Christmas Lake─Hike along the Iron Horse Trail to a place of Bad Tidings

A calm "Christmas Creek" flows beneath an old trestle near the old townsite of Edgewick.

A calm “Christmas Creek” flows beneath an old trestle near the old townsite of Edgewick.

Quick Facts:

Location: Snoqualmie Valley near North Bend

Land Agency: Washington State Parks

Roundtrip: 4.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 900 feet

Green Trails Map: Green Trails Rattlesnake Mountain Upper Snoqualmie Valley No. 205S

Access: From Seattle take I-90 east to exit 32 in North Bend turning right (south) onto 436th Ave SE which soon becomes Cedar Falls Road. Follow for 3.1 miles to Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area. Look for large parking lot (located on east side of road) for the Iron Horse Trail.

Note: Dogs must be leashed.

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

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The Green Trails Rattlesnake Mountain Map 205S prominently shows Christmas Lake.

Oregon has its Christmas Valley. New Hampshire and Pennsylvania have a Bethlehem. Alaska even has a North Pole. And here in Washington State, are there any places on the map named for that most wondrous time of the year? Well, we have a Christmas Lake. But don’t think its name was inspired by Peanuts characters skating about humming “Christmas time”—nope this lake was actually named for a tragedy. And little Christmas Lake isn’t exactly a holiday extravaganza of a lake either; it’s more of a marsh.

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Start of the hike at the old Cedar Falls Railroad stop.

So how did this little body of water near Rattlesnake Lake come to be named in honor of one of America’s most beloved holidays? Well, it wasn’t exactly for good tidings, comfort and joy. Little Boxley Creek flooded on December 23, 1918 taking an entire town off of the map. The creek drained Rattlesnake Lake and had earlier been dammed by the City of Seattle for a power project. After weeks of heavy rain, the dam burst sending a surge of water 150 feet wide down the valley towards the logging town of Edgewick. The entire town, mill and all, was destroyed. Miraculously the 60 residents of the community survived but didn’t exactly have a wonderful Christmas Eve the next day. Many of the locals began referring to Boxley Creek as Christmas Creek. The name Boxley remained on the maps for the creek, but the small wetland pond it fed took the Christmas moniker.

Begin your hike on the Iron Horse Trail (also known as the John Wayne Pioneer trail). Follow this former rail line east and within 0.3 mile come to views of Christmas Lake off to your left. It’s a pretty peaceful place these days and not much of a hike. Since you’ve hardly broken a sweat, continue up the Iron Horse Trail another 0.6 mile. Shortly after crossing Boxley (Christmas) Creek on a trestle, look for a signed trail taking off right. Follow this well-defined path for a steep 1.1 miles 800 vertical feet grunt to 1,860-foot Cedar Butte. Find the misspelled geodetic marker and enjoy the view here of the Snoqualmie Valley including little Christmas Lake below. Hopefully all will be calm.

Cedar Butte is one of 50 hikes featured in my Winter Hikes of Western Washington Deck (Mountaineers Books). Check it out for some great suggestions to snow-free hiking destinations.Winter Hikes Card Deck

For other things to do and places to eat in the Snoqualmie Valley, consult NW TripFinder

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Cedar Butte–Bad spelling on the summit and bad tidings at Christmas Lake below

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The infamous “Ceder Butt!” What exactly is a ceder anyway?

Location: Snoqualmie Valley near North Bend

Land Agency: Washington State Parks

Roundtrip: 4.0 miles

Elevation gain: 900 feet

Green Trails Maps: Rattlesnake Mountain Upper Snoqualmie Valley No. 205S

Contact:   Washington State Parks (360) 902-8844

Notes: Discover Pass required; Dogs must be leashed

Access: From Seattle take I-90 east to exit 32 in North Bend turning right (south) onto 436th Ave SE which soon becomes Cedar Falls Road. Follow for 3.1 miles to Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area. Look for large parking lot (located on east side of road) for the Iron Horse Trail.

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

Just a blob of a peak on the Cascade western front, never-the-less little Cedar Butte provides some pretty nice views. Follow a historic rail line before winding your way up the forested butte for a nice look at the terminal moraine heaps left behind from the long-gone Ice Age glaciers. Starting from the Iron Horse State Park, follow a short trail to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Once a long distance rail line, it’s now a long distance rail trail.

