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Old Sauk River Trail

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A major tributary to the Skagit, the federally protected Wild and Scenic Sauk River supports a wide array of wildlife and provides critical habitat for Puget Sound salmon. And like the Skagit, this mighty river is also winter habitat for hundreds of bald eagles. The Old Sauk River Trail hugs the riverbank of this ecologically important and strikingly beautiful waterway for 3 virtually flat miles. And with an elevation below 1000 feet, the trail rarely sees snow, making it one of the few winter hiking choices along the Mountain Loop Highway. But any time of year is ideal for this delightful and easy trail.

Within sound but not sight of the river, the trail begins in a thick stand of mature forest. Despite logging in the 1930s, many old-growth Douglas-firs still boldly stand. In 0.75 mile, after skirting a periodically dry channel, reach the mighty river. Behold its beauty and ever-changing mood. In the wet fall months, the river's volume and current increases. On more than a few occasions the Sauk has jumped its bed, taking a piece of the trail with it. But this trail is too admired to let go of-determined volunteers continuously restore lost tread.

At 1.25 miles cross a bridge over a small creek, and continue alongside the churning Sauk through attractive woods. Walk this way in springtime and be treated to brilliant displays of wildflowers. Thousands of trilliums, dwarf dogwoods, wood violets, twinflowers, and starflowers carpet the forest floor.

At 2 miles the trail appears to end. The November deluge of 2006 claimed roughly 150 yards of tread here. But trail builders constructed new tread around this washout along the unstable riverbank. Comprised of layers of glacial till and moraine, the Sauk's banks easily erode when assaulted with intense hydrological force.

The trail now briefly leaves the river to follow a quiet channel. Look for sign of active beaver. In late summer to early fall, chances are good for spotting spawning steelhead. The trail crosses an old road and then makes its way back to the riverbank. Silt deposits on and along the trail provide ample evidence of frequent past flooding.

At 2.75 miles the trail leaves the Sauk and its raucous bellowing behind. Briefly following Murphy Creek through a tunnel of moss-draped maples and under a canopy of towering cottonwoods, the trail reaches its southern terminus on the Mountain Loop Highway. Turn around and enjoy this trail downriver.
Driving Directions:

Take exit 208 off of I-5 and drive 4 miles east on State Route 530 to Arlington. Continue east on SR 530 for 28 more miles to Darrington. At a three-way stop, turn right (south) onto the Mountain Loop Highway and drive 3.5 miles to trailhead. Alternatively, you can begin at the southern trailhead 2.8 miles farther down the road.

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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 82 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Old Sauk River Trail — Apr 12, 2014 — Case982
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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Beautiful day for a hike. The trail and weather were both perfect!!...
Beautiful day for a hike. The trail and weather were both perfect!!
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Old Sauk River Trail — Mar 21, 2014 — RP-Hiker
Day hike
Issues: Washouts | Water on trail | Snow on trail
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Road to trailhead is clear. Patches of light snow on the trail throughout - no problem - passable in...
Road to trailhead is clear. Patches of light snow on the trail throughout - no problem - passable in hiking boots or even sneakers. Water on trail in a few spots, slightly muddy in a handful of small areas. In one spot a small stream is crossing the trail - the stream is about 3 feet wide at its most narrow point. Requires a good jump for adults - younger kids may need a jump + an adult on the receiving side with a helping hand. Not too much of an issue.

The hike is actually more like a walk. Very easy, with little elevation gain, few technical challenges. Not much of a workout. Great for younger kids.

Beautiful forest, not much traffic on the access road or the trail. Nearby river is audible throughout, visible about half of the time. Roaring and fast-moving on this afternoon in March.
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Old Sauk River Trail — Mar 09, 2014 — HikeswithNewf
Day hike
Issues: Washouts
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** WASHED OUT TRAIL ** At around 1.3 miles in the trail has been washed out. The width is about 3 f...
** WASHED OUT TRAIL ** At around 1.3 miles in the trail has been washed out. The width is about 3 feet so more nimble hikers may be able to jump it. I was hiking along with my dog so chose not to as the water was rushing through it very quickly and it looked at least a foot deep with what are probably slippery rocks at the bottom.

There's also a few large puddles on the trail but easy to step around. Definitely should have have waterproof hiking boots on not sneakers as you'll sleep/get very wet feet.

Also note that the water in the Sauk River is VERY high due to all the recent rain and moving VERY fast. Only hike with a dog if you keep a close hold on the leash and have it well-trained for voice control if it gets loose. I have a 140 pound Newf and let him take a dip where that little bridge is at around a mile and even there the water was moving VERY fast. A smaller dog/one that isn't as good a swimmer would EASILY have been swept into the river.

Other than that gorgeous as always - just be careful!
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Old Sauk River Trail — Feb 26, 2014 — BigButtDon
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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After finding a freshly downed alder across the Boulder River Access Road, Geezer Patrol minus one r...
After finding a freshly downed alder across the Boulder River Access Road, Geezer Patrol minus one reverted to this trail. Probably a good thing. We started from the North access which is now unmarked and it required 4X4 to get past the snow plow hump into the parking lot.
The trail had about 8 inches of snow with a crusted top that made walking a bit less easy than we anticipated. My partners were wise enough to let the big man break trail as I stumbled about like Frankenstein with a load in his pants. After almost three miles of that, we diverted to the new handicapped access parking lot for lunch and a walk back down the road to the truck.
Had the place to ourselves though and the trees were magnificent in the sunshine (whats that!). It sure beat cabin fever even though the walking was less than comfortable. Snowshoes might have been an OK idea.
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Old Sauk River Trail — Feb 22, 2014 — HikingwiththeBlackDog
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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A rainy day on Seattle's Eastside but no reason not to venture up North a bit to check out an easy t...
A rainy day on Seattle's Eastside but no reason not to venture up North a bit to check out an easy trail that had been on a friend's "to do" list for some time. Reinforced by trail dogs Lucy and Louie we headed up to the Old Sauk River trailhead through light but persistent snow flurries. The parking lot was all ours when we arrived and started down the trail in snow just deep enough to cover the tread. This trail is in great shape and has obviously had some TLC in recent years.

There is just about zero elevation gain as you work your way along the riverside. The trees and rain forrest like moss was frosted with just enough snow to be visually appealing but not the least bit treacherous. We left the micro-spikes in the car and just hoofed it (or pawed it in the case of the dogs) along the 5-6 miles of trail without any difficulty. We met only one other group of hikers who coincidently also were hiking with a pair of Labrador Retrievers so we had a brief Lab Fest before continuing on our separate ways.

Great little trail for families and dog hikers albeit a little short on distance. We decided to return in the Spring and perhaps pair it with another short hike on the Mountain Loop Highway to make a proper day of it.

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Old Sauk by Kim Brown.jpg
Lots of wonderful, lush, thick moss on this trail. Photo by Kim Brown.
WTA worked here!
2011, 2012, 2013
Location
Old Sauk (#728)
North Cascades -- Mountain Loop Highway
Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, Darrington Ranger District
Statistics
Roundtrip 6.0 miles
Elevation Gain 150 ft
Highest Point 800 ft
Features
Rivers
Old growth
Wildlife
User info
Good for kids
Dogs allowed on leash
No pass or permit required
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
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 MarkerOld Sauk River Trail
48.2154333333 -121.558833333
  • Trail Work 2013 Frontcountry
  • Trail Work 2012
  • Trail Work 2011
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