Index Town Wall –Steep and stunning hike above the Forks of the Sky


Stunning view of Index and the rugged peaks of the Wild Sky Wilderness

Quick Facts:

Location: Skykomish River Valley near Index

Land Agency: Washington State Parks

Roundtrip: 2.6 miles

Elevation gain: 1,300 feet

Green Trails Maps: Alpine Lakes Stevens Pass Map 176S

Contact: Washington State Parks 

Notes: Discover Pass required; Dogs must be leashed

Access: From Everett follow US 2 east for 36 miles. Turn left onto North Fork Road (Index-Galena Road) and continue for 1.0 mile. Turn left onto 5th street. Cross river into Index and proceed to second stop sign turning left onto Index Ave. Follow for  .3 mile (road bends south to become 2nd Street) to stop sign. Turn right onto Ave A and follow .6 mile (road becomes Reiter Road) to parking area on right.

Good to Know:  snow-free winter hike, exceptional view; steep drop-off -exercise caution especially with children and dogs, practice Leave No Trace Principles 



The Index Town Wall is imposing from below.The only landmark more stunning and impressive rising above the little town of Index than Mount Index, is the Index Town Wall. Forming a 1,200-foot backdrop of sheer granite cliffs, the Index Town Wall is imposing and awe inspiring. Renown among climbers for its 50-plus routes and some of the best vertical in the Northwest, a not-so-well known hiking trail also leads to its top.

The only landmark more stunning and impressive rising above the little town of Index than Mount Index, is the Index Town Wall. Forming a 1,200-foot backdrop of sheer granite cliffs, the Index Town Wall is imposing and awe inspiring. Renown among climbers for its 50-plus routes and some of the best vertical in the Northwest, a not-so-well known hiking trail also leads to its top.

Washington State Parks has acquired much of the wall guaranteeing public access. Part of the Forks of the Sky State Park, this fairly new park consists of more than 1,400 acres at the confluence of the Skykomish River and its North Fork. Paddlers, picnickers, and anglers have much to be thankful too with this park. While it is a separate park unit, it is currently being administered by Wallace Falls State Park.

From the parking area, walk up a service road and immediately cross (use caution) a set of railroad tracks. Straight ahead a series of climber paths diverge through a new addition of the park, thanks to the Bullitt Foundation. Continue right on the service road (staying off the tracks as it is an active line) listening to climbers clambering above. About a .25 mile from the parking area you’ll come to a picnic table in front of a big steel door in the cliff face. Behind this door is a 200 foot bore created to test a machine used for tunneling under the English Channel.

Locate the trail to the top of the Index Wall to the right of the picnic table at forest edge. While unmarked—it’s obvious. Now begin a steep grunt, ascending nearly 1,300 feet in just over one mile. The trail is fairly well built though, marching up steep slopes; and ducking under, around and over overhanging ledges. The entire way is forested and not exposed. Climbing paths diverge from the main path and you’ll want to avoid these lest ending up in a spot you’d rather not be. Just keep following well placed arrowed signs leading the way.


The “mystery” door!

After 1.2 miles you’ll reach an old rocky skid road that doubles as a creek bed. Stay to the right of a cable fence and follow this rocky route .1 mile to the top of the wall. Exercise extreme caution approaching the edge of the cliff. Then clutch your heart and catch your breath taking in an absolutely amazing view. Gaze directly below at the town of Index perched along the North Fork of the Skykomish River against a dramatic cloud piercing backdrop of Wild Sky Wilderness Peaks; Gunn, Merchant and Baring. Stay for awhile fully mesmerized—you earned this view!

 For information on lodging and other attractions near the Index Town Wall, visit www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For detailed information on other hikes nearby and along US 2 from Everett to Wenatchee, consult my Day Hiking Central Cascades guidebook.

125 hikes from Everett to Wenatchee!

125 hikes from Everett to Wenatchee!


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The Hummocks — Hike through the former heart of Mount St. Helens

DSC00085Quick Facts:

Location: Spirit Lake Highway, Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument

Land Agency: National Forest Service

Roundtrip: 2.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 250 feet

Contact: Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument

Green Trails Map: Mount St Helens 332S

Notes: Northwest Forest Pass (or interagency pass) required; dogs prohibited; off trail travel prohibited. Practice Leave No Trace Principles

Access: From Castle Rock follow SR 504 east for 45 miles to trailhead.

