Adding this to the top so you don't miss it: Minutes after publishing the trip report below, I found a tick that's been camping on my leg for at least seven hours. Don't forget to check yourself!
We chose this hike because we were expecting crowds on the first day parks opened back up and wanted a destination where it would be easy to pass other parties without straying too far off-trail. (It didn't hurt that the forecast from Cle Elum on west was for rain in the afternoon.) We saw maybe a dozen other people all day and had no trouble keeping our distance on the numerous wide tracks. If you are at high risk from the coronavirus but desperately want to get outdoors, this hike or another one like it should be a good bet for relatively easy social distancing. That said, you will need to open a gate to get inside. My guess it's relatively low risk, but if you're worried, bring Purell.
As for the hike itself: Many of the people we saw were out collecting elk antlers. We more or less followed the directions from WTA's hike description, which seem to have been written to give you a tour of the area highlights. The truth is there are a lot of intersections and places to get lost, but as long as you have some sense of direction, you should feel free to wander without worrying too much about whether you took the exact right trail. We made some of our most interesting finds (like a fresh deer carcass) when we didn't quite follow WTA's directions precisely. Here are some helpful GPS coordinates if you would something like a middle ground -- to wander but still see those highlights:
- Stone house: 47.0105806,-120.7342361
- Fresh deer carcass: 47.0088067,-120.7347189
- Aspen grove: 47.0082333,-120.7254556
(If you visit the deer carcass and it's still there, might be fun to swap photos to see it in different stages of decay. Maybe leave a comment if you're interested.)
One final note: WTA lists this hike as 10 miles long. We followed the supplied directions and did not clock anything like 10 miles. Maybe 5-6, tops. I suspect the exaggeration comes from the fork WTA describes here:
"After exploring the building, continue across the meadow and find another old double-track heading downhill into Ainsley Canyon, just above the confluence with Robinson Canyon; turning left takes you up Ainsley Canyon; to go up Robinson Canyon turn right, then left where the trail forks."
We took the right, up Robinson Canyon. Maybe the left up Ainsley would have gotten us to 10. Whether or not that theory is correct, I thought it might be useful to share information about the distance so you can plan ahead. (Because we found ourselves back at the trailhead sooner than expected, we stopped at nearby Joe Watt Canyon before heading home to get in a few more miles. In retrospect, we could have spent more time exploring here, up Ainsley or otherwise, without getting back into our car. Next time.)