Lookout Tree Trail — Snag a glimpse into the past


A hiker admires the Lookout Tree.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip:  1.5 miles

Elevation gain: 200 feet

Green Trails Map: Sloan Peak, WA- no. 111

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest 

Notes: No passes needed

Access: From Darrington, follow Mountain Loop Highway for 11.3 miles to trailhead located on your right. Parking available for 2-3 vehicles.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow free winter hiking; historic



Trail ends here. The Sauk River severed the Beaver Lake Trail in the winter of 1995

The Beaver Lake Trail once ran for nearly 3.0 miles providing an excellent year-round semi-wild kid-friendly hike along the Sauk River. Utilizing an old logging rail bed and traversing old cedar groves, sloughs teeming with wildlife, and spectacular river banks, this trail was cut short twenty years ago. In the winter of 1995, the Sauk jumped its bank and washed out a large section of trail beneath a steep bluff severing the trail in two. With a lack of funding and difficult terrain making a reroute a most daunting task, the trail has remained in two. While the northern longer section of trail continues to receive a fair amount of hiking traffic, the smaller southern section has fallen off of the radar of most hikers. Too bad, for it contains quite a few charming surprises—and despite lacking much maintenance, it remains in remarkably good shape.

Referred to now as the Lookout Tree Trail, this old section of the Beaver Lake Trail quickly descends 200 feet from the Mountain Loop Highway. Here in a dark and lush flat several gigantic cedars remain, spared by the fury of logging activity in this region in the early 20th century. A couple of the ancient cedars are enormous with diameters exceeding 15 feet. One of them–now a defiant snag, once served as a fire lookout for rangers stationed at the nearby and no longer in existence 1916-built Sauk Ranger Station.


old railroad trestles near trail’s end.

Scan this giant snag for evidence of spikes once used for footholds. This big tree once allowed for some decent viewing of the nearby river valley. After you snoop around the historic tree continue hiking. The trail continues beyond the Lookout Tree bending north and crossing Lyle Creek. From there it follows alongside a quiet channel of the Sauk. A few minutes later the trail comes to an abrupt end–the site of the 1995 washout. Views are good up and down the Sauk and west to surrounding peaks and ridges. Be sure to snoop around the trail here for old railroad trestle remains once belonging to the Sauk Lumber Company. There are quite a few remnants of the 1926-built railroad line hidden among the thick understory of this lush and semi-wild valley.

Chances are good too that you’ll be enjoying all of this history and semi-wild country by yourself!

For information on lodging and other attractions near Lookout Tree, visit www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For information on other hikes in the vicinity and throughout the North Cascades, pick up a copy of my Day Hiking North Cascades Book.0486

North Head Lighthouse–Hike to a headland at the mouth of the Columbia River


North Head Lighthouse sits on a high headland at the mouth of the Columbia River.


 Location: Cape Disappointment State Park, Long Beach Peninsula

Land Agency: Washington State Parks

Roundtrip: 4.2 miles

Elevation gain: 300 feet

Contact: Cape Disappointment State Park

Notes: Discover Pass required; Dogs must be leashed

Good to Know: kid-friendly, snow free winter hike, historic

Access: From Kelso follow SR 4 west to Naselle. Turn left onto SR 401 and proceed 23 miles to to Ilwaco and the junction of SR 100. Follow SR 100 (it’s a loop, bear left) to Cape Disappointment State Park. In 2 miles turn left into state park and proceed .5 miles to a four-way stop. Turn right, pass entrance station and in .25 mile, turn right again coming to the McKenzie Head Trailhead in 0.4 mile.



Stunning views from North Head Lighthouse.

Take the long and scenic way to Cape Disappointment’s North Head Lighthouse by hiking to it.. Through a salt sprayed maritime forest, trace part of Captain Clark’s hike on the Long Beach Peninsula. From the high headland that houses the 1898 lighthouse, take in breathtaking views that include thundering waves, windswept dunes, and score of shorebirds skimming the sweltering surf. Of the handful of hiking trails in 1,884-acre Cape Disappointment State Park; the 1.8 mile North Head Trail is the longest, traversing a moisture-dripping old-growth Sitka spruce forest and offering spectacular ocean views along the way. It ties into several other trails allowing for extended explorations.

The trail to North Head starts across the road from the short trail to McKenzie Head (a worthy side trip) Start hiking through a flat marshy area before heading up onto a small rugged ridge. When Lewis and Clark visited this area, the ridge was a headland protruding into the Pacific. After the nearby North Jetty was built in 1917, this marshy forested area formed through accretion (trapped sand and silt accumulation). The land mass and beaches of Cape Disappointment are growing. (And they say they don’t make any more land!)


Big Sitka Spruce at North Head.

On what can be a muddy trail, climb above the old coastline on this former headland. Giant Sitka spruces keep you well-shaded, while gaps in the forest canopy offer splendid views down to the “new” beach. In 1.8 miles from the trailhead, come to a parking lot. (Yes, you could have driven to this point-but why? Exercise and nature are good for your body and soul!) Now hike the .3 mile trail down to the North Head Lighthouse for one of the finest maritime settings in all of Washington. Consider extending your hike by checking out other park trails. And the state park offers great car camping including yurts if you feel like spending a few days.