Soon pass by shallow Christmas Lake. How did this little body of water come to be named in honor of one of America’s most beloved holidays? Well, it wasn’t exactly for good tidings, comfort and joy. Little Boxley Creek flooded on December 23, 1918 taking an entire town off of the map. The creek which drained Rattlesnake Lake above had earlier been dammed by the City of Seattle for a power project. After weeks of heavy rain, the dam burst sending a surge of water 150 feet wide down the valley towards the logging town of Edgewick. The entire town, mill and all, was destroyed. Miraculously the 60 residents of the community survived but didn’t exactly have a wonderful Christmas Eve the next day. Many of the locals began referring to Boxley Creek as Christmas Creek. The name Boxley remained on the maps for the creek, but the small wetland pond it fed took the Christmas moniker.

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In 1918 it wasn’t very merry at Christmas Lake. Lot’s of joyful trails now in the area-find them on the Green Trails Special Series Rattlesnake Mountain Map 205S.

At 0.7 mile cross a trestle over the infamous Boxley Creek and come to the Cedar Butte trail shortly afterwards. Head right on the good trail through maturing second growth.  Bear right at a junction avoiding the older steeper trail to Cedar Butte and at 1.3 miles reach the Boxley Blowout Overlook, site of where the Cedar River Reservoir “blew-out in 1918 causing devastating flooding. At Saddle Junction bear right climbing steeply to Cedar’s 1,860-foot summit. Take in good views east of the Snoqualmie Valley. But the real treat is locating the summit geodetic marker. Check it out-yep, it reads “Cedar Butt!” Add bad spelling to the bad tidings!

 

Cedar Butte is one of 50 hikes featured in my Winter Hikes of Western Washington deck (Mountaineers Books). Check it out for some great suggestions to snow-free hiking destinations.

For more information on things to do, places to stay, and where to eat in the Snoqualmie Valley consult Northwest Trip Finder.

Thorp Mountain–Crown jewel of Kachess Ridge

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The 1930-built fire lookout was recently refurbished.

Location: Cle Elum River Valley near Salmon La Sac

Land Agency: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Roundtrip: 5.0 miles

High Point: 5,854 feet

Elevation gain: 1,700 feet

Difficulty: moderate

Green Trails Map: Kachess Lake – No. 208

Contact: Cle Elum Ranger District: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (509) 852-1100

Note: FR 4308-120 is rough and brushy in spots

Access: From Cle Elum follow SR 903 (which becomes the Salmon La Sac Road) north for 15.5 miles turning left onto FR 4308 (just past the Cle Elum River Campground).  Follow FR 4308 for 4.8 miles turning right onto FR 4308-120. Follow this rough road for 2.0 miles to the Knox Creek Trailhead.

Good to know: Dog-friendly, kid-friendly, huckleberries, fire lookout

 

There are several ways to get to the still-in-use fire lookout perched on the top of 5,854-foot Thorp Mountain. The Knox Creek Trail is the shortest and like the other trails leading to Thorp, quite scenic. The trail starts high in an open bowl of ferns and flowers and provides viewing nearly nonstop. The way starts off gently with a few long switchbacks before heading more steeply to a small notch on Kachess Ridge. Here among stately hemlocks and abundant huckleberry bushes head right on the Kachess Ridge Trail, dropping about 100 feet before heading up again.

Traverse a high meadow providing excellent views of twinkling Kachess Lake below all the way out to glistening Mount Rainier on the southern horizon. Enjoy good views too west of Meadow Mountain and Mount Margaret. At about 2.0 miles reach a junction with a trail coming up from Thorp Lake—a most worthy side trip or future trip.

Turn left and climb steeply up open meadows and up and around small ledges reaching Thorp’s summit in due time. Check out the 1930-built fire lookout and share conversation with one of its friendly keeps, usually either John Morrow or Lori Gaioss. Take in the spectacular views north of Mount Daniel, the Three Queens, Lemah Mountain and ChikaminPeak. Scan Kachess Ridge and its radiating ridges and contemplate exploring the lesser known trails that grace this lovely corner of the Central Cascades. Don’t to forget to allow some time for huckleberry harvesting on the way back to your vehicle.

For other great hikes to fire lookouts, consult my Day Hiking North Cascades or Day Hiking Central Cascades books.

For information where to stay and play in the Cle Elum area consult Northwest TripFinder

Melakwa Lake–The buzz is out on this great Snoqualmie Pass hike

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Evening light can be quite striking at Melakwa Lake.