Good to Know: interpretive, wildflowers in season, exceptional views

Stroll through a series of steep sided hills formed by debris avalanche deposits from Mount St Helens’ 1980 eruption. The Hummocks is a fascinating landscape of towering colorful gravel mounds and lush wildlife-rich pocket ponds. What was once mature forest is now a plain of jumbled rock and ash deposits up to 500 feet high, nascent wetlands and pioneer forest.

The trail is a loop, so head in either direction, although I prefer clockwise for the interpretive signs. The wide and well-groomed trail goes up and down the lumpy landscape skirting ponds and marshes in the folds. In the warmer months, bugs, birds, and amphibians are prolific contributing to an ensemble of soothing outdoor melodies. Try to imagine how this land before you changed so radically. When Mount St Helens erupted, its north face collapsed into an immense avalanche sending parts of the mountain down valley. You are now standing on the former heart of the volcano.

Reach a junction with the Boundary Trail in a grassy plain beneath the watchful eye of St. Helens. Continue right across a DSC00092landscape remarkably resembling a badlands descending to a big wetland pool flanked with pioneering alders. The way then travels over a bluff on the North Fork of the Toutle River. Enjoy excellent views of the wide channeled river and of the mountain that altered this valley. Then cross and follow a creek coming to a junction. The short spur left leads to good river bluff top view out to Elk Rock.

The loop continues right now following a creek uphill. Make a couple of bridged crossings of it and come to a big marshy area. Then keep hiking passing a grassy flat and coming to another large wetland. Finish up the loop with a small climb through an alder forest.


For detailed information on this hike and nearly 100 others in and around Mount St. Helens, consult my (co-written with Aaron TheisenDay Hiking Mount St. Helens (Mountaineers Books). This guide is the most comprehensive book to Mount St. Helens, covering every trail in the monument including winter trails; and trails within the Dark Divide, Lewis River Valley, and Siouxon Creek Roadless area. Pick up your copy today!download

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


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

Beaver Lake Loop–wetland wonderland on Lord Hill


A placid Beaver Lake on a beautiful winter’s day.

Location: Lord Hill Park near Snohomish

Land Agency: Snohomish County Parks

Roundtrip: 2.2 miles

High Point: 650 feet

Elevation gain: 200 feet

Difficulty: easy

Contact: Snohomish County Parks

Notes: Dogs must be on leash; Map available online

Access:  From Everett, head east on US 2 for 8.0 miles and take 88th Street SE Exit. Turn right onto 88th Street SE (which eventually becomes 2nd Street) and drive 0.6 mile. Then turn left onto Lincoln Ave which becomes the Old Snohomish-Monroe Highway and drive for 2.7 miles. Next turn right onto 127th Ave SE and proceed for 1.6 miles to park entrance and trailhead on your left.

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

The crown jewel of the Snohomish County Park system, Lord Hill contains over 1,460 acres of undeveloped ridge along the 029Snohomish River between the bustling communities of Snohomish and Monroe. Traversed by more than 30 miles of trails and several old woods roads, the park offers plenty of good hiking options. Enjoy quiet woodland walks, wetlands explorations, riverside rambling, and a couple of scenic viewpoints, too. A popular and fairly easy trip and one that can be enjoyed by hikers of all ages and abilities is the 2.2 mile Beaver Lake Loop.

From the main parking area and trailhead set out on a fine wide path for .4 mile gently dropping to a junction. You’ll be returning on the path to the right, so head left through a tunnel of alders. After another .4 mile reach a junction with the Pipeline Trail, a main thoroughfare through the park along a buried pipeline. Marshy wildlife rich Beaver Lake (not quite a lake actually) lies just to the left. Scan the reeds and snags for avian life.

Now continue south along the lake’s shore and after another .3 mile reach a four way junction. The Pipeline Trail continues straight ahead remaining high on a forested ridge.  The trail left heads to Temple Pond, a nice one mile side trip loop. Check it out or head right on the Pipeline Cut-off Trail reaching the park’s Main Trail after another .1 mile.

Now follow this trail right avoiding side trails and return back to the trailhead after 1.0 mile. This loop is a good choice any time of year, but it particularly makes for a good late fall or winter walk. And when the rare occurrence of a blanketing snow covers the park, the Beaver Lake Loop makes for an excellent introductory snowshoe route. The wide trail and gentle grades extends a friendly welcome to novice snowshoers and cross-country skiers.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Beaver Lake visit

For more information on snow free winter hikes in western Washington consult my Winter Hikes of Western Washington deck.

