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Shortcut to Pratt River Trail #1035

Our Hiking Time: 2h 30m
Total Ascent: 300ft
Highest Point: 1300ft
Total Distance: 3.6 miles
Location: N 47° 30.818,  W 121° 34.197
Required Permit: Discover Pass
Difficulty: Moderate (due to fording river)

Nathan's Photo
Please note that Middle Fork Road is in the process of being paved. It may be that access to this trail is limited during construction.

Last summer we headed back out to the Middle Fork Snoqualmie area to find a trail that had been on our list for quite some time. While the Pratt River Trail #1035 has a long history wrapped up in the Middle Fork’s mining and logging past, it was overgrown and abandoned until relatively recently. While most hikers access the trail from the Gateway Bridge, we opted for the more traditional approach of fording the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River at the height of summer.

Back in 1887, prospectors staked a number of mining claims in the vicinity of Chair Peak. Among them was the namesake of the Pratt River, George A. Pratt, who decided to access his claims via the Pratt River Valley and helped establish the first Pratt River Trail. During this first era, a cabin was built at the confluence of the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie that became known as the “Halfway House” for its location between North Bend and the Taylor River Ranger Station. The Halfway House provided shelter for those looking to explore the Pratt River Trail, and appeared on USGS maps until the early 1920s, though nothing remains of the cabin today.

In 1934 the North Bend Timber Company acquired the rights to log the Pratt River Valley and quickly began constructing a logging railroad largely following the Pratt River Trail route. A bridge across the Middle Fork was completed in 1936 and the railroad stretched the length of the valley by 1937. Over the next several years, the valley walls were logged up to 300 feet on either side of the tracks, which was the furthest reach of the cables. By 1941 the easy timber had been harvested and the North Bend Timber Company began pulling out the rails, leaving the wooden ties behind. Aside from some intermittent truck logging in the 1950s, this was the end of the major logging operations along the Pratt.

Once the timber interests pulled out the hikers began to return. Some followed the portion of the Pratt River Trail that leads up the Middle Fork toward Goldmyer Hot Springs, while others followed the railroad grade through a recovering forest out toward Melakwa Lake or Talpus Lake. The Forest Service built up the trail, adding boardwalks and small bridges to the sections along the Middle Fork. Eventually the railroad bridge washed out and hikers replaced it in the 1970s with an improvised bridge anchored to stumps on either side of the river. That bridge also washed away, though you can still find the rusting anchoring cables today.

Without a bridge, trail use steadily declined and nature began to take back the trail. It wasn’t until 1993 that the Gateway Bridge was built a few miles upstream, once again allowing hikers to access to the trail. Since that time the trail between the bridge and the Pratt River has been rebuilt and renamed the Pratt River Connector Trail. However, much of the trail along the Pratt River is still overgrown and in need of maintenance.

The hike begins from a pullout along FR 56, marked only by a low wall of moss-covered concrete. Cross a small creek and follow the path as it wanders through blackberries and cottonwood toward the sound of the river. Once you reach the river, head upstream for a few hundred yards while looking across the water for a small trail leading up the embankment. Once you locate it, ford the river and follow the trail a short distance up to the Pratt River Connector Trail. Head right along the wide and well-maintained trail for a few tenths of a mile as the trail connects with the old railroad grade and begins its way up the river valley.

Keep an eye out for artifacts as you press deeper into the valley. Rusting metal, old cables and rotting railroad ties can all be found along the way. After about a mile of hiking arrive at a junction simply signed “Big Trees” and “Trail” with arrows directing hikers where to go. If you’re looking for more trail time, head left and continue to follow the railroad grade until you’ve had your fill. On the other hand, if you want a shorter day you can veer right and downhill to find an enormous, 250ft tall Douglas fir tree about third of a mile down the trail.

There are no big views on this hike, just a hike through a forest that can be as short or long as you would like. Still, the Pratt River Trail is definitely worth a tour, especially for those hikers looking for a bit of adventure. It is possible for experienced hikers to make this a through hike by bushwhacking their way all the way out to the Granite Mountain Trailhead. However, most hikers will be content to trek out to the Big Tree and call it a day, happy to enjoy the quiet solitude of this old trail.

