Our Hiking Time: 4h 15m
Total Ascent: 700ft
Highest Point: 1560ft
Total Distance: 8.2 miles
Location: N 48° 13.1220, W 121° 46.7100
Required Permit: None
This week, we were looking for a gentle hike that would not be too taxing on my still-recovering foot. After some research we settled on a fairly popular riverside hike in the Darrington area: the Boulder River Trail.
The Boulder River runs through the Boulder River Wilderness, nearly 50,000 acres of wildlands protected since 1984, which boast the only virgin timber in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The vast majority of the Wilderness is untouched – there are only 25 miles of maintained trail in the area, leaving the rest to black bears, mountain goats, and elk.
The trail begins by following a 1909 railroad grade above the river for about a half-mile before crossing the Boulder River Wilderness boundary. The rushing sound of Boulder River Falls can be heard in this first section of the trail, but are obscured by thick underbrush. While it is tempting to try to bushwhack down to them, we suggested you skip it because referring to this set of boulder-strewn set of rapids as a waterfall is a bit overgenerous. Instead, continue onward to what some folks refer to as Pre-Show Falls, a small horsetail waterfall tumbling down the rock walls opposite the trail. A trail leads down to the rocky riverside for a closer view and a glimpse of the next set of falls, unofficially known as Feature Show Falls, a quarter-mile upriver.
Feature Show Falls are perhaps the most dramatic feature along the trail – a large outcropping splits the falls in half as the water spills down the moss-covered rock face. For some this is destination enough, and you can settle in on the trailside bench or clamber down the riverbank to find a picnic spot. Others continue onward for another mile through a thickening forest of fir and hemlock to the final falls, sometimes called Meditation Falls. If you’re up for a longer day, continue past Meditation Falls to hike the full four miles to the end of the trail at Boulder Ford. At one time, hikers could cross the river here and continue onward and upward to the Three Fingers Fire Lookout, but the route has long since been abandoned in favor of other approaches.
It’s unsurprising that the Boulder River Trail is a popular hike. This trail gently takes you through a dramatic and impressive landscape. Once beyond Feature Show Falls, the forest becomes moss-laden and heavy, losing much of the undergrowth prominent in the early portions of the trail. The river remains a nearly constant companion, always within hearing distance even as it slips from view. Creeks cut across the trail, winding down to the river in contrast to the more dramatic cascades on the opposite bank. Even the wildlife was unexpected: water ouzels, wood ducks and hummingbirds all made an appearance. With only a few hundred feet of elevation gain and worthy destinations early-on, this trail is an excellent way to give children or the reluctant hiker a taste of the wilderness. One caution: when we hiked this trail, there were a couple of significant blowdowns that were a little tricky to navigate. Most hikers shouldn’t have much of a problem with these.
To get there, take I-5 north to Exit 208 and drive east on SR 530 for about 19 miles to milepost 41. Immediately after the milepost, turn right onto FR #2010 – some maps call this French Creek Road, but it’s not well signed. Follow the unpaved road almost four miles to its end and the trailhead. -Nathan
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