River Trail–Big maples and hidden Snohomish riverfront at Lord Hill

 

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A quiet and remote section of the Snohomish River at the end of the River Trail.

Quick Facts:

Location: Snohomish Valley

Land Agency: Snohomish County Parks

Roundtrip: 5.2 miles

Elevation gain: 650 feet

Contact: Snohomish County Parks 

Map: Snohomish County Parks

Notes: Dogs permitted on leash

Good to know: Dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow-free winter hike, good trail running

Access:  From Everett follow US 2 to SR 9. Head south on SR 9 and exit onto 2nd Street in Snohomish. Proceed east for a one mile; then turn right onto Lincoln Ave which becomes the Old Snohomish-Monroe Highway. After 2.7 miles turn right (south) onto 127th Ave SE and proceed for about 1.6 miles to park entrance and trailhead.

Lord Hill Regional Park consists of 1,463-acres of forested slopes, lush ravines, rocky outcroppings, scads of wetland ponds, and a wild undeveloped stretch of the Snohomish River. It’s an immense natural area just minutes from Everett with over eleven miles of trails and several more miles of old woods road. Originally homesteaded in the 1880s by Mitchell Lord, the land was farmed before being acquired by the Department of Natural Resources. In the 1980s the land was transferred to Snohomish County Parks becoming its largest property. Lord Hill Park provides countless hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and trail running options. The hike to the Snohomish River via the River Trail is one of the park’s wilder, lonelier, and more challenging options.

This is a reverse climb hike with most of the elevation gain attained on the return, so plan accordingly and save some energy.  012From the main trailhead high on the western shoulder of Lord Hill follow the main trail through a cool forest of big trees, dropping into a marshy depression.  At .4 mile, come to a junction with the Beaver Lake Trail. Turn right continuing on the Main Trail avoiding all side trails. At 1.6 miles, come to a junction with the River Trail.

Take it and soon come to another junction. The trail left, the River Trail Cut-off makes for an alternative approach. It provides access to a small unnamed pond and the Quarry Trail before rejoining the River Trail. Staying right on the River Trail, continue losing elevation.  Bear left where a road leads right to private property. The trail then soon narrows and gets a bit rougher. After rejoining the River Trail Cut-off, it drops into a lush emerald ravine. Weave through giant moss and fern draped maples before emerging on a sandy bank above the Snohomish River.

When the water level is low, it is possible to walk out on gravel bars along the river. If the river is running high, enjoy it from the bank, finding a sun-kissed log to rest upon. No matter the river’s level however, you’ll be treated to a wild undeveloped stretch of this important waterway. You’re not too far from the where the river is formed at the confluence of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie Rivers! That water rushing before you has come from quite a large watershed draining many a mountain valley in the Cascades. During the rainy months the volume is quite impressive.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Lord Hill visit www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For more information on this hike and others nearby check out my Day Hiking Central Cascades book

125 hikes from Everett to Wenatchee!

125 hikes from Everett to Wenatchee!

 

Sasquatch Loop — Snowshoe to a Snotel on Mount St. Helens

 

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A snowshoer checks out the June Lake Snotel.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument

Land Agency: Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Roundtrip: 9.9 miles

Elevation gain: 1,000 feet

Contact: Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument 

Green Trails Map: Green Trails Mount St Helens 332S

Notes: Sno-park Pass required. Do not snowshoe in cross-country ski tracks and be aware of snowmobiles on FR 83.

Access: From Woodland (Exit 21 on I-5) follow SR 503 east for 29 miles to Cougar. Then continue east on SR 503 (which becomes FR 90) for 7.0 miles turning left onto FR 83. Follow this good paved road 6.0 miles to large Marble Mountain Sno-Park.

Good to Know: kid-friendly, cross-country skiing,

 

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Snowshoeing the Sasquatch Trail.

Strap on your snowshoes (or x-country skis) and traverse an open forest on a gentle bluff at the base of Mount St Helens. Catch some good glimpses of the nearby snowy volcano as well as other distant volcanoes. The Sasquatch Trails are part of a complex of winter trails on Mount St Helens’ south slopes. Situated away from avalanche zones and reached by a good paved road, they provide excellent, safe, convenient and family-friendly winter recreation.

