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