Location: Mountain Loop Highway
Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Roundtrip: 4.4 miles
Elevation gain: 300 feet
Green Trails Map: Green Trails, Mountain Loop Highway, WA- no. 111SX
Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
Notes: trail currently under construction
Access: From Darrington follow Mountain Loop Highway for 9.0 miles. Turn left onto FR 22 and proceed for .8 mile to trailhead.
Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow free winter hiking; wildlife watching
One of the few long river valley trails in the North Cascades accessible throughout the winter; the White Chuck Bench Trail was nearly completely destroyed by flooding in 2003. Offering more than six miles of snow free winter hiking along the Glacier Peak fed White Chuck River, hikers lost a great year round trail 14 years ago. But slowly volunteers with the Washington Trails Association are determined to reopen this 6.5 mile trail near Darrington. Currently about 2.2 miles of excellent trail are open, so there is no need to wait for the entire path to reopen.
Deriving its name from the Chinook Jargon for whitewater, the appropriately named White Chuck River certainly lives up to its name. In October of 2003 the river displayed a bout of furious whitewater activity, flooding the valley leaving riverside forest groves and the paralleling White Chuck Bench Trail in shambles. The administering Forest Service, its operating budget also in shambles had no funding to repair the trail. It appeared that the popular low-country White Bench Trail would be yet another casualty to nature and budget cuts.
Thankfully volunteers have come to the rescue helping the Forest Service gradually restore this trail. Currently 2.2 miles of the 6.5 mile trail are hikeable! From the trailhead, start in an old timber harvest area on a high bench above the crashing river. Soon reach a gap in the forest cover providing good views out to Mounts Pugh and Sloan. The way then bends left and heads up valley. Pass huge stumps attesting to the great forest that once grew in this lush valley. The way is fairly level with minor ups and downs. Wind through remnant patches of old growth and plenty of groves of attractive maples, cedars, alders, cottonwoods and firs.
At 1.1 miles cross Black Oak Creek on a sturdy bridge. You won’t find any black or other oaks growing here. Continue in thick forest coming to at about 1.6 miles an open bluff providing an excellent view of the river and mountain above sharing the name White Chuck. The way then continues a little farther eventually coming to new tread. Here the trail switchbacks back onto the bench ending at about 2.2 miles. Come back in the future to watch the trail progress up the river valley. Better yet–volunteer with the WTA to help extend this trail. The trail used to hug the river here but it was washed away. It is still possible to work your way through brush and fallen trees following remnants of tread to river shoreline and old camps. But it’s difficult going. The better plan is to retrace your steps back to the open bluff—and if it’s a rare sunny winter day, kick back for awhile, watch for dippers and enjoy some river magic.
For information on lodging and other attractions near the White Chuck Bench Trail, visit www.snohomish.org
For more information on other excellent hikes in the Darrington area, consult my Day Hiking North Cascades which includes detailed descriptions for 125 hikes!
For good coffee and conversation after your hike stop in at the Mountain Loop Books and Coffee in Darrington. And you can buy my books and Green Trails Maps there too!