Our Hiking Time: 2h 30m
Total Ascent: 100ft
Highest Point: 800ft
Total Distance: 6 miles
Location: N 47° 12.9060, W 121° 33.5760
Required Permit: None
Each year as the temperatures drop and the weather becomes less enticing, we start to search out hikes that are a bit more “winter friendly.” With this in mind, we recently headed up to the Darrington area for a short riverside hike along the Old Sauk Trail. Easily accessible and almost entirely flat, the trail seemed ideal for a short hike during the winter months.
While short, the Old Sauk Trail wanders through land thick with history. The Sauk-Suiattle Tribe spent generations plying the Sauk, Suiattle, Cascade, Stillaguamish, and Skagit Rivers before signing a treaty with the United States government in 1855. In 1867 settlers surveyed Darrington and nearby parcels and the 1889 discovery of gold at Monte Cristo drew more settlers to the rapidly developing area. Parts of the Old Sauk Trail follow the route of the wagon road that connected Darrington to Monte Cristo. As time passed and settlement expanded, the Sauk-Suiattle were pushed out. By 1924 the tribe had shrunk to 18 members. Ultimately, however, the tribe managed to rebound, reorganizing and attaining federal tribal recognition in 1973. Today, a small reservation just outside Darrington is home to a handful of the tribe’s 200 members.
From the gravel parking lot, the trail quickly cuts toward the Sauk River. Wander through a mixed forest of evergreens and maples nestled beneath looming old-growth firs, thankfully skipped over when the area was last logged in the 1930s. Once you reach the river, keep an eye out for wildlife. It’s not uncommon to encounter a few of the many animals attracted to the river. The trailside is thick with moss, berry bushes, and views of the river. Depending on the time of year, there will be something to pause and take a closer look at – whether it’s blooming flowers, a handful of huckleberries or a bald eagle sighting.
While the trail is ideal for hikers of all ages, it does not have the big reward of broad vistas or a remote alpine lake. Instead, the Old Sauk Trail is a chance to slow down, take a closer look at the landscape, and enjoy the sounds of the rushing Sauk River. With almost no elevation to speak of and year-round access, this trail is a great little escape during the winter or a last minute walk with the family during the summer months.
We did not run into anyone along this trail, but that may change because the Washington Trail Association has been doing a lot of work on the Old Sauk Trail, updating the main trailhead and repairing trail damage from recent floods. Work is also being done to create a trailhead roughly half-way between the two ends of the current trail. Already a new trail is in the process of being cut from the Mountain Loop Highway to the river. Increased access should mean that the Old Sauk Trail will see more use in the future.
To get there, take I-5 north to Exit 208 and drive east on SR 530 to Darrington. Follow the signs to the Mountain Loop Highway, heading south out of town. After four miles, find the signed Old Sauk River trailhead on your left. -Nathan
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