While the Sasquatch Trails are open to both skiers and snowshoers; if you’re snowshoeing, remember not to walk in ski tracks. The trails are fairly wide, so there’s plenty of room for everyone. From the humongous trailhead parking lot, head east on the Pine Marten Trail or snow-covered FR 83 (opened to snowmobiles) for 1.8 miles to the start of the Sasquatch Trail Network.  Then head left on the Sasquatch Trail following on old road track and soon coming to a junction.  The old road-track continues right to eventually meet back up with the Sasquatch trail before continuing farther to terminate at FR 83.

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Mount Adams viewed from the Sasquatch Trail.

It’s more interesting (and challenging) to go left. Start climbing and reach a junction at 3.0 miles. You’ll be returning right—so head left through open forest providing views to St Helens and the Indian Heaven Country. Pass the June Lake Snotel site (elev. 3440 feet), one of many stations throughout the American west used for measuring snow packs and predicting water supply forecasts. The trail continues west through meadows before swinging north passing a good view of St Helens. The way then bends east traversing pocket meadows before gently descending.

Round a creek basin and continue through mature forest reaching an old road junction. It’s possible to follow the old track left towards the Worm Flows. The trail however follows the track right through an old harvest area reaching a junction at 6.0 miles. You can continue straight to a junction and then turn right on the lower loop to return to the first junction. But it’s more interesting turning right here on the Middle Loop instead.

Gradually ascend through open forest and wetlands passing some decent views of Mount St Helens and one good view of Mount Adams. Eventually reach a familiar junction. Turn left here and enjoy the downhill back to the Sno-Park, retracing the first 3.0 miles of your route.

For detailed information on this hike and nearly 100 others in and around Mount St. Helens, consult my (co-written with Aaron Theisen) Day Hiking Mount St. Helens (Mountaineers Books). This guide, published in 2015 is the most comprehensive book to Mount St. Helens, covering every trail in the monument including winter trails. Pick up your copy today!download

For information on other things to do in the area and on where to stay, consult Northwest TripFinder.

NWTFmasthead_layers15

 For information on some great programs and events going on at the monument, check out the Mount St. Helens Institute

Kelcema Lake-Satisfying snowshoe trip to ancient forest flanked subalpine lake

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A snowshoer explores the frozen shoreline of Kelcema Lake.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip:  9.6 miles

Elevation gain: 1,600 feet

Green Trails Map: Silverton, WA- No. 110

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest

Access: From Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 23.5 miles to Deer Creek Parking Area.

 

Pretty little Kelcema Lake sits in a subalpine basin surrounded by ancient forest beneath pointy Bald Mountain. Reached by an easy half mile trail, the 23-acre lake is a pretty popular place during the summer months. But when winter casts its snowy shroud on the surrounding mountains, Kelcema is transformed into a much quieter place. With the access road buried in snow, the trip is much longer substantially cutting the number of visitors to the lake.

But don’t let the winter distance discourage you, for the grade is gentle making the trip a great snowshoe or cross-country adventure. From the SnoPark at Deer Creek, follow FR 4052 northward. While a low snowpack often means you can drive this road a little farther—why? The idea is to get some exercise in and this forest road is quite pleasurable to hike. Most of the way is through attractive forest and along Deer Creek. There are some good views too of Bald Mountain and Devils Peak guarding the way.

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Old growth giants flank Kelcema Lake.

At about 2.7 miles you’ll cross a creek that may require some tricky maneuvering when not frozen. Deer Creek is crossed too—twice—but via bridges. At about 3.8 miles the way makes a sharp turn between open slopes on Bald Mountain’s east face. This spot may be prone to avalanches, so assess it for a safe passage and turn around if avalanche potential exists. Otherwise continue onward, snowshoeing another half mile to the well-signed trailhead.

Now head left into luxuriant old growth forest following alongside Deer Creek. The way enters the Boulder River Wilderness, a large swath of wild country that includes prominent peaks Three Fingers and Whitehorse Mountain. Stop to admire some massive cedars before reaching the lake. An open spot near its outlet once housed a Boy Scout Camp. One of its campers was prominent senator and conservationist Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson of Everett. The camp is long gone as well as numerous mines and mining operations in the surrounding ridges and valleys. A century ago, the area was bustling with activity. Today however, except for the sunniest of weekends, Kelcema Lake is a pretty quiet place.

