Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Darrington,
Land Agency: Mount Baker -Snoqualmie National Forest
Roundtrip: 6.0 miles
Elevation gain: 150 feet
Green Trails Maps: Mountain Loop Highway 111SX
Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker -Snoqualmie National Forest
Access: Take Exit 208 off of I-5 following SR 530 east 32.0 miles east to Darrington. At stop sign, turn right onto the Mountain Loop Highway and proceed for 3.6 miles to trailhead.
Good to Know: snow-free winter hike, dog-friendly, kid-friendly, bird-watching; ADA-accessible section
A major tributary to the Skagit River, the federally-protected Wild and Scenic Sauk River supports a wide array of wildlife and provides critical habitat for Puget Sound salmon. And like the Skagit, this important river also provides winter habitat for scores of bald eagles. The Old Sauk River Trail hugs the riverbank of this ecologically important and strikingly beautiful waterway for three nearly flat miles. And being at a low elevation, this trail is often snow-free and hikeable throughout the year. Spring time is especially enjoyable, with snow melt contributing to a roaring river and woodland flowers adding dabs of color to the emerald surroundings.
The trail begins in a thick stand of mature forest. Logged in the 1930s, many old-growth Douglas-fir trees still boldly stand here. After skirting alongside a slough, reach the Sauk. Behold its beauty and ever changing mood. In the wet fall and winter months, the river’s volume and current increases substantially occasionally jumping its bed to take away a piece of the trail. Dedicated volunteers have kept this trail in good shape, restoring and rerouting the tread when necessary.
Cross a bridge over a small creek and then hike alongside the churning Sauk River. Walk this way in springtime and be treated to brilliant displays of wildflowers. Thousands of trillium, dwarf dogwood, wood violet, twin flower, and star flower carpet the forest floor. Look for birds too—thrushes, wrens, jays, eagles and dippers.
At 1.9 miles reach a junction with the Old Sauk Interpretive Loop accessible trail. This delightful 1.3 mile loop is accessed from the Mountain Loop Highway 2.0 miles south of the trailhead you started from. It’s perfect not only for wheelchairs but for young hikers and folks just looking for a shorter hiking option, too.
The Old Sauk River Trail continues south to another junction with the Interpretive Loop Trail. Veer left here and hike along another slough. Then cross a channel and traverse a grove of big trees. Cross another channel and come to a big riverside rock. The trail then leaves the raucous river to follow Murphy Creek through a tunnel of moss-draped maples and under a canopy of towering cottonwoods. At 3.0 miles reach the trail’s southern terminus on the Mountain Loop Highway. Now turn around and start hiking back to your vehicle enjoying this trail downriver.
For information on lodging and other attractions near The Old Sauk River Trail visit www.snohomish.org
For detailed information on this and other hikes along the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my best-selling Day Hiking North Cascades guidebook.
For a great cup of coffee-good conversation-a hiking guidebook and a Green Trails Map, be sure to stop in at the Mountain Loop Books and Coffee shop in Darrington
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