** Please note that Middle Fork Road is in the process of being paved. Access to this trail may be limited during construction. **
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 youre looking for more trail time, head left and continue to follow the railroad grade until youve 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.
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 wasnt 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.