To get there, take I-90 to exit 34 and take a left onto 468th Ave. Follow the road past the truck stop for about a half-mile until you reach SE Middle Fork Road, also known as Forest Road 56. Turn right and follow the road for a few twists and turns, keeping left when the road splits. After 2.2 miles reach SE Dorothy Lake Road. Turn left and continue 6.6 miles to a pullout on the right side of the road marked by some old cement barriers. If you prefer not to ford the river, continue on to the Middle Fork Campground and start the hike from the Gateway Bridge. - Nathan

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Pratt River

New Mailbox Peak Trail

Our Hiking Time: 5h
Total Ascent: 4000ft
Highest Point: 4841ft
Total Distance: 9.6 miles
Location: N 47° 27.745, W 121° 38.354
Required Permit: Discover Pass
Difficulty: Hard

Nathan's PhotoNot long ago, after years of effort, crews officially opened a new route up Mailbox Peak on September 27, 2014. While we had made the grueling trek up to the summit more than once in the past, after the Seattle Times contacted us about the old trail we decided it was time to explore the newly built approach.

Before the 1940s, few hikers ventured up the steep sides of the then-unnamed Mailbox Peak. In 1956, Valley Camp was established near the base of the peak and some adventurous souls began regularly bushwhacking their way to the mountain. Around 1960 Carl Heine, a Seattle letter carrier by day and the camp’s director in his free time, had decided to lug a mailbox to the summit. Campers were then sent up the mountain to sign the summit register left in the mailbox. Over the years, hundreds of boots pounded out a steep path straight up the mountainside.

While the original trailhead started from Valley Camp, logging operations in the 1970s cut a road across the trail and cleared the trees between the road and the camp, effectively obliterating that portion of the trail. Unsigned and still relatively unknown, the hike remained something of a secret amongst a small community of hikers. The hike’s low profile was helped by the difficult to find trailhead tucked a few tenths of a mile behind a gated forest road and famously marked only with toothbrushes jammed discreetly into the ground. That changed in 1991 when Sally Pfeiffer wrote an article for Signpost, the Washington Trail Association’s monthly publication, revealing the location of the trail to the hiking community at large. She also suggested a name: Mailbox Peak.

Since that time, the hike’s popularity has exploded, drawing tens of thousands of hikers up a very rough and narrow trail. Built largely by happenstance, the old trail could not handle the crowds or the inexperienced hikers unprepared for the difficult terrain. As a result, sections of the trail quickly eroded and injuries were common. Today, the new route addresses most of these concerns.

From the parking area, the trail begins, as it has for decades, by walking around a gated forest road and finding a trailhead a few dozen yards down the road. Today’s trailhead is an obvious and well-signed affair, complete with a detailed map of the path ahead. From here, the trail begins relatively gently, crossing a few creeks and a hefty bridge before beginning to switchback in earnest. Veterans of the hike will still find a familiar amount of elevation gain as the trail climbs through a mixed forest of maple, fir and cedar. And climb it does; endlessly and relentlessly up mile after mile of wide, well-made trail.

After four miles and nearly 3500 feet of elevation, arrive at the junction with the old trail. Turn left and get ready for a tough final push to the top. The last half-mile is something of a scramble, as the trail steeply climbs the ridge over a tangle of roots and rocks. Not far from the junction you will emerge from the trees to see the exposed summit in the distance. Press upward and follow the train of people over rock and loose soil to the mailbox. Most likely you’ll be sharing the spectacular views with some fellow hikers, so find a quiet place to take it all in.

To the north find Glacier Peak and Mt. Pilchuck on a clear day. Swing east and pick out the crags of nearby Russian Butte with other peaks of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley beyond. Kaleetan Peak is easy to pick out before your views are blocked by the next prominence along the ridgeline, sometimes called Dirtybox Peak, for its location between Mailbox and Dirty Harry’s Peak. Turn south passing over McClellan Butte’s distinctive crown to find Mt. Rainier dominating the skyline above the interstate. Find Mt. Washington almost directly across the valley from you and as you swing north you can see Rattlesnake Ridge stretching back toward Seattle. Pass over neighboring Mt. Si and Mt. Teneriffe as you complete your 360-degree tour.

