Old-growth trees. An untouched ancient forest. Waterfalls and rapids crashing over moss-covered boulders.
Roughly 110 miles away from Tacoma, near the town of Darrington, lies the Boulder River Trail. With a trailhead elevation of 1,000 feet — and climbing a modest 600 feet from there — this trail is suitable for families with small children and those with varying levels of fitness, and is usually accessible in winter. Why not bundle up, fill a Thermos with hot chocolate, and get out to enjoy the scenery?
This fantastic warm-weather destination is even more spectacular during the coldest parts of winter, as sparkling ice crystals decorate fir needles, rabbit tracks appear in fresh snow, and icicles dangle from rock outcroppings.
The trail begins on an abandoned railroad grade, but soon turns become a gentle trail into virgin old-growth forest. You will be able to hear the roar of Boulder Falls in the steep canyon below but will not be able to see it.
The trail follows the river through a deep canyon. After about half a mile, you enter the Boulder River Wilderness. Due to its protected status, this area boasts massive ancient trees that include Douglas fir, hemlock, and western red cedar, some of which are nearly 6 feet in diameter. The trail gently rises and falls from alongside the river to towering above it and back down along its rocky edge.
Soon after entering the wilderness, you will see the first of a series of waterfalls. At approximately 1¼ miles, a majestic waterfall cascades down a sheer rock face, splitting into two falls. Many consider this the most beautiful falls along the trail. You can descend the path down to the river across from the base of the falls, where you will discover a great place to take photos, as well as some nice rocks to sit on and soak it all in.
If you have small children, limited time, or members of your hiking party with physical limitations, this is a great place to eat lunch and then turn around, as the modest elevation gain at this point is only about 250 feet — making it a short, easy, enjoyable hike for most.
Another waterfall cascades down the rocks approximately ¼ mile past this point, and depending on the time of year and rainfall, several small waterfalls and stunning rapids dot the trail; all of them are well worth experiencing.
This is one of the last contiguous areas of untouched old-growth forest in the state. The Boulder River is the largest drainage in this wilderness, and this trail affords hikers a rare opportunity to experience true wilderness and virgin forest.
Winter is a great time to enjoy waterfalls, as the rains and melting snow make them more powerful and awe-inspiring. A winter hike along the Boulder River might just become your new favorite holiday tradition.
Good to know
- No parking pass required.
- No facilities at trailhead. Check road conditions in winter/early spring, and watch for potholes.
- Dogs are allowed on leash.
How to get there:
From I-5, take exit 208/Silvana/Arlington, and drive east on Hwy. 530 about 19.5 miles. Turn right on French Creek Road (FS 2010). Drive 3.7 miles to the end of the road and the trailhead.
Green Trails Oso No. 77