Home Trip ReportsDayhike Boulder River Trail

Boulder River Trail

by Amanda Phillips
Waterfall on the boulder river trail

After a month of physical therapy, acupuncture, countless trips to the doctor for x-rays, MRI’s and other tests, it was time to test out my shin splint recovery on a trail. While I have managed to get outside via road trips, kayaking, bike rides and rock climbing, I was desperate to get back to the woods. Boulder River near Oso was the perfect fit for an overcast Saturday.  I required a mostly flat route with features early in the trail, so I wouldn’t be tempted to push beyond my capabilities. Boulder River was the first trail that came to mind and I had a most glorious–and pain-free–time. 

Visit the north cascades for a peaceful river walk with two phenomenal waterfalls

We arrived at the Boulder River trailhead at 9:30 and the parking lot was starting to fill up.  I took my time rolling my leg with the RollFlex and eating my PCC deli breakfast, a lazy hiking standard.  I slowly laced up my hiking boots, savoring each hook and knot. It is amazing what you miss when forced to take time away.  Coming back to the simple routine was comforting and invigorating.

Bridge on the boulder river trail

We started our way down the wide and flat trail composed of compacted duff. It was so gentle; the sidewalks in Seattle are in much worse shape than this trail. Eventually, it narrowed and became rockier underfoot.  It thrilled me to no longer feel like I was at a city park and returned to my beloved wilderness.  Soon after we got into the swing of things, the first waterfall appeared ahead of us.

Waterfall on the boulder river trail
Waterfall on the boulder river trail

The last time I did the Boulder River trail was in November and the river was quieter, the falls more narrow and the rocky beach plentiful.  This time, with the large snowpack the river was a deep rushing sound and not the gurgle of the past. The magnificent spray came diverged into two falls and a number of people on the trail turned back after this sight.

My shins still felt great so we pushed on in search of the second waterfall. The trail was straightforward and ringed with delicate baby ferns.  New plant growth meant the forest was supremely lush and a bright green.  Quite a departure from the frosty, unsaturated views from my previous visit.  When we reached the second waterfall and I decided that would be my stopping point for the day. I pulled out my Kindle and Michael pushed forward the additional 2 miles to the end of the trail.

Woman standing next to boulder river
Boulder river on the boulder river trail
Woman reading book next to boulder river trail

I rarely stop for longer than 15 minutes when we are hiking.  To lay on the rock near the river, watch birds flying behind the waterfall, admire the rise and fall of the water as it hit rapids and bask in the sun was simply glorious.  Sounds from the river were so loud it drowned out all other trail noise and quieted the noise in my head as well. An accidental meditation beside the opaque gray water left me with a sense of peace that lasted well into the next day.

Waterfall on the boulder river trail

When Michael returned, we packed up our things and made our way down the trail.  Shortly before returning to the first waterfall, we took a side route down to the river bank. This allowed for some spectacular views upstream of large boulders, rapids, and mini-waterfalls. We played a bit on the stable log jams and boulders then wandered down to the larger falls.  After admiring the falls one last time, we made our way back to the car.

Boulder river trail
Boulder river on the boulder river trail
Logs on the boulder river trail
Logs and boulder river trail
Waterfall on the boulder river trail

The hike was short and sweet, but exactly what my legs needed.  The physical aspect of getting out, exercising and spending time in the woods was great, but the mental aspect of this trail was so necessary.  One of the scariest parts of this injury is potentially giving up backpacking.  When my shin splints began, it affected my ability to run, and I have never been able to return to running.  The idea that the same thing could happen with hiking was unfathomable.  Knowing that this is temporary, that I will make it to alpine lakes and glaciers and meadows of wildflowers makes this journey worthwhile.

Log over the boulder river trail

Traditional Land Usage

Traditional land of the Puget Sound Salish, Snohomish and Skagit people. 

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