For more information (including maps) on this hike and other great Long Beach area hikes, consult my best-selling Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula book (Mountaineers Books).Day Hiking Oly Book

For information on family-friendly places to stay and things to do on the Long Beach Peninsula, Consult Northwest TripFinder


Jay Lake — Serenity and Solitude at Wallace Falls State Park


Tent platform in quiet forest on the shore of Jay Lake.

Quick Facts:

Location: Skykomish River Valley, US 2

Land Agency: Washington State Parks

Roundtrip: 11.5 miles

Elevation gain: 1,575 feet

Green Trails Map: Index, WA-No. 142

Contact: Wallace Falls State Park 

Notes: Discover Pass required. Dogs must be leashed

Access: From Everett, follow US 2 for 28 miles east to Gold Bar. Turn left onto 1st Street and proceed for .4 mile. Then turn right onto May Creek Road and continue for 1.5 miles to Wallace Falls State Park and trailhead.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow free winter hiking; waterfalls; backpacking opportunities



Peaceful Jay Lake on a quiet spring day.

One of Washington’s busiest and most popular state parks, you’d be hard pressed to find solitude at Wallace Falls. Yet, while thousands of hikers each month take to the trails to the park’s spectacular series of thundering waterfalls, you can still find solitude here. But, you’ll have to work for it!

There are miles of trails and old woods roads within this 4,735-acre state park with some of these routes lightly traveled. One of the loneliest spots in the park is Jay Lake, reached by a long but enjoyable hike. To reach it, follow hordes of happy hikers to the Woody Trail. Then continue to the Railroad Cut-off Trail taking this short but steep path 0.1 mile to an old logging railroad grade now a wide trail. Turn right and after a third of a mile reach the Greg Ball Trail.

A former board member and director of the Washington Trails Association (WTA), Ball launched WTA’s volunteer trail maintenance program back in 1993. It has since grown into the largest state-based program of its kind. In 2004 at the age of 60, Ball passed away after battling cancer. He had designed this trail to Wallace Lake.

Paralleling the North Fork of the Wallace River, this trail gracefully meanders through mature second growth. After a half mile the way steepens and the forest grows darker. But an agreeable grade and forest soon returns. At about 3.0 miles from the trailhead the river can be seen cascading through a narrow chasm. About a half mile farther the trail terminates at a DNR Road. Turn right on the road for a short 0.1 mile to a junction with an old road taking off left. Then follow this near level forested way for .5 mile to the southern tip of large and tranquil Wallace Lake.


One of two potentially tricky creek crossings.

Continue left .7 mile on an old road along the lake’s forested shoreline to where the North Fork Wallace River (here more of a creek) flows into the lake at inviting Pebble Beach. Now cross the North Fork (good luck keeping your boots dry) and continue on a lonely stretch of trail to Jay Lake. Pass some moisture loving Sitka Spruce, a rarity this far inland from the coast—then hop across another creek crossing.

One more boot soaking creek crossing must be negotiated before you arrive at the quiet and more than likely deserted Jay Lake. Find a backcountry camping area (inquire within the park for a camping permit) and picnic table set amidst a grove of hemlocks. The lake’s shoreline is brushy making it difficult to reach its waters. But none-the-less, the location is soothing and feels quite remote. Pretty amazing too when you consider that while you listen to quiet breezes and thrush song here at Jay Lake, hundreds of hikers are wearing down the tread near the waterfalls.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Jay Lake visit  www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For more information on hiking Wallace Falls State Park and other snow-free hiking destinations throughout Western Washington, consult my Winter Hikes of Western Washington Deck.Winter Hikes Card Deck

Third Beach– First Rate and second to none!


Beautiful and wild Third Beach!

Quick Facts:

Location: Olympic Coast near Forks

Land Agency: National Park Service

Roundtrip: 2.6 miles

Elevation gain: 300 feet

Contact: Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center

Green Trails Map: La Push, WA- No 163S

Notes: Dogs Prohibited

Good to Know: kid-friendly, snow free winter hike; beach walking; exceptional wildlife viewing. waterfall

Access: From Forks, head 2.0 miles north on US 101 to the junction with SR 110. Continue west on SR 110. In 7.7 miles at Quillayute Prairie, SR 110 splits. Take the left fork (La Push Road) and proceed 3.8 miles to trailhead located on south side of highway.



A waterfall crashes into the surf at Third Beach.

This is a fairly easy hike to one of the Olympic Coast’s famed wilderness beaches. Suitable for hikers of all ages and abilities, Third Beach is first rate and delivers wonderment in every season. Traverse a salt-sprayed forest, wander a wide surf-pounded coastline, and explore rugged headlands sporting showy waterfalls on this classic Olympic hike.

The hike starts on an old skid road through a scrappy maritime forest of Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and red alder.  After about a half mile of fairly easy going, the trail veers left leaving the old road for a nicer trail and through a more attractive forest.


