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Coal Creek Snowshoe

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The snow-covered sections of the Mountain Loop Highway are open to anyone and everyone with the means to enjoy the snow - be it via cross-country skis, snowshoes, inner tubes, dogsleds, or snowmobiles - but the side valleys leading away from the main road are often ignored by all of these recreationists. That's a mistake that snowshoers can quietly take advantage of. The Coal Creek valley is the first large valley leading north away from the Mountain Loop Highway, and it offers outstanding opportunities to trek through untouched meadows, open stands of forest, and along clear, sparkling creeks. There is no true trail much of the way, but the wide valley allows snowshoers to pick out their own paths while enjoying the quiet basin and its surrounding natural beauty.

From the parking area, follow the Mountain Loop Highway up the Stillaguamish River valley for nearly a mile. Look for the Coal Creek Campground on the right. Just past the campground, cross Coal Creek, and then bear left onto a tiny spur that leads north. This road ends in just a few hundred yards, but a faint skier and snowshoer trail--marked with blue-diamond blazes--climbs up the Coal Creek valley.

The trail pierces a stand of old second-growth forest. The blazes, sporadically placed, are sometimes difficult to see. If the next blaze is out of sight, just continue a gentle climb, going straight up the face of the thinly forested hill while staying well above the creek itself. In less than a mile, the trail encounters FR 4062. Turn left and follow it as it traverses and gently climbs the valley wall on the east side of Coal Creek. The road ends in another mile, offering picturesque views down the valley to the Stillaguamish River valley and beyond to Hall and Marble Peaks.

Author’s Rating: More Difficult
Some previous snowshoe experience helpful. Some winter survival skills recommended (basic knowledge of avalanche evaluation, emergency shelter construction, etc.). Elevation gain is usually less than 1000 feet with a gradual slope.
Driving Directions:

To get there, from Granite Falls drive east on the Mountain Loop Highway about 12 miles past the Verlot Public Service Center to the end of the plowed road. Park in the cleared pullout area on the north side of the highway.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 3 trip reports for this hike.
Coal Creek Snowshoe — Feb 15, 2013 — thebrink
Snowshoe/XC Ski
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This snowshoe was an adventure in route finding and a bit of scrambling. We had to somewhat guess wh...
This snowshoe was an adventure in route finding and a bit of scrambling. We had to somewhat guess where the trailhead is and then begin to connect the dots, except there were no dots. we never found the elusive markers on the trees to indicate the trail. Within a couple hundred yards of the beginning of the trek we came to a bridge made of two parallel snow covered logs set about two feet apart. Four of the us decided to go down the banks, through the stream and up the other side and one person used the bridge.

After that, it was up und over criss-crossed blowdowns hidden under the snow wher we all took turns falling through unsuspected snow bridges near fallen trees. We did finally link up with FR-4062 and make it to the end.

The views of peaks that are described in the snowshoe book were just barely visible through the trees (Hall Peak and Long Mountain) and a view on the way up of Big Four.

We had better luck on our descent as we found the real trail and made it back down in a third of the time it took us to go up. Just the same, it was a great snowshoe. There was an average of about two feet of snow, mostly walking on a crust with no powder on a sunny day and temperatures in the mid thirties.
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Coal Creek Loop — Mar 21, 2009 — Eric Jain
Snowshoe/XC Ski
Issues: Blowdowns | Bridge out | Overgrown | Snow on trail
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Mountain Loop Hwy was clear up to Deer Creek, though a bit narrow near the end. There were just a ha...
Mountain Loop Hwy was clear up to Deer Creek, though a bit narrow near the end. There were just a handful of cars parked along the road when we arrived Saturday before noon. Strapped on our snowshoes right away; there was a deep layer of compact snow that was wet on top but fortunately not very sticky.

Followed the first road that went left after crossing Coal Creek (NFD 4057). There was a makeshift bridge near the beginning of that road which we decided to bypass by going back to the main road, backtracking a bit (the stream passes under the Mountain Loop Hwy) and shortcutting back to the road. Following the road got harder and harder as there were no existing tracks and the road got increasingly overgrown. When we thought we had reached the end of the road, we headed uphill. Probably too early, as we ended up having to push through dense trees to reach the upper road (NFD 4062).

