Riverview Wildlife Refuge –Quiet bird sanctuary on the Snohomish River

The trail follows the Snohomish River passing beneath the SR 9 bridge.

The trail follows the Snohomish River passing beneath the SR 9 bridge.

Quick Facts

Location: City of Snohomish

Land Agency: Snohomish Department of Parks and Volunteer Programs

Roundtrip: 2.2 miles

Elevation gain: minimal

Difficulty: Easy

Contact: City of Snohomish and Pilchuck Audubon Society

Notes: Dogs must be on leash (and may not be allowed in the near future).
Access:  From Everett head east on US 2 to SR 9. Then follow SR 9 south exiting onto 2nd Street. Turn left and head east 0.1 mile bearing right onto 1st Street. After another 0.1 mile, park on right aside a paved trail.

Good to know: kid-friendly, bird watching, snow-free winter hiking



Big cottonwoods grow along the Snohomish River.

The small city of Snohomish sits on the banks of the Snohomish River surrounded by a lush floodplain. Years ago the city developed a short paved path along the river near its historic downtown core. It’s a beautiful walk and has become quite popular with residents and visitors alike. But the trail is short and the city is surrounded by miles of undeveloped riverfront prompting community visionaries to look into expanding the trail system. And a few years ago the expansion began with the opening of the Riverview Wildlife Refuge.

Much of the refuge sits to the west of the city’s water treatment plant occupying lands formerly used as treatment lagoons. Today this area is a grassy marsh surrounded by towering cottonwoods. Bird life and small mammals are abundant in the refuge. The area is accessed by a trail from 1st street to a path along a river dike. The refuge is being jointly managed by the city and the Pilchuck Audubon Society. They have recently released a master plan for the property calling for new trails and improvements. But there is no need to wait for the future as the area currently offers nice walking opportunities.

Starting from the parking area follow the paved path west toward a city waterworks building adorned with metal swimming salmon. Then head left on a gravel path passing by a small wetland sporting a cottonwood grove. The way then soon comes to the riverbank. Now continue west passing under the 1959-built SR 9 bridge. At .4 mile come to the water treatment lagoons. Stop and peer through fencing to the pools where a wide array of waterfowl can usually be sighted.


Late afternoon sunlight filtered by puffy clouds.

Then continue walking along the dike soon reaching the refuge. Stay on the elevated walkway and do not venture into the marsh as bio solids have accumulated over the years into the marsh. Continue walking along the marshy wetland watching for birds and small critters. Some large cottonwoods provide shade along the way. There is some good viewing too of the river and the farms and hills beyond. Cross over an old stone spillway and come to a junction at .9 mile. You can make a small loop here or continue on a dike another .2 mile east coming to a gate at the water treatment plant. This section of trail not only offers more views of the marsh, but also of the wildlife-rich Cemetery Creek wetlands to the north. Return the way you came and do come back in the future as the area is improved. Plans for the refuge not only include new trails and bridges, but also elevated mounds that will offer excellent birdwatching vantages.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Riverview Wildlife Sanctuary visit www.snohomish.org


For more information on other snow free winter and spring hikes nearby, consult my Winter Hikes of Western Washington deck. 

Get your copy today!

Get your copy today!

Big Ditch─Dig in for some excellent swan and snow geese viewing

A hiker searches the flats for snow geese and snowy owls.

A hiker searches the flats for snow geese and snowy owls.

Quick Facts

Location: Skagit Bay, Stanwood

Land Agency: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Roundtrip: 3.6 miles

Elevation Gain: None

Access: From Exit 212 on I-5 head west on SR 532 for five miles to the town of Stanwood. Turn right onto the Pioneer Highway and proceed for 2.6 miles to the junction with the Old Pacific Highway. Turn left crossing railroad tracks and immediately come to a junction with a gravel road veering right. Follow the heavily-pot-holed road for 0.6 mile to large parking area and trailhead.

Notes: Discover Pass required; dogs must be leashed; area is open to hunting from October through January.

Contact: Skagit Wildlife Area

Hike along an old channel built decades ago to keep reclaimed croplands on the Skagit River Delta from being inundated by 032tidewaters. Forming a demarcation line between productive farmlands and wildlife-rich tidal flats, the Big Ditch is “entrenched” with scenic beauty and birdlife. The Big Ditch lies within the 13,000-acre Skagit Bay Estuary Unit of the Skagit Wildlife Area and is open to the public. It is one of the best places in Snohomish and Skagit Counties for bird watching. Its level terrain makes it kid-friendly and inviting to hikers of all abilities. Unfortunately maintenance has been lacking and the way may be a little overgrown in spots–so wear adequate clothing,

Start your hike off by setting out north on a dike separating tilled flats from tide flats. The expansive saturated mudflats to your left and north are protected within the Skagit Wildlife Area. During the winter months, thousands of snow geese and trumpeter and tundra swans seek refuge here. Their white downy bodies resemble patches of snow against the stark winter landscape of brown reeds and grasses. Snowy owls frequently winter here too.

