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Northwest by Northwest

By Elissa Leibowitz Poma
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 18, 2007

Q. When is the best time to explore the North Cascades, Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks in Washington state for hiking, scenic vistas, wildflowers and wildlife?

Diana Biro, Syracuse, N.Y.

A. That's a lot of land to cover in one trip. From Seattle, the North Cascades are northeast along the Canadian border, Olympic National Park is across Puget Sound in the northwest corner of the state, and Mount Rainier is southeast of the city.

"You could do parts of all of them, but it might be a stretch," says Nancy A. Trucano, executive director of the Cascade Loop Association, a group promoting the North Cascades.

In general, the Pacific Northwest's national parks are snowy from mid- to late fall through early spring, then are rainy, then have a few pleasant temperate months in the summer that draw backpack-strapped, hiking-shoe-wearing nature lovers to the trails.

Bird-watchers, bear-seekers and other outdoor enthusiasts tend to visit the North Cascades from mid-summer through early October. Trucano, however, suggests visiting in early May, when there's snow capping the mountains yet the trails are passable, or in April, during the tulip festival in the Skagit Valley.

July through September are the driest months to visit Olympic National Park's three ecosystems: mountains, rain forest and coast. That's important to keep in mind if you want to explore the forested valleys, because they're among the rainiest places in the United States. Wildlife includes Roosevelt elk, cougars, sea otters and whales.

The higher elevation and trails of Mount Rainier National Park -- where roads are currently closed because of damage from extensive flooding in November -- are blanketed with wildflowers in August, making it the most popular time to visit, says Mary Kay Nelson, executive director of the tourism group Visit Rainier. Some try to "rush the season" and go earlier, she says, but they're disappointed when they find that many trails are still covered in snow well into July.

More info: Washington State Tourism, 800-544-1800, http://www.experiencewashington.com/.

I received a credit to spend at any Club Med. My husband and I prefer an adults-only resort. Are there any you'd recommend?

Sara Senatore, New York

Five of Club Med's 80 resorts are adults-only. They're in France, Italy, Tunisia, Turkey and Turks and Caicos -- and they're as different in personality as they are in locale.

The resort in Val Thorens, France, for example, is high in the Alps with castlelike chalets, while the Tunisian resort is on the island of Djerba and has thatch-roof bungalows.

Like many all-inclusives, some Club Med spots are for adults only, and some permit children but don't offer special programs for them. The remainder offer Mini Clubs and other activities for children. All-inclusive resorts that don't have kids' programs tend to attract fewer families or draw families with older children. So, if the presence of some children is tolerable, you have more choices.

Use the Club Med Web site's search tool at http://www.clubmed.us/ to pick your place. There's an "adults-only" category that shows the child-free resorts. Among the list of cutesy-named categories, pick "Experience the Exceptional" to see additional resorts without children's programs.

More info: Club Med, 800-258-2633.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.

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