While the new route has smoothed a lot of Mailbox’s edges, it’s still a challenging hike. The hike will continue to be a popular destination for those looking for a great training hike or relatively quick access to big views.  In other words, unless you’re going up on a weekday, you can expect company.  On the upside, the new trail is able to accommodate a lot more hikers by spreading them out over a greater distance. On the downside, the added distance can make for a long day, though you can trim the route by taking the shorter old trail up and the longer new trail back. Keep in mind that the last half-mile has all the same hazards as the old trail and should still be approached with a healthy amount of respect.  If you haven't tackled Mailbox Peak in a while, the new trail is a great new way to explore this old favorite.

To get there, take I-90 to exit 34 and take a left onto 468th Ave. Follow the road past the truck stop for about a half-mile until you reach SE Middle Fork Road, also known as Forest Road 56. Turn right and follow the road for a few twists and turns, keeping left when the road splits. After 2.2 miles reach SE Dorothy Lake Road. Turn left and continue .3 miles find the road up to the parking area on your right. - Nathan

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New Mailbox Peak Trail

Mt. Baldy via Domerie Divide Trail #1308.2

Our Hiking Time: 4h 50m
Total Ascent: 2900ft
Highest Point: 5100ft
Total Distance: 7.4 miles
Location: N 47° 16.2659, W 121° 8.1180
Required Permit: None
Difficulty: Hard

Nathan's Photo
A few weeks ago we headed back over Snoqualmie Pass to further explore the ridges and mountaintops between Kachess Lake and Cle Elum Lake. On our last hike up Easton Ridge, we passed the junction for the Domeire Divide Trail #1308.2 and resolved to come back to see where it led. After some quick research, we were able to trace a route up to a former fire lookout site known as Old Baldy and returned to look for some big views.

The Old Baldy site sits atop Mt. Baldy, which was presumably named for the lack of trees near the summit. A cabin was built here in 1934 and was manned by fire lookouts until it was removed in 1953. Upper portions of today’s trail are built on the route used by the lookouts to access the cabin. In contrast, the trailhead and lower sections of trail were built to support irrigation efforts along Silver Creek. The current trail passes an old wooden irrigation dam that is part of that legacy.  Over the years the Bureau of Land Reclamation has proposed putting more irrigation facilities along Silver Creek, but so far the creek has proven too unpredictable to allow for further dams.

The trail begins from the parking area, marked by a ragged sign pointing toward Trails #1212 and #1315. Find the well signed junction for the Kachess Ridge Trail #1315 just a few feet down the trail. Ignore this junction and instead veer to the right toward the sound of Silver Creek and an unmarked trail dropping down to the water. This is the Easton Ridge Trail #1212. Head to the creekside and soon find a sturdy bridge crossing the water at the base of the irrigation dam. Cross the bridge and climb a few switchbacks up the ridge to the bones of an old forest road. Follow the fading road for a few hundred feet before finding an obvious but unmarked trail heading up the mountainside.

From here, the trail continues to climb through a forest of pine and fir, offering occasional glimpses of Kachess Lake and Kachess Ridge. After 1.3 miles of hiking you’ll attain the ridgeline and arrive at the junction with the Domerie Divide Trail #1308.2. Head left and enjoy a short respite from the climb as the trail meanders along the ridgeline. Soon the route swings uphill and the real climbing begins. Gone are the switchbacks of the lower trail, replaced instead by steeps sections that tackle the climb head-on. Keep in mind that during the summer months, the fine dust of the trail can make for a somewhat slippery climb. As you press ever upward, the trees thin somewhat, providing ample opportunity to take in the surrounding landscape as well as Mt. Baldy in the distance.

