Jay Lake — Solitude and camping at Wallace Falls State Park

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: 

Contact: Wallace Falls State Park 

Notes: Discover Pass required; Dogs must be leashed; Camping requires a permit-attain from park prior to trip.

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.

Wallace Falls is one of Washington’s busiest and most popular state parks. You’d be hard pressed to find solitude there even on a rainy day in winter. Yet, while thousands of hikers each month take to trails to the park’s spectacular series of thundering waterfalls, you can still find solitude here. But, you’ll have leave the waterfalls and work for it!

There are miles of trails and old woods roads within this state park and adjacent DNR-property. And several of these routes are 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.

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 and wren 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 DeckGet your copy today!

Lake Cassidy─ADA Trail to a pretty lake along the Centennial Trail

A boardwalk provides access for hikers of all abilities to Lake Cassidy.

A boardwalk provides access for hikers
of all abilities to Lake Cassidy.

Quick Facts:

Location: Marysville

Land Agency: Snohomish County Parks

Roundtrip: 2.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 50 feet

Access: From Marysville (Exit 199 I-5) follow SR 528 for 3.0 miles east to SR 9. Head north on SR 9 for 1.0 mile to junction with 84th Street NE. Turn right (east) and continue for just shy of a 0.5 mile to Getchell Trailhead.

Contact: Snohomish County Parks



Good to Know: Kid-friendly, dog-friendly, ADA-accessible, Snow-free Winter hike

Located just a few miles east of bustling Marysville is 120-plus acre Lake Cassidy, a semi-wild waterway on the suburban fringe. Surrounded by wetlands and hardwood forest, nearly 300 acres along the lake’s northern shores and around nearby Lake Martha are protected as Washington State Fish and Wildlife lands. The lake is accessible by an ADA trail too allowing disabled and physically challenged hikers an opportunity to cast a line in this trout-stocked lake. The ADA trail connects to the paved Centennial Trail allowing for a longer approach and nice family friendly hike.

Disabled hikers can access Lake Cassidy from a trailhead off of 105th Ave NE a quarter mile south of the lake. Permits are required for this trailhead and can be obtained by applying to the Snohomish County Parks Department. For the hike described here, begin at the Getchell Trailhead off of 84th Street NE. Beginning in the defunct railroad community of Getchell, head south on the Centennial Trail through one of the more rural and scenic sections of this popular trail. This former railroad line threads woodlots and remnant farmlands on the edge of suburbia between the city of Snohomish and the Skagit County border. This section to Lake Cassidy is among the wildest along the 29 mile trail. Paved and with little elevation change, this hike is an easy journey for all outdoors lovers including those in wheelchairs.

Within a half mile the trail brushes up against the nearly 300-acre Lake Martha and Lake Cassidy state wildlife lands. This tract protects little Lake Martha with its sphagnum bog as well as much of the eastern shoreline of 123-acre Lake Cassidy, harboring a wide variety of plants and animals including bears, ospreys, eagles, pileated woodpeckers, and a couple of threatened sedges.

After about 1.25 miles of pleasant wandering, reach the Lake Cassidy Interpretive Center, composing of an educational kiosk, picnic area and a sturdy boardwalk projecting into the reed and cattail ringed lake. The lake is large but fairly shallow. A handful of structures occupy the far shore, but much of this body of water remains in an undeveloped state. Sit for awhile and scan the reeds for birds. If you feel like stretching your legs out a little more, continue walking south on the Centennial Trail towards Lake Stevens.


For information on lodging and other attractions near Lake Cassidy visit www.snohomish.org.

For infomation on other great snow-free hikes and walks nearby, consult my Urban Trails Bellingham book!


Meadowdale Beach—Reach the Beach through an Emerald Gulch

Follow Lunds Creek through a deep ravine to a beautiful beach

Follow Lunds Creek through a deep ravine to a beautiful beach

Quick Facts:

Location: Lynnwood

Land Agency: Snohomish County Parks

Roundtrip: 2.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 425 feet

Contact: Snohomish County Parks

Special Notes: Dogs must be leashed; park open 7 am to dusk: do not park on road

Access: From Everett, head 10 miles south on I-5 to exit 183. Follow 164th Street SW west for 1.5 miles bearing left onto 44th Ave W to a traffic light. Turn right onto 168th Street SW and continue west passing SR 99. After .5 mile turn right onto 52nd Ave W. In another half mile turn left onto 160th Street SW. In .25 mile turn right on 56th Ave W. In another .25 mile turn left onto 156th Street SW following to park entrance.

Good to know: Kid-friendly, dog-friendly, snow-free winter hike, beach walking, 


Hike through a deep green ravine cradling a salmon-spawning stream to a quiet Puget Sound beach granting sweeping views of Whidbey Island and the Olympic Mountains. Meadowdale Beach Park’s Lunds Gulch forms a green swath in heavily suburbanized south Snohomish County. The trail begins in a small grassy opening on a forested bluff. It immediately enters a mature forest of Douglas-fir and wastes no time dropping more than 400-feet into the emerald ravine. Sturdy steps constructed by the Washington Trails Association help you negotiate the descent.