Continue hiking north along the elevated walkway admiring a landscape that could be right out of the Deep South. In one mile pass a row of shanty hunting cabins perched on pilings along a river channel that appear to be straight out of a Louisiana bayou. But lift your eyes upwards to snowy Mount Baker hovering in the distance above the flats to confirm that this is indeed the Pacific Northwest.

The trail continues beyond the hunter hovels to hug the South Fork of the Skagit. About 1.8 miles from the trailhead reach the Snohomish-Skagit County Line and the turning around point for this hike. Beyond, the dike is privately owned and not open to public use. Retrace your steps back to the parking area. Don’t forget to have your binoculars and a good field guide at hand. However, you shouldn’t have any difficulties identifying the swans and geese gathering on the surrounding grounds.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Big Ditch visit www.snohomish.org.Snohomish-NEWFor more information on other great hikes within the  Skagit Valley, including at nearby Fir Island, consult my soon to be released Urban Trails Bellingham   (Mountaineers Books). You can preorder a copy right now for a great discount!

Big Gulch─New trails and surprises in Mukilteo’s deep ravines


A pair of hikers head deep into the Big Gulch.

Quick Facts

Location: Mukilteo

Land Agency: Mukilteo Parks and Recreation

Contact: Mukilteo Recreation Department

Roundtrip: 4.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 350 feet

Access: From Everett follow SR 526 to SR 525. Turn left (south) on SR 525 and drive .5 mile to 92nd Street. Turn right and then immediately turn left into the 92nd Street Park parking area.

Notes: Dogs must be on leash.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow-free winter hike, urban trail

Once logged for its cedars and firs and slated for a massive refinery, today Big Gulch is a southern Snohomish County greenbelt graced with several miles of trails and offering some fairly wild roaming just minutes from busy Paine Field. The Mukilteo Parks Department along with a slew of volunteers have built and upgraded trails within this big green gully. The trail system has recently been expanded too, offering some decent distance and a loop. Hikers familiar with nearby Meadowdale County Park’s Lunds Gulch will particularly like this hike for its similar features and as a quieter alternative destination.

Once owned by the Port Gamble Lumber Company, the gulch and surrounding bluffs were heavily logged in the early 20th century. But a few big trees were left DSC07374behind in the tight confines of the gulch. In the 1960s the Chevron Oil Company owned the land and proposed a refinery for it. By the 1980s it was slated for the Harbour Pointe development which eventually became part of the city of Mukilteo. While homes and businesses replaced the second and third growth forests on the bluffs, Big Gulch and the Picnic Point Creek drainages (sometimes referred to as the Chevron parklands) remained green.

The growing city finally decided to utilize the gulch for more than just a greenbelt and make it a trail haven. Locate the signed and arched trailhead for Big Gulch at the southeast corner of the 92nd Street Park. Walk a short distance coming to a junction. The trail left heads back to the sidewalk along SR 525. The trail right–the North Fork Trail, utilizes sturdy steps dropping into the gulch. The trail work here is topnotch. The ambience here is wild despite the fact that houses and businesses occupy the bluffs above. Throughout most of the gulch you are unaware of that!

DSC07390Cross Big Gulch Creek on a nice bridge and soon come to a junction with an old road. The way left climbs out of the gulch leading to the Staybridge Suites, an alternative starting point. It also connects with the Library Trail offering a loop. Head right and before coming to a wide bridge immediately come to another junction with the South Fork Trail. You’ll be heading that way eventually. First continue right on the wide West Fork Trail following a sewer line along Big Gulch Creek. Despite the occasional whiff of effluent, the area is pretty wild and the walking quite enjoyable. After crossing a boardwalk, the trail leaves the sewer line and begins to climb above the creek. On new and well built trail traverse steep slopes high above the creek. Pass a couple of viewpoints and slowly descend. Eventually catch a glimpse of the sound before the trail terminates on a service road. Turn around here and retrace your steps one mile to the South Fork Trail junction.