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

For more information on other great hikes off of the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my Day Hiking North Cascades book.0486

Sun Top — snowshoe to a historic lookout in the shadows of Mount Rainier

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Sun Top on a bluebird winter day.

Quick Facts:

Location: White River Valley

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 11.0 miles

Elevation gain: 3,050 feet

Contact: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Green Trails Map: Green Trails Maps – Greenwater no. 238

Notes: Sno-park Pass required. Route is non-groomed and shared with skiers (do not snowshoe on groomed ski trail). Beyond the upper gate the road route crosses an avalanche area that should be avoided during moderate to extreme avalanche warnings and during and after heavy snowfall.

Check avalanche conditions (Northwest Avalanche Center) before departing and know safe backcountry snow travel techniques.

Access: From Enumclaw follow SR 410 for 24.6 miles turning right (just before The Dalles Campground) onto Forest Road 73. Continue for 1.4 miles to Sno-Park.

Good to Know: dog-friendly; exceptional views; historic fire lookout

In summer and fall, the historic fire lookout perched atop 5271-foot Sun Top Mountain is easily reached via a well-graded dsc09523gravel road. But once winter drapes its frosty white shroud upon this peak just north of Mount Rainier, the lookout makes for a challenging and invigorating snowshoeing destination. Depending on how low in the valley the snow falls—and this year it is low—the trip to Sun Top can be up to 11 miles roundtrip with more than 3000 vertical feet of climbing.

Not an easy feat. But it’s worth every frosty pant and calorie burned to stand atop this peak above the White River and bask in sweeping jaw-dropping views of deep emerald valleys, craggy frosty summits, and of course “The Mountain.” On a clear crisp day, Rainier steals the scenic show here. You can practically feel its icy breath upon your Jack Frost kissed cheeks. And Sun Top’s 1933-built fire lookout will captivate you as much as Washington’s iconic mountain.

Throughout the winter and spring months, Sun Top’s summit road is gated in the valley below. And the road is closed to snowmobilers making it strictly the domain of intrepid skiers and snowshoers. Starting from the Sun Top Sno-Park, strap on your snowshoes, pass the gate and come to a junction. The road straight ahead is a near level route through old-growth forests along Huckleberry Creek. It makes for a much easier dsc09575adventure and a great place for kids and neophytes to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. But, the stellar views and heart-pumping workout is left—so head up Forest Road 7315 and immediately commence to climb. Note that Sun Top is a popular skiing destination, too. Be sure not to snowshoe on ski tracks. And keep your dog from mucking up the tracks too. The way is wide enough to accommodate all.

Wind around a Forest Service nursery undulating between old cuts and patches of mature timber. The route steadily climbs, never too steeply, but never letting up either. At just past two miles, you’ll come to a gate and a spur road leading right which may tempt you to explore. But unless the weather is less than ideal with no promise of views from above—save this spur for another day and save your energy and keep marching forward and upward.

After making a sharp turn the route begins wrapping around the peak heading for a saddle on its southern ridge. Occasionally look back and catch a glimpse of the semi-open summit. At 5.0 miles, come to the 4,750-foot saddle. Here the road dissects the Sun Top hiking trail (a great long distance route coveted by mountain bikers and trail runners when snow free) and a spur road continues west to a broad shoulder. If avalanche warnings are in place, do not continue toward the summit and consider instead snowshoeing on the spur for limited views.

If the snow is stable, continue a short distance on the Sun Top road soon coming to yet another gate. Do not continue straight on the road as it crosses a steep open slope prone to avalanches making it very dangerous to traverse. Instead, locate the hiking trail leading left and follow its route switch-backing up the southern slopes of the peak. Plod through open forest granting gorgeous views. Reach the summit road at a sharp bend near a solar panel. Then head right on it for a short distance traveling across the broad open summit taking in spectacular far-reaching views.

