Exploring Richland's Badger Mountain

By Larry Towner, Special to the Tri-City HeraldOctober 4, 2012 

RICHLAND, Wash. -- The Friends of Badger Mountain, the volunteer organization created in 2003, continues to provide a remarkable service to the Tri-Cities.

The development of walking trails that skirt and scale Badger Mountain's 647 acres has opened this wonderful vista to those who seek to combine exercise with a fabulous view of the Tri-City area.

I walk Badger Mountain six days a week. At first, I walked to help maintain weight control, but it evolved into an almost daily visit to take in the beauty offered by the 1,579-foot mountain.

On occasion, I have started about an hour and a half before sunrise to see the sun come up. It is a treat well-worth the loss of sleep, and plan to take a flashlight for part of the trip up.

Gazing at a full moon from the top of Badger Mountain provides another thrill.

However, I don't recommend walking the mountain if there is more than a mild breeze at the base. The wind at the summit can make the climb arduous and uncomfortable.

Walking in snow isn't bad if your shoes have good gripping tread.

If it's raining, stay home!

The trails

There are four primary ways to reach the top of Badger Mountain. The Friends of Badger provided three of those, while the fourth is a vehicle-access road used by those maintaining the communications facilities near the summit.

A fifth, newly opened path called Badger Flats Trail does not scale the mountain. The 1-mile loop starts at Trailhead Park.

* West gate: Skyline (Backside) Trail

Directions: Take Keene Road west from Queensgate to the West Richland roundabout. Follow the roundabout around to Bombing Range Road heading south. This turns into Dallas Road at the first stop sign, which is Kennedy. Travel 1.3 miles from the roundabout to the turnoff. The turnoff is clearly marked by a sign on the right shoulder. Turn left onto Private Road 210 and take the middle fork up the hill to the trailhead parking lot.

This trail is great for beginners. While it is longer than the other trails, about 2.2 miles from parking lot to summit, it has more gentle slopes and more switchbacks to make the trip to the top easier.

It still is a significant climb, so plan to stop and enjoy the view along the way.

This trail is open to bicyclists so watch for them. Cyclists are expected to warn walkers and runners if they come up from behind, but it is still a good idea to listen for their sounds. Step to the side to let them by.

The last third of this trail winds around the south side of the mountain, providing great views of farms, orchards and vineyards. This section of the trail is narrow in some places.

* East gate: Shockley/Queensgate (two trails)

Directions: Take Keene Road to Shockley (next to Bethel Church). Follow Shockley to its merger with Queensgate. Turn left onto Queensgate. Travel about three long blocks, watching for the sign to the trailhead parking area. Turn right and then immediately left into the parking lot. On weekends, it may be necessary to park on the street by the trailhead park farther up Queensgate.

The eastgate trailhead winds its way up from the parking area past Trailhead Park. The trail continues to the mouth of a canyon where a series of steep steps takes you up to the start of both east gate trails. These steps require all of your attention, so consider delaying conversation with your walking partner for a few minutes.

At the top of the steps is the separation between the old and new trails to the top. The Friends refer to this as the Trailhead Park Loop, and both trails join back together at the top.

* The Canyon Trail (more difficult)

The original trail, which the Friends of Badger refer to as the Canyon Trail, continues straight ahead at the fork. This trail is quite steep with only a few switchbacks to break the climb. The only two benches in the trail system are found along this trail, something the Friends may consider for the other two trails.

This trail has been upgraded in the last few months. Several sections have been widened, and a treacherous section of exposed rock has been eliminated. Still, quality hiking boots should be worn on this trail.

The new Sagebrush Trail (also open to cyclists) turns off to the left at the separation of the two trails. While this trail covers the same vertical distance to the top of the mountain as the Canyon Trail, it does so with a much gentler slope, more switchbacks, and is wide enough so that passing other walkers won't prompt you to step off-trail.

This trail is a pleasure to walk. It provides a vista of the southeast area (Kennewick and south). It is smooth, well-graveled and nearly void of potential hazards. Regular walking shoes are adequate. Bicycles are NOT allowed on the Canyon Trail.

* Vehicle access road

Only experienced runners or hikers wearing quality hiking shoes or footwear with ankle support should attempt this route. It is steep, uneven and full of loose rocks of varying size.

Trail etiquette

The Badger Mountain trails are heavily traveled, especially on weekends. To make your outing more pleasant for you and others, there are a few "ground rules" everyone should follow:

* Stay on the marked trails at all times.

* When passing others going in the opposite direction, step to the side to allow others to pass.

* Yield to cyclists and runners.

* Those who carry food or drink should also take along a trash bag for the leftovers.

* Clean up after your animals, dogs and horses. Don't leave their droppings on the trail.

* Leave wildlife alone, including the snakes.

Tips

1. Take frequent breathers. Stop at the top of a switchback. The steepest parts of the trail are often in switchback curves.

2. Wear one more layer of clothing than you think you will need. It is much easier to peel it off rather than finding you need more when the weather near the top isn't what you anticipated.

3. If you take a pet, bring a leash and plastic waste bag. Dogs are supposed to be on leashes. I have witnessed two spectacular dog fights on the trail as owners stood by because they had no leashes to control their pets. Pick up after your pets or leave them home.

Cautions

My choice of the term "walking" rather than "hiking" is deliberate because a trail network largely is easy to cover while wearing ordinary walking shoes. However, two of the trails that lead to the summit should be traveled only by wearing hiking footwear that offers plenty of ankle support.

* There are rattlesnakes in the area. Unless you read the trail information carefully, there is no other warning about them.

* Some portions of the trails are quite steep. Take your time and don't exhaust yourself.

* Take water or other drink with you.

* Stop for a break at the top to rest and recover. Heat exhaustion isn't fun.

* Watch where you step. Some of the trails have significant "toe catchers" that can cause a nasty and painful fall.

Suggested equipment

* Good walking or hiking shoes.

* Water

* A hat.

* Walking poles (optional).

* Cell phone, in case of emergency.

* Sunscreen on a sunny day.

* Camera and/or binoculars.

* Lip balm for sunny or windy days.

* A flashlight or headlamp if you walk before sunrise or after dark. Some claim the city lights are enough. This might be so on the Shockley Road side, but there are no city lights on the Dallas Road side.

* Larry Towner has lived in Richland for more than 20 years with his wife of 45 years, Yvonne. He has been walking Badger Mountain for the past several years.

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