Now head right (south) following a tributary up and out of the gulch. This section of trail is very nice passing big trees and small cascades in the tight gully. The way gradually reclaims lost elevation ending its journey at the Mukilteo Library on Harbour Pointe Road. You can either retrace your steps back to the 92nd Street Park or walk Harbour Pointe Road a short distance turning left onto SR 525 returning to the park on a lovely section of sidewalk that offers glimpses down into the emerald gulch. Or even better, follow the new Library Trail along the Gulch’s rim coming to the old service road. Then turn left here and pick up the North Fork Trail again. Tackle those stairs going up this time and return to your start.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Big Gulch visit www.snohomish.org.Snohomish-NEW

Big Gulch is one of the featured hikes in my FREE Hiking in Snohomish County booklet. Pick up your free copy at a Snohomish County Tourism  Bureau Center or download your copy here.page-0

Looking for other great snow-free hikes in Western Washington? Pick up a copy of my Winter Hikes of Western Washington card deck. You’ll find detailed descriptions including maps to 50 hikes from the Columbia River Gorge to the British Columbia border.

Winter Hikes Card Deck

Whitehorse Trail East–Hike along the North Fork Stilly

Quick Facts:

Location: SR 530 Darrington

Land Agency: Snohomish County Parks

Roundtrip: 11.0 miles

Elevation gain: 120 feet

Much of the Whitehorse Trail hugs the North Fork Stillaguamish River.

Much of the Whitehorse Trail hugs the North Fork Stillaguamish River.

Difficulty: Easy

Contact: Snohomish County Parks

Green Trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway no. 111SX

Notes: Dogs allowed on leash

Access: From Exit 208 on I-5 (Arlington) travel east on SR 530 for 26.5 miles to Swede Heaven Road junction. Turn left and proceed .5 mile to trail and very limited parking. Alternatively you can park at the junction of SR 530 and Swede Heaven Road and walk a pleasant half mile to the trailhead. If you care to start your hike from the Darrington end, find the trailhead near Railroad Avenue.

Good to know: snow free winter hiking; historic; dog-friendly; kid-friendly; open to mountain bikes

Get on board the Whitehorse Trail; eastern Snohomish County’s  emerging long distance rail trail. Like Snohomish County’s 30-mile long Centennial Trail, the Whitehorse Trail promises to be popular with hikers, bicyclists, runners and equestrians. But unlike the Centennial Trail which travels north-south along the suburban fringe of the county, the Whitehorse Trail travels west-east into the wilder, rugged interior of the county. Traveling 27 miles from Arlington to Darrington, much of this trail runs alongside the free flowing North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. Currently, only the easternmost 6 miles are maintained. The westernmost 5 miles are open, but rough. The rest of the trail is closed, but set to open by late this year. The section through the Oso Landslide should be open this spring.

The eastern reaches of this trail, described here offer some of the best scenery along the entire trail. Enjoyable year round, winter is an especially appealing time with a backdrop of snowy mountains and a roaring Stilly River at your side.

A hiker pauses to enjoy the beauty of the river along this quiet rail trail.

A hiker pauses to enjoy the beauty of the river along this quiet rail trail.From Swede Heaven Road, head east into thick forest.  Soon come to a bridged crossing of Moose Creek near its confluence with the North

From Swede Heaven Road, head east into thick forest.  Soon come to a bridged crossing of Moose Creek near its confluence with the North 041Fork Stilly. About a mile farther come to Squire Creek, crossing it on an attractive trestle.  Just beyond, finally catch some glimpses of the North Fork Stilly. Push on though, for the river eventually fully reveals itself. Brushing right up against the rippling waterway enjoy excellent views of Mount Higgins, Round Mountain, and Segelsen Ridge.

The trail continues eastward across the grounds of the Darrington Bluegrass Music Park. In sunny weather the ground’s lawns invite resting and napping. But don’t lounge too long for there is more trail to travel. The Whitehorse Trail continues towards Darrington crossing a power line swath before reentering forest and traversing lush wetlands. Enjoy nice views here of surrounding peaks including the trail’s namesake, imposing glacier-clad 6,852-foot Whitehorse Mountain.

Approaching town, the trail edges up against a logging yard before it terminates near an old Forest Service barn. Begin the five and a half mile journey back to your vehicle or walk a few minutes down Price Street to visit the Darrington Ranger Station before making your return.

For information on lodging and other attractions near the Whitehorse Trail visit www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For more information on other snow free hiking destinations in Western Washington, consult my Winter Hikes of Western Washington card deck (Mountaineers Books) 

Get your copy today!

Get your copy today!

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



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!