Location: Snoqualmie Pass region

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 9.0 miles

High Point: 4,600 feet

Elevation gain: 2,400 feet

Difficulty: difficult

Green Trails Map: Snoqualmie Pass Gateway, WA- No 207S

Contact: North Bend Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest (425) 888-1421

Note: NW Forest Pass required

Access: From Seattle, head east on I-90. Take exit 47 to Denny Creek Road (FR 58) and follow for 2.5 miles to trailhead (just beyond Denny Creek Campground).

Good to know: Dog-friendly, waterfalls, old-growth

 

Perhaps if more hikers knew that Melakwa is Chinook Jargon for mosquito, they’d shy away from this alpine lake near Snoqualmie Pass named for that pesky little insect. But then again, maybe not—for Melakwa Lake sits in a breathtakingly rugged little basin beneath jagged rocky peaks. And while mosquitoes do occasionally buzz around here on warm summer days, the only swarms you’ll probably see will be of those of your fellow hikers. So, get an early start and hopefully the series of waterfalls you’ll pass en route will lure more than a few souls to stop and lounge.

Follow the Denny Creek Trail beneath an elevated I-90; before trudging 2,300 feet up a tight valley alongside cascading Denny Creek crossing and re-crossing it several times. The creek’s constant churning drowns out the drone of freeway traffic. Through thick forest and open avalanche chutes amble along. After passing ever popular for sunning and feet soaking Slide Rock, come to Keekwulee Falls. Chinook for fall down, the creek certainly does that here tumbling 125 feet.

Continue on a steeper grade coming to yet another fine cataract, 150-foot Snowshoe Falls tucked in a tight gorge. Then climb out of the valley to 4,600-foot Hemlock Pass, before dropping one hundred feet to the sparkling mountain lake tucked between two towering rocky peaks. Savor the rugged beauty. Clumps of hardy old-growth mountain hemlocks and slopes of shiny talus flank Melakwa’s shoreline. In early morning and late evening, 6,200-foot-plus Chair and Kaleetan (Chinook for arrowhead) Peaks’ impressive craggy profiles reflect on the lake’s placid waters. If there are any mosquitoes buzzing around, you’ll be too distracted by the alpine splendor before you to notice.

For information on extended trips to surrounding lakes, consult my Backpacking Washington guidebook (Mountaineers Books)

For more information on area attractions and places to stay, consult Northwest TripFinder.

Twin Falls─Pretty pair of plummeting falls on South Fork Snoqualmie River

The lower of the Twin Falls soon comes into view on this hike.

The lower of the Twin Falls soon comes into view on this hike.

Quick Facts

Location: Snoqualmie Pass Area

Land Agency: Washington State Parks

Roundtrip: 3.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 700 feet

Green Trails Maps: Rattlesnake Mountain Upper Snoqualmie Valley No. 205S

Access: From Seattle, take I-90 to exit 34 east of North Bend turning right (south) onto SE Edgewick Road (468th Ave SE). Proceed for 0.5 mile turning left onto SE 159th Street. Continue for 0.5 mile to road end at trailhead in Ollalie State Park.

Notes: Discover Pass required; dogs must be leashed.

Contact: Washington State Parks (360) 902-8844; www.parks.wa.gov

The Twin Falls of Ollalie State Park make for an excellent close-to-Seattle kid-friendly snow- free (usually) winter hike. It’s a fairly easy hike too, to this pair of dramatic falls on the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River. Over 90 inches of rain annually falls here contributing to quite a display of hydrological force—especially during the wetter months. Squeezed into a narrow gorge on the massive moraine heap of an ancient glacier, the river plummets 500 feet over the course of this hike.

From the trailhead, begin in a dank and saturated forest of moss-draped maples and moisture-dripping cedars. A few giant Douglas-firs and a couple of Sitka Spruce (rare this far inland) line the trail as well. Soon start following the roaring river and catch a few glimpses of the Lower Falls in the distance.

After some fairly level hiking, the trail climbs a couple hundred feet coming to a junction. Take the short spur right for an excellent view of the plummeting 150-foot Lower Falls. Then return to the main trail and continue climbing coming to the thunderous Upper Falls after another half mile. Hike some more crossing the river on a sturdy bridge and following the trail through splendid forest climbing 300 feet high above the river. At 1.75 miles reach the Iron Trail. Return or extend your hike on this long distance rail trail if you want more exercise!

Twin Falls is one of 50 featured hikes in my Winter Hikes of Western Washington Card Deck (Mountaineers Books).