglets love the berry bushes this time of year.
Red-tailed hawks circle the skies, riding thermals created by the cliffs rising around the trail and the creek. Canyon wrens hop about on the rock faces. Mallards and great blue herons forage in the creek and marshes.
I also saw a snake. It was harmless, don’t worry. Only about 16 inches long, the western yellow-bellied racer I met resembled an overgrown garter snake. It was a lovely mocha brown with a striking lime-green belly.
Remember that snakes are rarely a threat to you and are extremely important for controlling rodent and pest populations. If you see a snake, move slowly. Wait for it to cross the trail, or give it a wide berth and continue on your way. It turns out the racer wasn’t in a race to get anywhere and waited for me to pass by before it slithered away.
Several benches along the trail and some gently sloping rocks facing the creek are perfect for snack breaks. Once you pass the cliffs, you’re about two-thirds of the way to the end.
At the end of the trail, across the creek, is an old train tunnel. You’re not allowed to cross the creek or investigate the tunnel as it’s private property, but it’s a neat view.
As you head back, even though you’re walking the same route, everything you see is different. It’s a whole new trail experience. That’s what I like about the trail. It’s full of unexpected views, creatures and beauty. This fall, take a day to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes of this trail.
To get to the trail take US-195 toward Colfax. After you pass through Colfax, turn onto the West Walla Walla Highway. Take a right at the gravel quarry, following the gravel road along the bottom of the hill. It’ll seem like a dead end, but soon the parking lot will appear.