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Boulder River

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A good hike any time of year, the trail is perfect for beating summer heat, enjoying winter rain, savoring autumn color, or being wooed by waterfalls that are swollen with spring rain. One thing about this trail remains constant: the trees. Whatever the season, you'll travel through a forest that has defied time. Boulder River's moss-draped giants represent one of the last remaining large, low-country old-growth forests in the Cascades. Protected within the nearly 49,000-acre Boulder River Wilderness, these ancient trees are as impressive as the wild river they embrace.

Start in an old cut on a logging railroad grade. Don't despair, though, virgin forest appears soon enough. Crashing Boulder Falls can be heard through the dense forest and becomes fully visible just ahead. At about 1 mile pass the wilderness boundary, and soon afterward encounter a spectacular yet unnamed twin waterfall tumbling down the canyon walls into the river. This is a good turnaround spot for young children and hikers who just want a quick wilderness dose.

For those intent on carrying on, the trail continues up the moisture-laden emerald valley. While the river's incessant gurgling and belching is continuously heard along the way, the raucous waterway is often hidden from sight. Farther upstream the trail pulls a little ways from the river, climbing a couple hundred feet above it. At 4 miles the trail heads back down to the wild waterway, terminating at a damp riverside flat (elev. 1450 ft). Grab the granola and let the river serenade you with its timeless ballads.
Driving Directions:

Take exit 208 off of I-5 and drive 4 miles east on State Route 530 to Arlington, and then continue east on SR 530 for 20 more miles. At milepost 41, near a subdivision, turn right onto Forest Road 2010 (French Creek Road) and continue for 3.7 miles to the trailhead (elev. 950 ft). Privy available at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources campground 2.8 miles east.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 333 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Boulder River — Mar 22, 2014 — SeattleBebop1
Day hike
Issues: Mudholes | Water on trail | Road to trailhead inaccessible
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Please DO NOT attempt to travel on SR530 to this hike until the area is safe again (I'm sure you've ...
Please DO NOT attempt to travel on SR530 to this hike until the area is safe again (I'm sure you've heard the reports about the landslide which tragically cost several people their lives). Oso is the small neighborhood a little before the forest service road. It was buried by the landslide, and is now being threatened by a flood due to the damned-up river.

(We passed through the area about 10:15-10:20, and the mudslide must have happened right as we were parking -- we didn't learn about it until after we completed the hike).

The three waterfalls are very lovely and are at full force now, although you should probably wear gaiters for the mud; I'm glad I did. I do wonder about the 8.6 miles estimate: my pedometer said we did 10.5 miles.

Again, please choose another hike until the situation is resolved on SR530. If you are able, please consider a donation to the Red Cross.
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Boulder River — Mar 13, 2014 — BigButtDon
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Clogged drainage | Mudholes | Washouts | Water on trail
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Geezer Patrol was at full compliment now that one party's kneecap has stitched itself back together ...
Geezer Patrol was at full compliment now that one party's kneecap has stitched itself back together and what better test than a "stroll" in the big trees. 0900 at the trailhead and no-one else around - sweet. The trail seemed to be in good shape and the falls were roaring pretty good. This was the most water we had seen in four trips. Unfortunately, that also included the trail. The last mile had new dead fall, water running down and across the trail and a special spot now known to us as "Rado's Run". This is a nice muddy path left by a freshly toppled, monster root ball of a downed tree. It does have another smaller diameter tree through it that one is supposed to use as a "chin-up bar" to stabilize the traverse according to our hike leader at the time.
If you care at all about trip data, the WTA data, we believe, is erroneous. We had an IPAD, smartphone and Garmin 62S all tracking our path with three different S/W packages. One way mileage to the end is 5.5 miles, 1150 total elevation gain and the high point is indeed around 1550'. In fact, the map database used by two devices showing the trail path based on USGS data was also incorrect. In short, the real trail end is 30 minutes additional hiking time past the USGS map trail end.
The Geezers made the walk in in 3.5 hours and out in 3.0. including multiple stops for relief, technical discussions about tree age and Kate Upton's all important weightless photoshoot aboard the Vomit Comet. The end of trail lunch spot is a nice sunny venue right on the water. The healed knee performed flawlessly and a modicum of Aleve, Makers Mark and post-hike Gin & Tonics remedied the muscle aches. Best of all, sunny skies, warm air and no-one else but us.
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Boulder River — Mar 13, 2014 — joval
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail
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Excellent starter hike for the year. Beautiful waterfalls along the trail. Sun breaks during the d...
Excellent starter hike for the year. Beautiful waterfalls along the trail. Sun breaks during the day. Some muddy spots and water on the trail in areas. Nothing to keep us from having a great hike and a good time.
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Boulder River — Mar 13, 2014 — joval
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail
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Excellent starter hike for the year. Had some sun breaks. Beautiful waterfalls along the trail. S...
Excellent starter hike for the year. Had some sun breaks. Beautiful waterfalls along the trail. Some muddy spots and water on the trail. A few trees down. Nothing to keep us from enjoying our hike.
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Boulder River — Mar 09, 2014 — HikerJim
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Water on trail
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I joined Kim and Karen Daubert, Executive Director of WTA, for a hike on the Boulder River Trail. Ki...
I joined Kim and Karen Daubert, Executive Director of WTA, for a hike on the Boulder River Trail. Kim has hiked it dozens of times and I've done it a number of times. It was Karen's first visit. Boulder River is mobbed in the summer when the water level is low and the falls are small. During a big storm in the winter or spring is when it is at its best. The river is roaring and boiling. The falls are huge. The mossy forest is at its best. The side creeks are also huge at that time but that is to be expected. We headed up Highway 530 towards Darrington and turned off on the French Creek Road. The usual pot holes but otherwise it was easy to drive. The low snow of just a few weeks earlier would have covered even this low elevation hike. We saw only a few very small patches.