Eventually, after more than a mile of climbing, you will attain another ridgeline and find the junction the Domerie Peak Trail #1308. Head right, following the trail as it dips downhill and soon reveals big views of Cle Elum Lake and a sea of peaks and crags. Press onward following the ridge toward the barren summit of Mt. Baldy. Once you reach the base of the summit, the trail turns sharply uphill and begins to fade. If you’re not exactly sure where the trail is, simply keep climbing. Before long, find yourself at the former lookout site, with big 360-degree views. To the north you can easily pick out nearby Red Mountain, with Mt. Daniel and Glacier Peak rising in the distance. Turn east to find Jolly Mountain and Hex Mountain just above Cle Elum Lake, with Mt. Stuart beyond. The plains of eastern Washington stretch toward the horizon as you sweep southward over neighboring Domeire Peak to take in Mt. Rainier. Complete your turn to pick out Silver Peak, Abiel Peak and other Snoqualmie Pass peaks to the northwest. Settle in and break out your map to see how many more peaks you can find.

Steep, long and a little rough, this hike isn’t for everyone. At the same time, it’s not at all surprising that a fire lookout was located here for two decades. The views are enormous and because the trail is on the challenging side, you’re likely to be enjoying the scenery without much company. This is a great choice for those looking for a training hike or an alternative to nearby Kachess Ridge or Easton Ridge.

To get there, take I-90 to Exit 70. Take a left over the freeway and turn left onto West Sparks Road. Continue for a half-mile to FR 4818 (signed Kachess Dam Road) and take a right. Follow FR 4818 for a mile to an unmarked road on the right. Follow this road for a half-mile to the small parking area at the trailhead. -Nathan

Mt. Baldy

Carbon Glacier via Carbon River Road

Our Hiking Time: 10h
Total Ascent: 2300ft
Highest Point: 4100ft
Total Distance: 18.6 miles
Location: N 46° 56.4600,  W 121° 47.0459
Required Permit: National Park Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Nathan's PhotoWe’ve done a lot of hiking in the Carbon River Valley this year, exploring quite a few trails in the area. After seeing so much of the river, we thought it only appropriate to head out to the Carbon Glacier to see where it all begins. While we expected to find a wall of ice, we underestimated just how impressive the river’s source would be.

Like the Carbon River, the Carbon Glacier was named in 1876 for the abundance of coal found along the upper reaches of the river, which fueled boom towns such as Fairfax, Melmont and Carbonado. Outside of Alaska, the Carbon Glacier has the distinction of being not only the longest, thickest and most voluminous glacier in the United States; it is also the lowest elevation. Perhaps because of its enormous size the glacier was something of an attraction, and park administrators began developing the Carbon River area almost immediately after the park was created in 1899. By 1923, the Carbon River Road was completed, ending just a mile shy of the glacier itself. For a few years, hikers could drive the entire length before floods and washouts would close more and more sections of the road. Today, the road is closed at the Carbon River Entrance and park officials are pushing to make the closure permanent.

The hike begins from the Carbon River Entrance, following the Carbon River Road through a temperate rain forest of fir and cedar. The road provides access to a number of hikes, and many people opt to bike the road to cut down on travel time, though there is something to be said for the more leisurely walk through the woods. Flat and wide, the miles pass quickly and easily, passing the Green Lake Trailhead after about three miles and the Chenuis Falls Trailhead another half-mile or so beyond. The river is your constant companion as you push past these popular day hikes toward Ipsut Campground. The campground is a good place to stop for a breather or to set up camp if you’re planning on a longer trip.

Continue past Ipsut Campground following the Wonderland Trail deeper into the lush forest for another 1.7 miles to the junction with the Northern Loop Trail. While older guides will suggest that you continue on the Wonderland Trail to Carbon River Camp, that section of trail is currently closed. Instead, veer left crossing the logs the span various sections of the Carbon River, eventually crossing the rocky riverbed. Look upstream to catch your first glimpse of the glacier, through it will likely look more like a distant mountain than an ice field. Once across, climb up the riverbank to find a junction where the Northern Loop Trail splits. Head right, continuing to follow the river as the trail wanders through mossy old growth and over endless streams and creeklets. After another mile and a half reach the Carbon River Suspension Bridge, built in 1984 as an answer to the constant need to replace the bridge that spanned this area for decades. If you have a little extra time, we recommend taking a few moments to cross the bridge and head out to Cataract Falls, just a few tenths of a mile from the river. The bridge also provides easy access to Carbon River Camp, another option for those planning an overnight.