Get your copy today!

Get your copy today!

Swauk Forest Discovery Trail—Golden forest beneath the Diamond Head

Discover the beauty of larches in autumn along this trail

Discover the beauty of larches in autumn along this trail

Quick Facts:

Location: Blewett Pass

Land Agency: National Forest Service

Roundtrip: 2.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 350 feet

Green Trails Map: Wenatchee/ Mission Ridge, WA- No 211S

Contact: Cle Elum Ranger District: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest 

Access: From Cle Elum follow WA 970 east for 7.0 miles to US 97. Continue north on US 97 for 14.0 miles to Blewett Pass. Turn right onto FR 9716 and proceed .4 mile to trailhead.

Notes: NW Forest Pass or Interagency Pass required.

Delightful to hike any season, in autumn the Swauk Forest Discovery Trail is golden thanks to its abundance of western larches. But there are other trees lining this family friendly loop trail, too. And you can learn all about them and the practice of silviculture (forest management) at numerous interpretive signs along the way.

Despite being located just off of Blewett Pass on busy US 97, this well developed trail is lightly visited (and unfortunately sees 095little maintenance-so expect some blowdowns). Constructed by the Northwest Youth Corp in 1992, the Swauk Forest Discovery Trail is meant to enlighten visitors on forest management practices and how they are implemented by the Forest Service. Pamphlets may be available at the trailhead kiosk for you to take along. And while you may not want to make 25 stops along the way to learn about forestry practices, do definitely stop at the tree identification plaques.

The trail contours a ridge above the highway meandering through patches of forest in varying age categories. At about .6 mile enjoy a nice view west to Teanaway Ridge. Then traverse a sunny slope of ponderosa pines. Gradually climb, round a ridge and head east watching for deer along the way and enjoying excellent views out to Diamond Head. In autumn larches set this locally prominent peak aglow.

At 1.4 miles reach a junction. Turn left to shorten your trip or continue right for the best part. Cross FR 9717 and wind your way up to a 4,550-foot knoll with excellent views north to Tronsen Ridge, west to Mount Stuart and the Enchantment Range and south all the way to Mount Rainier. Now close the loop by meandering through impressive ponderosa pine groves returning to the trailhead in 2.8 miles. Consider a return trip in winter with your snowshoes.

For more information on this hike and 124 others nearby;

Check out my Central Cascades Day Hiking book!


Robe Canyon─Follow a silenced railroad into a thundering chasm

Robe Canyon is a historically and scenically fascinating place to hike

Robe Canyon is a historically and scenically fascinating place to hike

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls

Land Agency: Snohomish County Parks

Roundtrip: 2.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 300 feet

Green trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway 111SX

Access: From Granite Falls follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 7.0 miles to trailhead located on your right, directly across from Forest Road 41. Park on road shoulder.

Note: Dogs must be leashed. Trail along the river is not recommended for young children.

Contact: Snohomish County Parks and Recreation Department

Good to know: historic, snow-free winter hike, dog-friendly

Constructed almost entirely by the Volunteers for Outdoor Washington, this trail drops 300 feet off of the bluff via a series of switchbacks delivering you to a lush river bottom complete with big cedars, cottonwoods, Sitka spruce, and moss-draped maples. Pass by an old town site that once sported a couple of mills, freight sheds, and a lime kiln. You’ll have a hard time 048imagining now that all of this once stood here among all of this greenery.

Now come up along the river. In periods of heavy rainfall it bellows and roars. Signs of its strength lie all around you, from undercut banks to toppled trees to silted flats. The trail continues along the wild waterway where occasional glimpses may be had of surrounding peaks. But the real interest lies just ahead where the river enters Robe Canyon.

Here follow the careening river on the old rail grade blasted into ledges above the 034frothing water. Admire the craftsmanship of the masonry that helped make it possible for a transportation line to be built through such a forbidding place. At 1.2 miles, a rock slide prohibits further exploration. Two intact railroad tunnels lie just ahead and hopefully the County Parks Department will someday make them accessible by reconstructing this damaged section of trail. It is extremely dangerous to proceed farther. So for now, sit and linger here admiring the crashing river and listening to the voices of the past echoing off of the canyon walls.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Robe Canyon visit


For more information on this hike and other snow-free hiking destinations in Western Washington, pick up a copy of my Winter Hikes of Western Washington deck.Winter Hikes Card Deck