After our last trip in the mountains to Lake Kelcema, and the frustrating spring snow, I insisted on a hike that was snow-free. Middle Fork Snoqualmie River is a quiet river hike, in what appears to be a beautiful, peak lined valley. Unfortunately, the persistent rain and accompanying fog obscured the nearby peaks, but I enjoyed the trail enough that I am looking forward to returning on a sunnier day. I am always on the lookout for trails to recommend to beginners or find a spot to bring my parents along, and I can recommend this trail for both.
Note: This trail has been closed due to a washout from 4/13/2018. As of 01/30/2019 it is still closed directly after the Gateway Bridge. The washout is unstable; please do not attempt this route during the closure.
The road borders the river, and I suspect this region will be much more crowded soon, as the paving project is nearly finished and the trailhead is only an hour from Seattle. Several miles in, we spotted about 15 elk crossing the road onto the bank and river below. One reluctant juvenile straggled behind, unwilling to climb down the steep bank and made an awkward descent once it summoned the courage. Watching the gangly legs fly in every direction as the young elk tackled the steep bank was a highlight of the day. Unfortunately, my camera was strapped to my pack in the trunk, so I only managed to snap a quick picture with my cell phone of the patient mother.
We arrived at a nearly empty parking lot and geared up. After boots were laced, packs cinched tight and new cotopaxi hat that I stole from Michael firmly attached to my head, it started hailing. Not to be deterred, we threw on our rain jackets and started on the trail. After about 1/8 of a mile from the parking lot is a large, beautiful bridge, which was my favorite part of the trail.
Gateway Bridge is one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever seen. I was briefly happy that it was such a dreary day, as the pacific northwest fog brought out the warmth in the wood. Check out those arches! While it had elements of a suspension bridge, it was stable enough to avoid triggering any vertigo. Suspension bridges that are stable enough that
I can avoid crawling across is always a win in my book.
After we crossed the river, the trail follows a narrow pathway lined with granite that looks over the river. Shortly, the trail veers into the woods, and while you can still hear the rushing river, the area is mostly dominated by verdant, soggy trees. The foliage near the trail was super lush and I enjoyed being saturated with the green after many snowshoes this winter. Unfortunately, the rain continued to pour down, at such a rate that it was difficult to look up or pull out the camera. After about three miles we decided to call it, as we didn’t have an end-point in mind, and were just on the trail to enjoy being outside. We crossed the section where the new trail is being constructed to replace the trail near the river that has been washed out, and we did a little off-trail meandering to get down to the water for a picnic. The trail was slightly treacherous with slick boards, downed trees and a path that led straight into the river.
After eating we made our way back to the main trail and began to head back to the car. More people were on the trail and everyone seemed really excited to be outside despite the wet conditions. An unfortunate encounter with two aggressive off-leash dogs dampened our spirits and I regretted not having my poles off to fend off a dog snapping at my legs. The way back was a little less rainy and made for a lovely low-elevation walk. The sun peeked through for a few moments on our way back and we were able to see a bit more of the surrounding peaks. Altogether a lovely river valley walk that was perfect for the early season.
Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Protection
In 1990 the U.S. Forest Service recommended the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River and the surrounding valley for Wild and Scenic designation. The designation protected the river, including prohibiting dams, and increased the opportunities for recreation. In 2013, Washington senator Patty Murray put forward a bill to include the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River wilderness area in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to provide further protection, but the bill was not passed by the house.
For years prior to the establishment of hiking areas, the Middle Fork Valley served as an illegal dumping ground. Conservationists cleaned up the trash, acre by acre, and a recent paving of the road made the area more accessible than ever. While the natural splendor of the area has been restored, the route is often closed for more natural reasons: washouts.
The Middle Fork Snoqualmie River valley receives a large amount of rain, as witnessed by our hike! Furthermore, the valley has a large deposit of clay soil, distinguishing it from other areas in the Cascades. Formed during the Pleistocene Ice Age, periglacial lakes were formed as a result of an ice dam that carried substantial amounts of fine clay sediment. Clay sediments hold water more tightly than other, rockier sediments, creating a much wetter sediment, more prone to washouts.
The clay sediment also impacted the types of forests and wildlife found in the region. Douglas fir, the dominant in Cascade forests is less tolerant of clay soils and instead, unusual tees such as hazelnut, pacific crabapple, cascara and Sitka spruce trees are found instead. Not only does this impact the type of trees found in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Valley, it is responsible for the milky green colors in the water.
The protection of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River valley represented a shift from protecting alpine environments to recognizing the ecological importance of low elevation forests and rivers as well.