Photo © Sasquatch Country Adventures
by Megan Hill
Derek Randles will never forget an experience he had in the forest near Washington’s Olympic National Park in 1985.
He and some friends were headed to an off-trail meadow known as “Home Sweet Home,” some 13 or 14 miles from the trailhead. As the group was making camp about halfway to the meadow, they heard a loud crash in the distance. Then, rocks the size of softballs began hurtling towards them.
“It was really uncanny because these rocks were not being hurled at us, they were being thrown near us. Very accurate,” Randles recalls. “It scared us, because we realized something with an opposable thumb was chucking stuff at us.”
Beyond spooked, the guys grabbed their gear and bolted toward the trail. Randles stopped briefly to draw a revolver from his backpack, and as he looked back up towards the ridge they had just come down, he saw something that changed him forever.
“There was a large figure standing there. It was roughly eight feet tall and it looked like a giant ape man,” Randles says. Though it took him ten years to tell anyone what he saw, he was hooked on the possibility that the sasquatch legend might explain his experience in the woods that day.
That elusive ape-like creature has captured imaginations for centuries, appearing in Native folklore long before Europeans came to America. The word “sasquatch” is borrowed from a British Columbian tribe, so that’s the moniker you’re most likely to encounter in the Northwest. In other parts of the U.S., the cryptid—a creature not verified by science—is known as “bigfoot.”
Perhaps we have reality television and the internet to thank, but it seems that interest in sasquatch is at a peak. Just tune in to a show like Animal Planet’s popular Finding Bigfoot if you need proof; when the team holds town hall meetings in any state, scores of people show up to claim they’ve seen the creature, stumbled upon footprints or had some other odd encounter that they chalk up to bigfoot.
It’s no surprise, then, that sasquatch tourism is also on the rise, with visitors heading into the forests of the Northwest hoping to find some evidence of its presence. Scores of amateur scientists venture into the wilderness to search for footprints, attempt communication, or, hopefully, catch a glimpse of a ‘squatch. They often record their experiences online, sharing their findings with other enthusiasts in an attempt to build a body of knowledge that may one day prove the creature’s existence.
Increasingly, tours are being offered that give sasquatch seekers the opportunity to tag along with more experienced searchers. Sasquatch or bigfoot expeditions have popped up in several states, including Texas, Ohio, Minnesota and Georgia. And naturally, the Northwest’s vast swaths of virgin forest and remote mountains make it prime ‘squatch territory, so you’ll find the tours here as well.
Several groups in the Northwest offer such outings. In general, they involve a day trip—usually by foot—or an overnight camping trip in sasquatch territory. Activities typically include talks by experts, a show-and-tell of evidence like footprint casts, and plenty of actual searching, with long treks into the woods to look for evidence, make calls to try and initiate communication, set and check cameras and more.
Each company runs its trips a little differently. Randles’ Olympic Project (OlympicProject.com) takes a strictly scientific approach, and sees its tour-goers as trainees that can help accumulate evidence and track movement long after the trip has ended. The group’s researchers seek out evidence of sasquatch’s presence and then, when they find something, take extensive records of everything from the barometric pressure to the phase of the moon. Expeditions teach visitors these protocols and bring in experts as speakers to further knowledge. On a more practical note, Randles also teaches wilderness survival skills.
There’s also the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (bfro.net), a country-wide network of enthusiasts founded in 1995. The group runs an online “comprehensive sightings database” along with sound recordings and other information. BFRO’s experts conduct several expeditions each year, and this year they’re leading groups to Idaho and Oregon in August and British Columbia in September. Earlier trips this year visited Washington and Oregon.
BFRO’s trips range from small to large expeditions, usually over a long weekend. The trips concentrate on areas where there have been clusters of reported sightings, with BFRO researchers searching for evidence and showing novices how to do so as well. With BFRO, the researchers act not as guides but rather as amateur researchers who take newcomers under their wings while exploring an area themselves. Attendees should be prepared for long hikes in all weather conditions and should bring camping gear, plus their own food, drinks and water.
Also on the Olympic Peninsula, tour company Hood Canal Events (HoodCanalEvents.com) operates sasquatch tours by special request. The tours are led by a local bigfoot expert who shares accounts of local encounters and sightings, as well as history and background on local folklore. Castings may be shown, and, if possible, hotspots are visited. Tour goers are ferried in a tricked-out van, where they can sip hot chocolate—or boozier concoctions—in between activities.
In Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia, the company Sasquatch Country Adventures (SasquatchCountryAdventures.