Big Four Ice Caves — Cool attraction is a hot destination


An icy creek emerges from the ice caves.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 2.2 miles

Elevation gain: 200 feet

Difficulty: easy

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;



Big Four Mountain.

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.


Approaching the ice caves.

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.orgSnohomish-NEW

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!


Peek-a-boo Lake — peaceful little lake and peek-a-boo mountain views

IMG_3414Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Darrington

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 9.6 miles

Elevation gain: 2500 feet

Green Trails Maps: Mountain Loop Highway 111 SX

Contact: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Darrington Ranger District

Notes: Access road is washed out at mile 3.4 requiring an additional 2.2 mile one way hike or mountain bike.

Good to know: access road washed out making hike longer, kid-friendly, dog-friendly, old-growth

Access: From Darrington follow the Mountain Loop Highway for 8.5 miles turning right onto FR 2080 (turnoff located just before Sauk River bridge). Continue on FR 2080 for 1.1 miles turning right onto FR 2081. Follow this road for 2.3 miles to a washout where a turn around and parking are available.

bearing left onto FR 2086. Reach trailhead at road end in one mile.

Good to Know: exceptional old-growth; kid-friendly, dog-friendly

Sitting in a peaceful little cirque on a ridge high above the Sauk River is pretty little Peek-a-boo Lake. Unimposing and tucked away in a rugged landscape, the hike once short, is now much longer making this destination more peaceful than the past. The trail is in decent shape, but is a little rocky and rooty in places. Start your hike by carefully walking around the road washout. Then walk 1.2 miles up grassy and gently graded FR 2081. Then take a left onto FR 2086 and walk this road for a steep one mile to the trailhead. Here the trail begins on an old logging road in scrappy forest, but quickly transitions to true trail in impressive old growth. Climbing gently at first, the grade soon intensifies leading up a thickly forested 4,350-foot ridge. Massive hemlock, fir, and cedar as well as babbling brooks and a lush understory of greenery help keep your attention off of the climb.

The trail then begins to lose some of that hard-earned elevation gain, and after a half mile breaks out into a picturesque parkland meadow. Pass by a delightful little tarn and continue through more meadows. Using care not to trounce delicate vegetation, leave the trail for the eastern edge of the meadow for a breathtaking view of White Chuck Mountain and Mount Pugh hovering over the Sauk River Valley.


White Chuck Mountain can be seen along the way.

Peek-a-boo still waits, so head back to the trail where it returns to forest dropping about 300-feet on rough tread to the placid body-of-water in an emerald bowl of stately evergreens. Now enjoy Peek-a-boo Lake fully revealed. A refreshing swim-an afternoon nap-a little fishing-or just an afternoon of pure relaxation!

For information on lodging and other attractions near the North Fork Sauk River, visit

For more information on this hike and many others nearby, consult my Day Hiking North Cascades Book. 0486

For a great post or pre hike coffee and snack, stop in at the Mountain Loop Books and Coffee in Darrington. Green Trails Maps and Mountaineers Hiking Books can be purchased here too.

Barlow Point–Little known lookout site on Mountain Loop Highway


While the forest is growing in around Barlow Pass, there are still some decent views to be had from this old lookout post.

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 2.5 miles

High Point: 3,222 feet

Elevation gain: 850 feet

Difficulty: moderate

Green Trails Map: Sloan Peak, WA- No. 111

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest 

Note: Northwest Forest Pass or Inter-agency Pass required

Access: From Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 31 miles to Barlow Pass and trailhead located on your left.

 Good to know: Dog-friendly, kid-friendly, historic,

Are you interested in a nice little leg stretcher off of the Mountain Loop Highway sans the crowds? Check out Barlow Point, a little knob of a peak just above Barlow Pass and just below Mount Dickerman. Straddling the the Sauk-Stillaguamish Divide, this little summit hosted a fire lookout form 1935 to 1964. Much of the surrounding forest went up in flames in 1905, sparked by a locomotive heading to the mines of Monte Cristo. Large fire-scarred snags and a uniform forest a century old attests to this004 past event. And while the surrounding forest has been recovering nicely since that conflagration, Barlow Point’s rocky summit still remains semi-open providing some pretty nice views of an impressive wall of surrounding peaks.