We were the first car to arrive at 9:00 am. It was only sprinkling. Rain gear on all day but it was much drier than I was expecting. I never did pull out my umbrella. We quickly saw the results of all the recent rain. Big puddles on the old road section near the beginning. Every side creek was flowing fast. The dark sky and copious water brought out good colors. We could hear the river long before we saw it. Another car pulled in while we were getting ready. Those folks soon passed us. They made it to the end of the trail and passed us again on their way back.

The first falls soon came into view. The narrow ribbon was not so narrow this day. Plenty of water was cascading over the wall of the gorge and plunging into the Boulder River. We took the side trail down to the river at the base of the falls. The water was high but not as high as I feared. We made it all the way to the bottom. Lots of noise and roiling water flowing by and the big falls dropping into the river right in front of us. The way this far is only about a mile and was well worth it this day. We climbed back up to the trail.

Just a few minutes later we passed a small ribbon falls and then reached Feature Show Falls. The big falls was very impressive. No bare rock showing through. Just a whole lot of water crashing down. We took the short route down to the river here. Mist from the falls coated my camera lens in an instant. There was no way to avoid it. The falls was as big as I have seen it. We soon climbed back to the trail to admire the falls from the higher vantage point. With a 9:15 am start and a slow pace I thought others would have caught up with us. I guess the rainy forecast kept some folks at home. The first day of daylight saving time may have helped. It was only 8:15 am body time when we started.

Beyond the falls we had some nice views of the river. The featured attraction though is the forest. There are some very big trees along the trail. All the moss makes it look like a rain forest too. Some of the creeks we could rock hop. Some had bridges. Most of them we just slogged through. In the first half on the hike the creeks were not even boot deep. The second half was much more interesting. To say there was water on the trail is an understatement. In places there were puddles and small lakes. In others the trail was a creek complete with some mini waterfalls. We were prepared for it and had no problems.

Farther along there were a few crossings that were ankle to knee deep and flowing very fast. We and the several groups who passed us all made it to the end. The last mile or so of the trail seems to go on forever. Lots of little ups and downs and creek crossings and no indication of the end. There were only a few trees down. Only one was a problem. The tree was just uphill from the trail and the tree is way to big to get over. The rootball created a crater above the trail. For now folks are climbing up the slope and dropping into the hole to get around. I hope the tree can be removed soon.

Finally the trail dropped to the end at the the old ford site. Nobody could ford that raging torrent this day. The light rain began the last mile or so. It rained all though our lunch. Very much like my last visit. Two groups that passed us earlier were just leaving as we arrived. We had the trail end to ourselves. On a day like this the trip felt much more wild. Few people and the constant roar of the river. Not like the trail is on a sunny summer day. The trip back was much quicker. After a mile or so the rain mostly abated. As often happens we began to meet other hikers on the last mile. A number of folks were out for an afternoon. Plenty of time to reach the falls.

Back at the start the lot was full with a few cars parked down the road. Still not the usual crowds. This is a great trip on a wet day. I have seldom hiked it any other time. The views are all up close and not far aways. The forest and falls are the stars. For the day we hiked about 9 miles with 1100' of elevation gain. The forest was great. The waterfalls were outstanding. The river was raging. Add in great company and it was a very good day on the trail.

I have posted 34 photos and 2 video clips on my website at: http://www.hikingnorthwest.com. Go to "Trips - 2014" on the left margin.
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Boulder River by Bama Rose.jpg
Boulder River waterfall by Bama Rose.
WTA worked here!
2011
Location
Boulder River (#734)
North Cascades -- West Slope
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Darrington Ranger District
Statistics
Roundtrip 8.6 miles
Elevation Gain 700 ft
Highest Point 1550 ft
Features
Rivers
Waterfalls
Old growth
User info
Good for kids
Dogs allowed on leash
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
100 Hikes in Washington's Glacier Peak Region (Spring and Manning - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Oso No. 77
Granite Falls No. 109

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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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  • Trail Work 2011
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