Lands in Limbo

Go experience the outdoor benefits offered by these 5 outstanding yet imperiled public areas worth your time and attention.

Not every great outdoor area in the country is a national park or protected by other designations. Despite the Biden administration recently declaring Colorado’s new Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, many of these areas need our continued attention to help preserve them for future generations—so our kids and theirs can all enjoy these wild places.  

The good news: There’s help on the horizon. The House recently passed a major package of public lands protections—including the Wild Olympics in Washington; California’s Central Coast; public lands and waters in Colorado; and public land surrounding the Grand Canyon. The bad: Like these area’s trails, it’s still an uphill battle for these measures to pass through the Senate and get signed into law by the president. 

“A lot of these landscape protections are in the limbo of potentially being added to an end-of-year package or passed on their own,” says the Outdoor Alliance’s Tania Lown-Hecht. “Politics-wise, there are a lot of different ways this could happen. Lawmakers want to see some protections across the finish line, so there’s been discussion of passing the Public Lands Act, which would include all the California designations, as well as the Oregon REC bill. The vehicle where this might happen isn’t clear, but there’s a reasonable likelihood we’ll see at least some of them pass.” 

What’s the best thing you can do in the meantime? Beyond writing your representative to ask for increased public lands protections: Visit them for yourself. With that in mind, consider exploring the following key places in need of protection and knocking them off your bucket list. 

Canyon Creek Lakes Trail, CA 

The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act includes the stunning Canyon Creek Lakes Trail. It’s an 18.6-mile out-and-backer located near Weaverville, Calif. Be prepared for a haul. This challenging route includes 2,800 feet in elevation gain, requiring nearly nine hours to complete. For that reason, many opt to get a free wilderness permit and spend the night. (Note that a permit is also required for fires and camp stoves.) Expect alpine lakes, creeks, rock slabs and the towering granite peaks of the Trinity Alps. Hint: Follow the cairns on the steep section. For an easier day-hike, branch off to Boulder Lake instead of going all the way up.

Hikers on Mount Ellinor Trail, Olympic National Park, Washington State

Wild Olympics/Mount Ellinor Trail, WA 

Part of the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act (H.R.803), which aims to preserve more than 4 million acres of public lands through eight bills, the included Wild Olympics legislation would protect 131,900 acres of Wilderness and 457 river miles designated as Wild and Scenic on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula adjacent to Olympic National Park. Among the regions slated for protection is the popular Mount Ellinor Trail, a 7-mile round-trip in the Hood Canal Ranger District of the Olympic National Forest near Hoodsport, Wash., offering sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains, Lake Cushman and Puget Sound.  

Redcloud Peak, CO  

Slated to dovetail the protection recently afforded Colorado’s new Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, the Colorado Wilderness Act would help protect Redcloud Peak, a 14,000-foot-high mountain in the state’s heralded San Juan Mountains near Lake City. Popular for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and more, the 8.8-mile out-and-back trail is considered challenging, taking about six and a half hours to complete on foot. But while it’s a strenuous peak to climb, its views and Mars-like summit, whose dirt is dark red from oxidized iron, will take your breath away as much as the altitude. 

Condor Trail, CA 

Located along California’s Central Coast, the Condor Trail would be a newly designed, 400-mile thru-trail linking the state’s Trinity Alps, San Gabriels, and Rim of the Valley mountain ranges, spanning the length of Los Padres National Forest, running north-to-south from Bottchers Gap (just south of Monterey) to Lake Piru (on the border of Los Angeles and Ventura counties). Los Padres National Forest encompasses some of the most diverse habitats and ecosystems in North America, and as California’s second-largest national forest, rises from the Pacific Ocean to over 8,800 feet in elevation and provides habitat for 468 species of wildlife, including the endangered California condor and the southern steelhead. “We’ve been working on identifying wild lands and rivers suitable for permanent protections and working with stakeholders and forest-users to protect it,” says Mathew Sayles of the Central Coast Wild Heritage Coalition. Hike any or all of it and you’ll know why.  

Molalla River Loop, OR 

With only 971 feet of elevation gain, Oregon’s Molalla River Loop might be relatively benign by the standard of burly thru-hikers or summit-baggers, but it’s a beautiful way to get immersed in Oregon’s wilderness. Part of an area hoped to be protected by the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act, the 5.9-mile loop trail starts near Molalla, Ore. (an hour south of Portland), and takes about three hours to complete. Though you’ll likely share it with horseback riders and mountain bikers, it’s also poorly marked in places, so pay attention. You’ll follow a creek much of the way, but don’t let that distract you from its bounty of blackberries. Hint: To avoid the dirt road at the end, detour onto the Fern Creek trail. 

How You Can Help 

What you do after your lawmaker votes is just as important as what you do before. Send a thank you note to your representative for voting yes, to encourage him or her to do so again next time. If your representative voted no, try attaching a “cost” to their no vote to make them less likely to oppose such conservation bills the next time around. Here’s the Outdoor Alliance’s landing page for its most recent package of public lands protections, as well as an easy way to take action.  

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.