From the bridge, the hike becomes a little more challenging, beginning to climb up the steep valley the glacier carved years ago. As you progress the trees fall away, providing big views of the enormous glacier and the river surging from the base of a icy wall hundreds of feet tall. There are plenty of places to stop along the way, though we recommend pushing onward and upward to Dick Creek Camp for views of the glacier and the valley below.

This is a classic hike, though since the road closure it is a little on the long side for a day hike. At the same time most of the distance is along the Carbon River Road, which can be biked or hiked without much effort. With several campsites near the glacier, there are a lot of options for adding a hike to the Carbon Glacier to an overnight or multi-day backpack. And while the first few miles of the Carbon River Road tend to have a lot of traffic, the crowds quickly thin beyond the Chenuis Falls Trailhead.

To get there, take I-5 South to I-405. From I-405 take SR 167 south toward Auburn. In 20 miles take the SR 410 Exit toward Sumner/Yakima. Follow SR 410 for 12 miles to SR 165. Take a right and continue on SR 165 for about 10 miles through Wilkeson and Carbonado to the Carbon River Road/Mowich Lake Road junction. Veer left onto the Carbon River Road and follow for 7.7 miles to the Carbon River Entrance of Mt. Rainer and parking. -Nathan

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Carbon Glacier

Polallie Ridge Trail #1309 to Diamond Lake

Our Hiking Time: 3h 30m
Total Ascent: 2700ft
Highest Point: 5100ft
Total Distance: 8.0 miles
Location: N 47° 26.556,  W 121° 9.780
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Required Permit: None
Difficulty: Moderate

Nathan's PhotoWe found time this summer to head back to the Salmon La Sac area to do some more exploring in that area. After climbing Davis Peak last year, we wanted to see what else the area had to offer. After some research we settled on Polallie Ridge Trail, an often overlooked trail that promised views of nearby mountaintops, a small alpine lake, and a decent workout.

Polallie means “dust” or “fine powder” in Chinook Jargon, and like so many of the trails in this area, the trail tends to be fairly dusty in the high summer. Back around 1921, a fire lookout cabin was built on the high point of Polallie Mountain. In 1936, the cabin was replaced by a 25-foot tower which was in use only until 1947 when the site was abandoned. Faint traces of the former lookout remain today. Lookouts would have used the Polallie Ridge Trail to access the lookout site and carry in supplies.

From the trailhead, the Polallie Ridge Trail #1309 begins without much fanfare, briefly following the Cooper River for just about .1 mile to the junction with the Cooper River Trail #1311. Head right, away from the river toward the next junction with the Waptus River Trail #1310. Here, stay left to begin your ascent up the ridge, following the rocky trail as it climbs through stands of pine and fir. While some sections of trail are steeper than others, the route is almost entirely an uphill battle. Occasionally the trail passes through small meadows or talus fields, which provide brief glimpses into the surrounding landscape. However, the first real views do not come until you cross into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness at 2.8 miles. Around this point the trail briefly levels out and the trees thin enough to see Mount Daniel, Cone Mountain, Sasse Mountain, Jolly Mountain and Hex Mountain as well as the valley below.

Beyond the views, the trail returns to the trees and continues to climb for about another mile before dropping down to Diamond Lake at 4.0 miles from the trailhead. The tree-lined shore offers several campsites for those looking the spend the night, as well as a number of spots to settle in and enjoy stillness of this pretty alpine lake. Those looking for a longer day can continue to follow the trail past the lake for another three miles to the former lookout site.