Once on NFD 4062 we overlooked the branch that turns N and instead ended up on a short side road that heads NW. Didn't realize what had happened as we were relying on a (topographic) Google Maps printout that showed only one road heading N, and the descriptions in the "Snowshoe Routes" book are not terribly detailed. Need to bring a better map next time!

Got a few glances of surrounding mountains from a clearing before we headed back down, more or less the way we came up. One thing to watch out for is that with all the deep snow you can end up on top of a large trunk or stream without realizing it. This may fine in mid-winter, but could be dangerous when the snow is melting.

Apart from the difficulty of finding the trail, this isn't a very strenuous hike, and the forest is quiet and beautiful.
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Coal Creek Loop — Jan 18, 2009 — liaisonguy
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns
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After several aborted attempts this season, I was able to complete the Coal Creak Loop trip describe...
After several aborted attempts this season, I was able to complete the Coal Creak Loop trip described in the Snowshoe – Routes Washington guidebook. The route uses the mountain loop highway (closed for the winter at the Deer Creek gates), forest road 4060, forest road 4062, and a short off-trail connection segment. In a previous outing I’d snow shoed up the road spur going north from the Mountain Loop highway just beyond the Coal Creek campground. The spur road is washed out just 100 yards from the highway, so I looped back around on the highway to avoid wet boots. Continuing up the spur, I didn’t find any blue diamond markers, so I used GPS to mark a way point at the road spur end. In another outing in deep powder, I’d snow shoed east on the highway and turned north on forest road 4060 toward Coal Lake. Road 4060 isn’t used as heavily as the highway, so it’s not nicely compacted. On this trip I stopped at the fork between road 4060 and 4062 toward Beaver Creek, where I made a GPS waypoint and turned around.

Finally, with a nicely consolidated snowpack from recent rain, I headed out with my dog Yeti to complete the loop. The highway is so compacted this week that it’s hike-able without snowshoes from the Deer Creek gate to the Big Four picnic area. Just east of the picnic area I put on the snowshoes and we made good time to the fork at road 4062 which is a very obvious (but unsigned) turn to the west while road 4060 turns and climbs north. Road 4062 is passable on snowshoes by stepping over buried blow downs and dodging the bowed down by the snow. Occasionally the second growth forest breaks for nice views to the south of surrounding peaks. In several places the snow has been melted off the road by run off from recent rain, but I didn’t bother removing the snowshoes. One washout culvert is easily crossed by boulder hopping, but Beaver Creek has washed out a culvert leaving a wide and deep crossing. I searched for an easy crossing, but eventually chose a boulder hopping route 15 meters down stream of the road. The water is only ankle deep in some places, but who wants wet feet on a snow shoe trip? Not me or my dog. Since Yeti doesn’t like water, he had considerable angst about this crossing, but as I concentrated on strapping on the snowshoes, he found a way across.

Continuing on road 4062, the road sort of dead ends as it approaches Coal Creek. The creek isn’t visible, but it is audible. Not sure where the turn toward the south might be, I searched around a tangle of blow downs crossing the road at chest and head high and found the real road end 75 meters beyond. The off trail route turning south is obviously a logging road spur for 100 meters, but beyond that there is no obvious route for about 400 meters. The blue winter trail diamonds mentioned in the guide book are nowhere to be found. Using the GPS way points from the earlier trip, I headed down slope though the trees toward the mountain loop spur road. Back on the Mountain Loop, it’s a few hundred meters back to the car.

This route would be a nice nordic ski route except the off trail portion is rather step and uneven. Perhaps intermediate or novice skiers might want to bring snowshoes for this section. All should have solid navigation skills, map and compass, or GPS for the off trail section.
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Coal Creek eric jain.JPG
Trees along a stream near Coal Creek. Photo by Eric Jain.
Location
North Cascades -- Mountain Loop Highway
Mt. Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest - Darrington District
Statistics
Roundtrip 6.0 miles
Elevation Gain 900 ft
Highest Point 2400 ft
Features
Old growth
Mountain views
User info
Guidebooks & Maps
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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