At 5.5 miles your journey culminates at the historic fire lookout cabin (one of the few remaining in this region) perched atop the mile high mountain. Now, turn around and face south. Wow! Mount Rainier is right in your face. On a sunny day, its icy façade is nearly blinding. Look east across the deep White River Valley to Crystal Mountain, Castle Mountain, Norse Peak, Pyramid Peak and Kelly Butte. Then face the west admiring the Huckleberry Creek Valley. Beyond its patchwork of logged hillsides are a series of mountains draped in virgin forests protected within the Clearwater Wilderness. Look northward now and sweep the horizon from left to right locating the Olympic Mountains, Mount Stuart and Mount Baker. Finally, if the sun is out, savor it on this summit whose name is solar inspired. There’s nothing like being kissed by the sun on a frozen summit surrounded by a winter wonderland.

For snow free hiking in Western Washington, pick up a copy of my Winter Hikes of Western Washington Card Deck (Mountaineers Books)! It features 50 of the finest snow free trails from the Columbia River Gorge to the British Columbia border.

Get your copy today!

Get your copy today!

For information on where to stay and on other things to do near Sun Top, check out Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15

 

 

 

North Creek Park─Enjoy being “bogged” down for the holidays

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North Creek on a cold winter’s day.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mill Creek

Land Agency: Snohomish County Parks

Roundtrip: 2.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 30 feet

Access: From I-5 Exit 183 follow 164th Street SE east to SR 527. Turn south and follow SR 527 to 183rd Street SE. Turn right (west) and proceed for a 0.5 mile to park entrance on right. Alternatively take Exit 26 on I-405 and follow SR 527 north to 183rd Street SE.

Note: Dogs must be leashed.

Map: Online. Ignore the one at the park showing a loop.

Contact: Snohomish County Parks 

Good to Know: Kid-friendly, dog-friendly, bird watching, snow-free winter hike

Situated in southern Snohomish County surrounded by a sea of urban development, North Creek Park is an island of natural beauty. But this sprawling wetland offers more than just a place for nearby city folk to get a taste of nature. This 85-acre park img_8606protects ecologically important wildlife habitat and helps provide flood control by acting as a giant sponge. Nearly this entire park’s area consists of bog. But have no worries hiking through this saturated landscape, for an extensive boardwalk system allows you easy and dry access into this semi-submerged preserve.

Before hitting the trail, be sure to check out the information kiosk to get a better understanding of the terrain you are about to step foot on. Much of this area was once farmland and North Creek Park was part of the John Bailey Farm. Some of the farm’s structures still stand. Okay, time to explore. The trail immediately leaves terra firma for a 0.75-mile long boardwalk. Comprised of more than 150 fitting sections, this floating trail was extensively rebuilt not too long ago.

Follow the floating boardwalk snaking across the expansive wetland meadow. Interpretive signs along the way provide insight into this special environment. Scrappy willows and a few lone hawthorns punctuate the grasses and reeds. Birdlife is prolific, especially in the spring. Red-winged blackbirds and winter wrens fill the air with their melodious calls. As spring advances, sparrows, warblers, and vireos add their songs. Hawks are copious and you will frequently sight them hovering over the grasses searching for prey.

Herons are especially fond of the North Creek Meadows. A rookery exists in the park’s northwest corner. In 0.3 mile a spur trail heads left 500-feet cutting through cattails and spirea to a peat bog. The main trail continues north through the wetlands complex. In another 0.25 mile another spur trail takes off left; this one leading 500 feet to a lookout close to the main creek channel. Look for beavers and muskrats swimming here in an open channel.

The main trail travels another 0.2 mile north to once again reach dry ground. A couple of hundred feet farther it terminates. Retrace your steps and enjoy the scene all over again looking once more for creatures in the bog. This grassy swale of shallow water teems with life. And back at the trailhead, consider walking the short loop through the picnic area. Here you’ll be impressed with some large Sitka spruce trees.

For information on lodging and other attractions near North Creek, visit www.snohomish.org.Snohomish-NEW

For lots of other snow-free winter hiking options, pick up a copy of my Winter Hikes of Western Washington card deck (Mountaineers Books).

Get your copy today!

Get your copy today!