Less popular than other nearby trails, Polallie Ridge is a good alternative for those hikers that are looking for solitude and a challenge. During the summer, some hikers will want to avoid this steep, hot climb up a loose and rocky trail. At the same time, during the late spring and early summer, the pocket meadows will be brimming with wildflowers and the views are well worth the effort need to tackle this hike.

To get there, take I-90 to Exit 80. Head left over the freeway following Bullfrog Road to SR 903. Follow 903 16.6 miles through Roslyn and along Cle Elum Lake to FR 4330 just beyond the Salmon La Sac guard station. Just beyond the station, head left over the Cle Elum River onto FR 4316-111 toward the Salmon La Sac Campground, following it for .6 miles to the trailhead –Nathan

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Polallie Ridge

Quillayute River Slough Trail

Our Hiking Time: 1h
Total Ascent: 30ft
Highest Point: 30ft
Total Distance: 1.7 miles
Location: N 47° 54.7799, W 124° -35.669
Required Permit: None
Difficulty: Easy

Nathan's Photo
A few months ago we spent a weekend on the Olympic Coast exploring the beaches and trails around La Push and the Quillayute River. Most of our time was spent wandering past wave-carved seascapes and peering into tidepools. However, we also made a point to hike nearby trails like the Quillayute River Slough Trail, which offer a chance to contrast the crashing ocean against the lush forests of the Olympics.

For generations, members of the Quileute Tribe called the land around the Quillayute River home. Quileute means “joining together” a reference to the rivers that merge into the Quillayute along its short length. Within about five miles of the ocean, the Calawah, Sol Duc, Bogachiel and Dickey Rivers all join to complete their journey to the sea together. The Quillayute (also spelled Quileute) once teemed with salmon, through this has declined in more recent years. Back in 1872, the salmon led an enterprising settler by the name of Frank T. Balch to set up shop on the banks of the Quillayute along with his wife. At the time the couple were the only American settlers -- often referred to as “Bostons” -- in the area. As other settlers joined the Balchs, the growing settlement was called Boston. By 1891 enough folks had settled in the area that a post office was needed, and Balch became the first postmaster. However, the name Boston caused some confusion with the delivery of mail, and in 1900 a settler named Kron O. Erickson became the postmaster and worked to get the name changed to Mora after the community of Mora in Sweden. Within a few years the post office was moved to Forks and settlers followed, and before long Mora started to look like the campground it is today.

The trail begins at the Mora Ranger Station following a fading path into the trees. Mossy hemlocks rise above an encroaching tangle of fern and salmonberry as you wander toward the river. After a few minutes of walking, find yourself on an embankment catching glimpses of the Quillayute Slough a few dozen feet below. Continue onward and arrive at an unmarked junction around the half-mile mark. Veering right and downhill will lead you to a closer view of the river, while heading left will take you out to Mora Road and the Olympic National Park boundary. Take some time to explore both, then head back to the Mora Ranger Station. From here, consider walking the few hundred feet west along Mora Road to find the James Pond Nature Trail, which is little more than a path leading out to a view of the lily-covered James Pond.

Short and easily overlooked, these two campground trails are not a destination unto themselves. However, if you’re spending a day hiking Rialto Beach or camping at Mora Campground, these trails are worth a little extra effort to explore. Both trails provide easy access to quiet sections of lush Olympic rain forest. While the area is popular, these trails do not see a great deal of traffic, giving you plenty of opportunity to enjoy the silence.

To get to there, take the Bainbridge Island ferry to Bainbridge Island. From the terminal, follow SR 305 for 13 miles to SR 3 North. Follow SR 3 to the Hood Canal Bridge, taking a left over the bridge onto State Route 104. Follow SR 104 as it merges onto US 101 and continue 35 miles to Port Angeles taking a left on Lincoln Street, which becomes US 101. Continue for about 54 miles to the junction to La Push Road, also known as SR 110. Turn right and continue on SR 110 for 7.8 miles to Mora Road. Veer right and continue another 3.2 miles to the Mora Ranger Station and Campground. -Nathan

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Quillayute River Slough
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