From the 3,222-foot pinnacle, take in good close-ups of Sheep Mountain, Twin Peaks, Mount Dickerman, Stillaguamish Peak, and Big Four Mountain. Enjoy too a perspective of Bedal Peak, Spring Mountain and Mount Pugh. And while you’re on Barlow peering at the peaks, be sure to peek down at the rocky ground at a profusion of penstemon. This little showy flower resembling pink and purple trumpets, adorns Barlow’s ledges.

The hike starts from the parking area at Barlow Pass, once the site of a Forest Service Guard Station and now the site of a kiosk. A side trail immediately branches out left to follow the old railroad grade that once connected Monte Cristo to Everett. A quarter mile farther, another trail branches left, the old Government Trail. Both of these paths make for good rainy day walking and they can be hiked as a loop. The Barlow Point Trail continues right climbing steeply under a cool canopy of evergreens. It’s a short climb, and before you know it, you’ll be sitting on the point soaking up those aforementioned views. Good chance too, you’ll be soaking them up alone—a pretty rare occurrence off of the busy Mountain Loop Highway, but not on this oft forgotten trail.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Barlow Point visit www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For information including maps on more than 100 nearby hikes, consult my best-selling and trusted Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books)0486

Green Trails Maps available in Granite Falls at Granite Falls Ace  Hardware and Mountain Loop General Store.

Arlington Airport Trail–Come Fly with Me on a walk around an historic airport

Quick Facts:

Members of the Arlington Running Club frequently train on the Airport Trail.

Members of the Arlington Running Club
training on the Airport Trail.

Location: Arlington

Land Agency: City of Arlington

Roundtrip: 5.5 miles

Elevation gain: 50 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Contact: Arlington Airport Commission

Notes: Dogs must be on leash

Access:  From Everett, head north on I-5 to Exit 206. Continue east on SR 531 (172nd Street NE) for 1.4 miles. Turn left onto 59th Avenue NE and proceed for one mile to airport parking near Bill Quake Memorial Park. Trail can also be accessed from Airport Boulevard and 188th Street NE.

Good to know: kid-friendly, dog-friendly, historic, interpretive

The Arlington Airport Trail isn’t exactly a walk in the woods, but it’s no city walk either. This mostly soft surface trail offers a IMG_9656nice place to get a long hike or run in close to the thriving northern Snohomish County communities of Arlington and Marysville. The trail is nearly level, perfect for kids, and dog-friendly too. There are some nice wooded sections, some fields, and if you’re into aviation history (something Snohomish County is noted for)—you’ll be flying high here! There are nine interpretive signs along the trail to enlighten you about this little municipal airport’s interesting past.

The airport was built in 1934 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and was used primarily by private fliers, aerial circuses and the Forest Service for transporting supplies to fight fires. In 1940 the US Navy leased the airport as an auxiliary air station. The runways were expanded to accommodate bombers during the outbreak of World War II. At one time personnel at the airport included over 700 officers and over 2,200 enlisted men. A third runway was constructed in 1945 along with several magazines.

DSCN1806After the war, the airport was used primarily as an emergency landing field for NAS Whidbey. By 1959 it was no longer used by the military and became municipal property. It was a popular spot for drag racing during the 1950s and 60s. But the activity was soon banned as the airport became a busier place for private and cargo planes. Plan on taking some time along the way at the interpretive signs; they contain lots of great old photos.

The trail pretty much heads around the periphery of the airport making a 5.5 mile loop. It’s a great urban hike or excellent running course. It parallels a couple of busy roads but also traverses some quiet groves of mature timber. It also consists a paved section Airport Boulevard. It’s nearly level with a few little dips around the northern limits of the airport. And because you are hiking through a large open area, there are some expansive views of the wooded foothills north and peaks south including Mount Rainier. Of course, various aircraft will more than likely be taking off and landing while you are out hiking.

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

For more information on other nearby urban hikes, including the great trails at the Skagit Airport, pick up a copy of my brand new Urban Trails Bellingham (Mountaineers Books)!UrbanTrails_Bellingham_WEB

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


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!