Big boughs of ferns line the way. So do hefty cedar and hemlock stumps, testaments to the giants that once flourished here before pioneering loggers “discovered” them. Not all of the big trees here were harvested though; a few giant firs, cottonwoods, and Sitka spruce still stand tall within the lush gulch. John Lund first homesteaded this rugged tract back in 1878. It is nicely reverting back to its wilder days. The trail crosses some side creeks eventually coming alongside the small creek named after Lund. The waterway makes a short journey to the sound. But it’s an important run supporting spawning salmon. Come in the fall to see them.

In one mile the trail comes to a junction. The path left leads to the ranger’s residence and to picnic tables scattered about on a manicured lawn. You’ll find a restroom here, too. Much of this area once sported a country club complete with an Olympic-sized swimming pool and bath houses. In 1968 the county parks department acquired this property and began transforming it into a topnotch natural and recreational gem. Continue hiking straight along the creek and through forest eventually coming to a railroad underpass. Now make tracks under the tracks to reach the beach. When the tide is low you can roam for some distance on extensive flats. Rest on a driftwood log, comb the shore, and enjoy a splendid view of Whidbey Island and the Olympic Mountains. Sunsets are supreme here, but don’t forget to allot yourself some daylight for the return to your vehicle.


For information on lodging and other attractions near Meadowdale Beach visit www.snohomish.org

For detailed information on lots of hikes you can do year round in the Puget Sound Area, consult one of my Urban Trails guidebooks. Urban Trails Everett will be released later this year. Meanwhile pick up a copy of Urban Trails Bellingham and hit the trail!Get your copy today!

Fortson Ponds –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: Mountain Loop Highway 111SX

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 pretty mill ponds. While the concrete walls of the old mill are marred in graffiti and not exactly pleasing to the eye—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 purchased by Washington Fish and Wildlife and Snohomish County Parks now manages a new trailhead here for the adjacent Whitehorse Trail. Work crews have been busy working on opening a new section of this 27 mile long trail-in-the-works that will eventually connect with the Centennial Trail in Arlington. With this 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 trailhead, walk north on a wide path just to the left of the old mill ruins. Soon come to the Whitehorse Trail. Now walk right crossing a creek on a bridge. Soon afterward 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 more than 100 people. By the 1920s more than 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 Ave NE 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 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 information on many nearby snow free hiking destinations, consult my new Urban Trails Bellingham (Mountaineers Book). Urban Trails Everett will be released later this year!

River Meadows Park─Wander along the Stillaguamish River

Quick Facts:

Location: South Fork Stillaguamish River, near Arlington

Land Agency: Snohomish County Parks

Roundtrip: 2.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 150 feet

Contact: Snohomish County Parks

Notes: Dogs must be leashed.

Access: From Exit 208 on I-5 head east on SR 530 to Arlington. One mile beyond junction with SR 9 (just after crossing the South Fork Stillaguamish River) turn right at light onto Arlington Heights Road. Proceed 1.0 mile turning right onto Jordan Road. Continue for 3.0 more miles to park entrance. Turn right and follow park road to large parking area near picnic and camping area by the river.

Good to know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow-free winter hiking, camping


A rare blanket of light snow adds an extra layer of beauty to the river.

One of Snohomish County Parks’ loveliest properties, River Meadows Park offers delightful year round hiking and camping. With more than 6.0 miles of trails traversing woodlots and fallow fields, you can easily spend an entire day wandering through this 150-acre former homestead and farm. And you can easily spend the night here too—and in relative comfort thanks to the park’s  Yurt Village. Developed in 2009 in an old orchard on a terrace above the Great Meadow, head right out on the park’s charming trail system from one of six yurts. These sturdy structures will provide you with a warm and dry retreat before and after your hike.

Now, don’t let a brisk late fall or winter day keep you away from the trails. Winter is one of the best times to explore this park with low visitation. Often in summer the park’s fields are abuzz with children playing, while the park’s riverfront is lined with anglers and waders. The trails however rarely get crowded and in winter they offer plenty of quiet roaming.

For a good round trip hike through the park touching upon many of its attractions, try this 2.5 mile route beginning north along the river from the picnic-camping area. Occupying a large bend on the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River, the park offers over one mile of river frontage. And while it’s been decades since the surrounding meadows have been tilled or grazed, abundant evidence of the park’s agrarian past lie scattered throughout the property. These vestiges of simpler times add to the charm of this pastoral park.


Salmon are the focus of the annual Stillaguamish Festival of the River.

Under lofty cedars and cottonwoods the trail rounds the river bend near a big gravel bar. Marvel at the towering bluffs across the bend. Scan tree tops for eagles. Watch the swiftly moving river for mergansers riding the rapids and kingfishers darting the current.

Now through a belt of towering trees separating the river from the Great Meadow, continue following the wide trail coming to a junction. Left continues downstream to Jordan Creek. Head right to traverse the Great Meadow where side trails branch left to the Yurt Village and ranger station. Cross the park access road and follow an old road-turned trail through the park’s Upland Woods. Then descend a small bluff arriving in the Terrace Meadow back along the South Fork Stillaguamish.From here follow the river once again downstream. Beneath big cedars and along the pretty Funnel Meadow soon return to the day-use area.

Consider a return to the park in spring and plan on coming back in August too for the annual Stillaguamish Festival of the River.

For information on lodging and other attractions near River Meadows, visit www.snohomish.org.

For more information on snow free hiking destinations in Western Washington, pick up a copy of my Winter Hikes of Western Washington Card DeckWinter Hikes Card Deck