Location: Mountain Loop Highway
Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Roundtrip: 3.8 miles
Elevation gain: 100 feet
Green Trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway 111SX
Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
Access: From Darrington, follow Mountain Loop Highway for 9.0 miles to trailhead (located on right just after crossing Sauk River).
Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow free winter hiking; wildlife watching, historic
This is an easy near-level family-friendly trail along the Wild and Scenic Sauk River to a series of beaver ponds in an old slough. The way follows an old logging railroad grade still harboring old ties and trestle remains. En route you’ll pass through a grove of ancient cedars left by the early loggers. The Beaver Lake Trail is a birdwatchers delight too, providing ample opportunities to scan the river and surrounding wetlands for eagles, dippers, mergansers and kingfishers.
Start on a bluff above the confluence of the Sauk and White Chuck Rivers. The way dips slightly from the parking lot onto the old logging railway grade. Rotting trestles can be seen just to the right. On a near straight-away the trail cuts through a thick stand of second growth hemlocks and a tunnel of alders. You’ll pass a spur leading right to a river gauging station. Feel free to check it out if you’d like. Then continue down the trail soon swinging left onto a high bank. Here enjoy a good view out to Mount Pugh and the Monte Cristo Peaks while the Sauk River churns and roars below.
The mighty river continuously pounds the gravel-layered riverbank causing portions of the shoreline hugging trail to slump. Storms in 2006 took out sections of the trail here, but volunteer work crews from the Washington Trails Association repaired the damaged tread. Pick up the old rail grade again and then follow a new reroute around a muddy section and old puncheon. After passing through patches of skunk-cabbage (return in spring for a pungent hike) come to a delightful bridge crossing Beaver Lake. Okay, it’s more of a pond than a lake—an old slough actually. Check out the bridge more carefully inspecting its span built upon some of the original railroad trestles. Pause to look and listen for bird activity. And of course look for signs of beaver—a dam, a hut, perhaps even one of these industrious rodents?
Beyond Beaver Lake, the trail traverses an impressive old-growth cedar grove. The trees are remarkable in size and girth, but also in the fact that they were spared the axe. The trail continues for a short way beyond terminating at an impassible washout along the Sauk River. Pause and look out across the river to Mount Forgotten. When the sun is out, this is a nice spot to sit on a log and soak up some warmth and scenery. Otherwise, start retracing your steps back to your start.
For information on lodging and other attractions near Beaver Lake, visit www.snohomish.org
For more detailed information on this hike and 124 others throughout the region, pick up a copy of my detailed and best-selling Day Hiking North Cascades.
For a great cup of coffee and snack after your hike,
visit the Mountain Loop Books and Coffee in Darrington.