The Middle Fork Snoqualmie area embraces the full length of a river that starts as an overachieving creek in the Cascades Mountains but ends as a significant waterway as it merges with two other rivers near North Bend, Washington. The area offers intense contrasts, from industrial-scale logging damage dating back a century, to the most challenging and primitive wilderness in the original sense. You must outdistance dense crowds, for rewards that at first seem quite meager. But think of it as the price of admission. If you have the patience and endurance, this is a gateway area for some of the most spectacular places in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

The Middle Fork area has seen more than its fair share of harsh treatment and neglect. Attempts to do something better had mixed success — the "Middle Fork River Trail" turned out to be too mushy for bikes, while the Taylor River trail is generally too bruising. RV access at the cute Taylor River campground (now the only "official" campground remaining) was hampered by horrific road conditions. How much will change now that the 12 miles of road to reach that campground have been paved? Will this mean new opportunities, or the kind of ever-worsening gridlock plaguing nearby trailheads such as Mt. Si and Mailbox Peak? We will soon learn.

Trailheads before the bridge at mile 5.7 are controlled by the State DNR, which requires the state "Discover Pass" surtax. Trailheads beyond that point require a National Recreation Pass or daily permit.

 


 

Access

Take Interstate 90 to North Bend, approximately 27 miles from Seattle. Approximately 3 miles east of the main North Bend exit, take the 468 Avenue SE exit. Cross under the highway and head north, bypassing the truck-stop service stations. At about a quarter mile take the sharp right turn onto the Middle Fork Road. Pass schools, gravel works, and faux-rural properties of the privileged. About 1.4 miles down this road, reach the "Lake Dorothy Road" Y intersection. (Fortunately, a massive outcry — and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness designation — prevented a devastating logging expansion that would have literally taken this road past the shores of Lake Dorothy, logging, and fragmenting the forest area all the way from the Snoqualmie River to Skykomish.) I suggest taking the lower left fork, a little less dangerous but slow because there is some local population, so travel with caution. Turn left where the two road forks rejoin at about 2.7 miles.

This is an urban-proximity area. Leave nothing of value in your parked vehicle!

 


 

Trailheads

Mailbox Peak TH

A new paved 42-slot parking area (plus two handicapped parking slots — I wonder how many wheelchairs go to the top of Mailbox Peak each week?) has been added to supplement the miserably-undersized roadside lot, 3.0 miles from I-90. Will this be enough? Probably not.

Granite Creek Connector TH

0.3 miles further past the Mailbox Peak turnoff, there is a cute minor parking area with room for 5 cars. This is still a viable access point, but the 1.5 mile shorter alternative two miles further up the road is likely to supplant it.

Granite Creek TH

At 5.5 miles, just 0.2 miles before the big concrete bridge across the Middle Fork River, a turnoff road to the right leads to a new 40-slot parking area (plus 2 handicapped slots) for the new connector to the Granite Creek trail. To make as many guidebooks wrong as possible, this new trail has been renamed as the "Granite Creek Trail" while the long-established Granite Creek trail has been renamed as the Connector.

CCC road

At mile 7.8, there is a gated road that can serve for access to the CCC road/trail. There are additional points of access at a (marked?) location on the left at mile 10.3, at the Middle Fork trail lot across the Middle Fork road from the trailhead lot entrance, and just before the entrance to the Middle Fork Campground at mile 12.7.

Middle Fork Snoqualmie TH

At 12.3 miles is a modern, overkill trailhead for the Snoqualmie River trail, which has now been paved. They claim 53+56 slots plus handicapped slots, including some truck slots and trailer slips. In other words, even the reduced capacity is likely to be overkill for a very long time.

Taylor River TH

After crossing the first Taylor River bridge at 12.8 miles, stay left, follow the river, and at 13.2 miles reach the gate blocking the second Taylor River bridge. In the past, there was almost enough diagonal parking here -- but arrive early just in case. And bring an extra plastic disposal bag, to help pick up the trash that seems to spawn here.

Dingford / Upper Middle Fork

Just across the Taylor River bridge at 12.8 miles, take the sharp right turn onto rough and dirty "Road 54." Is it as bad as it used to be? I used to fear for the life of my Jeep suspension when bouncing one rock at a time over the 5.5 miles (seemed more like 25.5) to reach a distinct wide spot that is called the Dingford Trailhead lot, with room for a half dozen vehicles. The road ends immediately past here at a gate, but relics of the virtually impassible Jeep road beyond are available as a shorter but lower-grade alternate route to the Dutch Miller trailhead.

 


 

Trails in this area

Name Miles Obscurity Appeal
1. Granite Lakes 6.0 medium high low
2. Thompson Lake (5.3 +) 2.6 high medium high
3. CCC trail 2 - 12 medium low
4. Pratt Connector trail 3.4 medium low
5. Pratt River (3.4 +) 7.4 sky high low
6. Taylor River 6.2 low medium
7. Blethen Lake (0.5 +) 4.9 high medium
8. Marten Lake (3.0 +) 1.8 medium high high
9. Dream Lake (4.6 +) 1.8 medium high high
10. Snoqualmie Lake (5.6 +) 2.4 high medium high
11. Nordrum Lake (5.9 +) 2.6 high medium
12. Lower Middle Fork Trail 5.1 medium medium low
13. Upper Middle Fork Trail 9.3 high medium high
14. Dutch Miller Gap (7.3 or 9.2 +) 6.8 high high
15. Crawford Lake (7.3 + 3.0 +) 1.8 maximum amazing
16. Williams Lake (7.3 + 6.0 +) 0.6 high medium high
17. Chain Lakes Basin (13.9 +) 1.3 high spectacular
18. Tank Lakes Backdoor (13.9 +) 1.3 high very high
19. Hester Lake 5.6 medium high medium

 

Other trails not covered

Name Miles Obscurity Appeal
Hardscrabble Lakes (6.7 +)1.5 extreme high
Rainy Lake Route (0.7 +) 3.2 very high low
Rock Creek Trail (3.2 +) 3.4 high medium high
Derrick Lake (0.9 +) 2.5 high medium high
Green Ridge Lakes 2.2 very high high
Horseshoe Lake (2.3 +) 1.2 high high
Teneriffe Falls -- very low medium