Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls
Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Roundtrip: 2.2 miles
Elevation gain: 200 feet
Green Trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway 111SX
Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker- Snoqualmie National Forest or Verlot Public Service Center (summer weekends) (360) 691-7791
Notes: NW Forest Pass required;
DO NOT ENTER SNOW CAVES. THEY ARE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. STAY BEHIND SIGNS AND VIEW FROM A SAFE DISTANCE.
Access: From Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 26 miles to trailhead. Alternative approach from Big Four Picnic Area located .5 mile west of trailhead.
Good to Know: Kid-friendly, historic, dog-friendly (leashed)
Formed by cascading water and warm winds hollowing out heaps of avalanche-deposited snow, Big Four Mountain’s impressive ice caves have been attracting admirers for decades. And if you want to see them this year—you better act fast as they are melting fast. This past winter’s record low snowfall means that the snow caves will probably be gone by mid-summer.
From the trailhead a paved path heads right a quarter-mile on a former rail bed to the picnic grounds. It’s worth the diversion for the views and to learn more about the grand hotel that stood there from 1921 to 1949. Then follow another paved trail from the hotel site .25 mile across wetlands to a junction. The trail left returns to your vehicle. Continue straight to a bridge spanning the South Fork Stillaguamish River. Soon afterwards come to another bridge, this one crossing Ice Creek.
Now on wide tread, the trail gently winds through open forest. After crossing Ice Creek a second time, reach the ice caves in a barren flat beneath the north face of Big Four Mountain. Cascades crash down sheer vertical walls helping to hollow out the caves. They usually appear by mid-summer, and fluctuate in size from year to year. Enjoy from a safe distance staying well away from the caves and the steep cliff walls that periodically send rocks to the valley floor along with ice and snow. People have died from fallen ice and rock. So, bring a zoom lens to enjoy this fascinating Mountain Loop attraction.
For information on lodging and other attractions near the Big Four Ice Caves, visit www.snohomish.org
For more information on this hike and many others along the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my best selling (now in its 5th printing) Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books); which consists of 125 hikes in all!