Difficult overland trail.

As the surf becomes more audible the trail begins to descend reaching the wide and wild   beach at 1.3 miles. Hemmed in by two imposing headlands, Third Beach extends for about a mile on Strawberry Bay. Where do you want to begin wandering?  You can head north on the beach hiking about a half mile towards Teahwit Head. Look for abandoned equipment once used by wildcatters hoping to make a big oil strike.

The more interesting option is to hike the beach south a half mile to an overland trail. But, don’t even think of heading up that steep route over Taylor Point before admiring a waterfall plunging from its heights straight into the pounding surf below. Now if you’re still intent to continue, climb 350 feet via sand ladders and ankle-twisting terrain over the imposing headland. Then traverse a grove of old-growth Sitka spruce and cross the creek feeding the coastal waterfall. Then make a steep descent back to sea level reaching, a quiet and secluded beach after a challenging mile!  Who says you need to backpack for days to enjoy such spectacular Olympic coastal wilderness?

 For more information (including maps and trip planning) on this hike and other Olympic Coast hikes, consult my best-selling Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula and Backpacking Washington books (Mountaineers Books).Backpacking Book coverDay Hiking Oly Book

For information on places to stay in the Forks area and other things to do–consult Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15

Fortson Ponds –A new park at an old mill site on an emerging long distance trail


Cottonwoods and Mount Higgins reflect in the Fortson Mill Pond.

Quick Facts:

Location: Darrington

Land Agency: Snohomish County Parks

Roundtrip: 2.0 miles

Elevation gain: none

Difficulty: Easy

Contact: Snohomish County Parks 

Green Trails Map: Darrington, WA- No. 78

Notes: Dogs allowed on leash

Access: From Exit 208 on I-5 (Arlington) travel east on SR 530 for 25.2 miles turning left onto Fortson Mill Road (near Milepost 42). Continue 0.2 mile to large parking lot and trailhead.

Good to know: snow free winter hiking; historic; dog-friendly; kid-friendly; open to mountain bikes

 Once the site of a bustling mill and community of over 300 residents, all that remains now of Fortson are some concrete walls and two beautiful mill ponds. While the concrete walls of the old mill are covered in graffiti and not exactly pretty to look at—the mill’s ponds are quite the contrary.  Lined with stately cottonwoods, the two ponds reflect these tall trees as well as the rugged mountains surrounding them. And the two ponds are important habitat for local fisheries.


Whitehorse Mountain

After years of neglect, this historic site was recently purchased by Washington Fish and Wildlife. And Snohomish County Parks will manage a new trailhead here for the adjacent Whitehorse Trail. Work crews this past summer opened up a new section of this 27 mile long trail-in-the-works that will eventually connect with the Centennial Trail in Arlington. With this new section opened at Fortson Mill, the easternmost seven miles of this trail are now available for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and trail running.

From the big trailhead, walk north on a wide path just to the left of the old mill remains. Soon come to the Whitehorse Trail. Now walk right crossing a creek on a bridge. Soon come to short fishermen paths leading left to the Stillaguamish River—and shortly after that a path leading right to one of the two mill ponds. This one once housed the mill’s de-barker and now serves as a spawning ground for coho and chum salmon. Both of the ponds account for 5 to 8% of the total coho smolt production in the Stillaguamish drainage. Look for them—and look for eagles, kingfishers and herons at the ponds too.

Walk along the pond and come to a junction. The trail left leads back to the Whitehorse Trail. The trail right crosses a creek on a bridge and then circles around the first mill pond leading back to the mill ruins and trailhead in about 0.5 mile. Definitely walk it and enjoy the reflections of Mount Higgins in the pond’s waters.


Wetlands and Whitehorse Mountain along the Whitehorse Trail.

Then return to the Whitehorse Trail and continue walking it east soon traversing a large marshy area near the second mill pond. The view here across pools of water and batches of bulrushes to glacier capped Whitehorse Mountain is quite impressive. While this area is now in a fairly natural state, try to envision it as it was a century ago. At that time a major sawmill stood here as well as a town with over 100 people. By the 1920s over 300 people called Fortson home. But by the 1950s the mill was moved to Darrington and nature began reclaiming this area.

Continue hiking the Whitehorse Trail reaching 379th Street in about 0.8 mile. Consider walking left here to the Whitehorse Fish Hatchery. You can walk around the rearing ponds and admire some great mountain scenery too. Then either retrace your steps one mile back to the trailhead—or consider walking on the Whitehorse Trail east some more soon passing some great views of Round Mountain, Mount Higgins and Segelsen Ridge. Reach Swede Heaven Road in 0.6 mile. From here the trail continues another 5.5 miles to Darrington. There are a couple of nice sections along the Stillaguamish River as well as a bridged crossing of Squire Creek. Arrange for a shuttle in Darrington and walk the trail one way from Fortson.

For information on lodging and other attractions near the Fortson Ponds visit www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For more information on snow free hikes in Western Washington, check out my Winter Hikes of Western Washington Deck.Winter Hikes Card Deck