We started this tradition in 2018 as a way to explore the outdoors, get our families together and cope with the loss of a family member. You see, the holiday season changed for my husband and me back in 2016, when his father passed away from cancer. Our yearly holiday traditions became painful in his absence, so we decided to switch things up. In 2018 we went for a Thanksgiving Day hike at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington. We felt it was the perfect way to connect with each other, decompress and create a new tradition for ourselves. We loved the hike so much that we decided to make it an annual tradition.
The following year, we invited all our family members to join us on the hike. We hoped anyone and everyone could make it. It was especially meaningful to have my father join us. My father is disabled, and it’s challenging to find a trail that’s both accessible for him and an immersive nature experience. That year, we used trail apps and Google maps to set a course that would be both accessible to my father and give us a beautiful backdrop to connect with each other. We ultimately chose to hike a section of the Foothills Trail near Orting, Washington. The trail is a favorite ADA-compliant trek because it’s paved and hemmed by beautiful deciduous trees with autumnal leaves. It travels along the Carbon River and has a nearby road that makes it easy to arrange a car to pick us up should we need it.
This annual tradition became even more important to our family in 2020, once the pandemic began. The spread of COVID-19 changed the way many people had to think about the holiday season—my family included. Our tradition of hiking on Thanksgiving became the perfect alternative to the indoor family gatherings we typically had in November. It also provided a safe way to talk about how we were getting through the stress of the year and processing the civil unrest that stemmed from social-justice issues.
We met at the Lime Kiln Trail in Granite Falls (the town changes its name to “Gravy Falls” for Thanksgiving). The hike, coincidentally, was also my first time meeting my brother’s new girlfriend. During any other year, that meeting would likely have been spent sitting awkwardly around a dinner table. Instead, our time together had an informal feel as we hiked together on the muddy trail and really got to know each another.
These Thanksgiving holiday hikes change each year as new family members join. It’s been a great way for us to connect and sweat in the outdoors and to build other traditions as well. We really appreciate what the Washington trails have to offer and that they have given us the tradition of finding some place new to explore together each year.