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Big Four Ice Caves

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Hikers have been marveling at these frozen spectacles of nature for over a century. Reached by one of the most manicured trails in the Cascades, Big Four's famed ice caves can be enjoyed by hikers of all walks. Formed from cascading water and warm winds hollowing out heaps of avalanche-deposited snow, the caves usually appear by midsummer.

Instead of immediately heading for the caves, take a short diversion right, following a paved path 0.25 mile to the Big Four Picnic Area. This trail was once a rail line and was responsible for delivering thousands of tourists to a grand hotel where the picnic area now sits. From 1921 to 1949, vacationers came to this spot to golf (the flats before you were once a green), paddle (the wetlands you just crossed were flooded), admire the inspiring view of Big Four Mountain (still in front of you), and hike to the base of the ice caves (just like you!). All that remains of the hotel is a chimney. The grounds have reverted to a semiwild state, and the trail has been upgraded to a top-notch walk in the woods.

From this trip back in time, follow the main trail toward the ice caves, crossing through bird-bursting wetlands. In 0.25 mile come to a junction. The trail left will return you to your vehicle. For now, continue straight, soon coming to a bridge crossing the South Fork Stillaguamish River. Two hops and a skip beyond, cross Ice Creek by bridge as well.

Now on a very gentle grade, wind through open forest. Notice clumps of mountain hemlock, a tree that usually grows at elevations above 3500 feet. Cross Ice Creek once more and emerge at the barren base beneath the north face of Big Four Mountain. Stare straight up sheer 4000-foot walls where avalanches careen down all winter and spring, depositing tons of snow in the shadow of the mountain. Admire the cascades now crashing down those same walls, helping to hollow out the caves.

Walk across the fireweed-rimmed rocky flats to get a closer peek at the caves. But don't venture into or onto them-they can collapse at any time. If it's a hot summer's day, cherish the air-conditioned breezes funneling out of the icy catacombs.

Note from WTA: Never enter these ice caves, no matter how safe they might seem. In addition to spontaneous collapse, there is high risk in winter from avalanches off the mountain which feed the caves. Not only is there a risk of being in the avalanche zone, but people have been in the caves and then sealed inside by an avalanche. A woman was killed by falling ice in the summer of 1998, and an 11-year old girl in 2011.
Driving Directions:

From Granite Falls follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 26 miles to the trailhead, on the right (elev. 1750 ft). Privy available. You can also hike from the Big Four Picnic Area, which is 0.5 mile before (west of) the caves trailhead off of the Mountain Loop Highway.

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

Recent Trip Reports

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There are 223 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Big Four Ice Caves — Apr 13, 2014 — austineats
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail | Avalanche danger
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Big Four is always wonderfully scenic with lots to do. I will admit to going past the "closed" sign....
Big Four is always wonderfully scenic with lots to do. I will admit to going past the "closed" sign. If you were to chose to do this please be smart about it. Snow bridges, avalanches, fast slowing water, and wildlife are all real dangers, especially with children.

That much said the trail is mostly still covered in snow and patches of ice. The beaver ponds were particularly spectacular. Views of Dickerman, Stilliguamish, Forgotten, and Morning Star(?) are wonderful.
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Big Four Ice Caves — Apr 06, 2014 — kevin and mistie
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail
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Girlfriend and I left about 12 noon from Mt Vernon, We got the gate at 130. Had to park there since ...
Girlfriend and I left about 12 noon from Mt Vernon, We got the gate at 130. Had to park there since the gate is still locked from the snow. The Picnic area was still covered in about a foot or more of snow. The Walkway from the picnic area to the bridge was covered in snow. The Bridge was blocked because of avalanches.. There were about 15 other people up there too. We heard and saw avalanches every 20 to 30 Minutes
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Heather Lake Snowshoe, Big Four Ice Caves, Coal Lake, Elliott Creek, Lake Twentytwo - Lake 22 — Mar 30, 2014 — BigKoz
Day hike
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WARNING!!!!! Car Break ins. Early 80's Red Ford Ranger with white pin stripe on side. 6 foot tall ,...
WARNING!!!!! Car Break ins. Early 80's Red Ford Ranger with white pin stripe on side. 6 foot tall , husky, blond man early to mid 20's with short scruff beard. He robbed 8-10 cars around noon 3/30/14. he is suspected in other break ins on mount-loop trail heads according to police. Get the word out. we saw him right before we left trail head and then speed out of parking lot. If we would have known a vehicle description, I would have stuck around or run him off. Help Keep Our Trail Heads Safe.
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Big Four Ice Caves — Feb 02, 2014 — mkhikes
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Snow on trail
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Beautiful day for a hike! It stared off sunny and ended snowing pretty well. Because it was big game...
Beautiful day for a hike! It stared off sunny and ended snowing pretty well. Because it was big game day (tm) the trails were deserted. We tried starting off down the road as indicated by the Big Four Ice Caves Snowshoe page, because there is really not much snow on the ground, but the river crossing was washed out so we turned back and drove to the picnic area and hiked from there. Slippery in some areas, so poles Came in handy. Yak tracks stayed in the pack though. There was one blowdown that was easy to get around.
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Big Four Ice Caves — Jan 25, 2014 — Rick & Paula
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Snow on trail
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There are a number of spots that are ice covered on the trail as you start up. Saw a few people take...
There are a number of spots that are ice covered on the trail as you start up. Saw a few people take some falls. About half way up the ice clears and it is mainly snow or clear ground. Very slippery up around the ice caves. The hike was worth the site of the caves at the end :)
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big four.jpg
Photo by Lindsay Leffelman
WTA worked here!
2010, 2012, 2013
Location
Big Four Ice Caves (#723)
North Cascades -- Mountain Loop Highway
Darrington Ranger District
Statistics
Roundtrip 2.2 miles
Elevation Gain 200 ft
Highest Point 1900 ft
Features
Rivers
Waterfalls
Old growth
Mountain views
User info
Good for kids
Dogs allowed on leash
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
100 Hikes in the North Cascades: Glacier Peak Area
Best Hikes with Kids: Western Washington & the Cascades (Mountaineers Books)
Hiking Guide to Washington Geology (Carson & Babcock - Keokee) p.123-125
Green Trails Silverton No. 110

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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Red MarkerBig Four Ice Caves
48.0659166667 -121.510733333
  • Youth Vacations 2012
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  • Trail Work 2010
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