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Big Four Ice Caves Snowshoe

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Want a walk through a gorgeous winter wonderland without a sweaty climb up a steep trail? This route offers all the beauty and majesty found in the wintry mountains without the stren¬uous workout usually required to see such splendor. It is perfect for taking the family on a gentle snowshoe stroll or for introducing newbies to the joys of snowshoeing.

The trail is wide - actually, most of the "trail" is on a section of the unplowed Mountain Loop Highway - and flat, so first-timers can get the feel for walking on snowshoes without having to worry about climbing, crossing, or descending steep slopes. But despite its mild nature, this trail accesses some truly wild country. Trekking up to the base of Big Four Mountain, snowshoers can gawk in awe at the towering peak before them. The granite monolith of Big Four, with its long icicle fingers and snowy cap, captivates most visitors, but it's not the only natural wonder found here. Huge ancient trees, a clear, ice-rimmed river, and hordes of animals--big and small--are here to enjoy as well.

Leave the parking area and trek up the snowbound Mountain Loop Highway as it follows the Stillaguamish River upstream. The road is lined with towering cedar and fir trees--many of which sport long, flowing beards of green. At 0.5 mile, cross the sparkling waters of Coal Creek as it rushes in from the north to empty into the Stillaguamish. Follow the road more than 2 miles until a small side road veers away to the right. This is the entrance to the Big Four Picnic Area and the trailhead for the Big Four Ice Caves Trail.

The ice caves themselves are typically blocked by early December--heavy snowfall and continual avalanches keep the caves capped tight throughout the winter--but the 1-mile trail from the picnic area is worth exploring. The trail leads to the base of Big Four and, along the way, offers outstanding views of the giant rock face of the mountain. Though it may be tempting to snowshoe right up to the jumbled pile of snow at the mouth of the ice caves, resist that temptation. That pile of snowballs is what remains of the devastating avalanches that flash down the side of the mountain after every snowstorm and after most sunny mornings. The bright sun on the rock face weakens the snow and ice, sending it crashing down on the trail below with absolutely no warning.

Author’s Rating: Easiest.
Generally good trails for beginners, with little elevation change and minimal avalanche danger.
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 54 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Big Four Ice Caves Snowshoe — Mar 31, 2014 — thebrink
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail
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Even though you can drive to the parking lots for the Big Four Trail heads due to the early opening ...
Even though you can drive to the parking lots for the Big Four Trail heads due to the early opening of the Mountain Loop Hwy, the parking lots are still not open. We parked at the more eastern lot. There is room for about six vehicles at the lot barricade.

We felt we were all dressed up with nowhere to go once we arrived at the first bridge. There was a sign that informed hikers that there was a high danger of avalanches. Not wishing to go further we turned around there. We were able to make a nice loop hike by going back via the meadow parking lot and then back to the eastern parking lot where we began.

There were still lots of great views of Big Four, Mt Dickerman and other peaks. We also got to see the beaver dam on the trail between the two parking lots.

There is a bit of snow on the trails and we found that traction devices on our boots were helpful but snowshoes are not needed.
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Big Four Ice Caves Snowshoe — Feb 26, 2014 — spottedyeti
Snowshoe/XC Ski
Issues: Snow on trail
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It was a great day to ski. The snow conditions on the highway are great especially past the Big Four...
It was a great day to ski. The snow conditions on the highway are great especially past the Big Four parking area. The snow near the Deer Creek parking area is as is typical pretty messed up by hikers without snowshoes or skis. The rest of the highway past Big Four is about as good as it will ever get as the snow has settled and been flattened out by a snowmobile recently.

The trail to Big Four Ice Caves is another story. Post-holers have trashed the trail making it pretty horrible to ski without risking snapping your skis. If you want to go to the Ice Caves you will need snowshoes. The snow is pretty deep so please people stay off the trails if you do not at least have snowshoes.

On an unfortunate note, another car and mine got hit by window smashers at the Deer Creek Gate.
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Big Four Ice Caves Snowshoe — Feb 25, 2014 — jalexand05
Snowshoe/XC Ski
Issues: Snow on trail
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Plenty of snow on the trail now from the end of the Mountain Loop Highway all the way to the base of...
Plenty of snow on the trail now from the end of the Mountain Loop Highway all the way to the base of Big Four. Today was a beautiful day and the mountains were out in all their glory. Probably between 1.5-2 ffet of snow on the trail, you can get by with boots when you're walking on the road but will need snowshoes to get from the Big Four Picnic Area up to the area below the mountain. No caves currently but heard quite a few loud avalanches so stay safe!
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Big Four Ice Caves Snowshoe — Jan 30, 2014 — snyderjohn99
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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Rainy in town it was snowing at Big Four, wet snow but pretty snow. The trail had more coverage tha...
Rainy in town it was snowing at Big Four, wet snow but pretty snow.
The trail had more coverage than 2 weeks ago. There were still some bare spots. If it continues to snow this might be snowshoeable by Saturday
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Big Four Ice Caves Snowshoe — Jan 01, 2014 — cabin fervor
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Snow on trail | Avalanche danger | Road to trailhead inaccessible
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Happy New Year....and what a way to kick off 2014! Now that I have claimed the brilliant idea of spe...
Happy New Year....and what a way to kick off 2014! Now that I have claimed the brilliant idea of spending this day here I must admit that several other hundred people had the same idea.

Our trip began outside the trailhead restrooms where a group of women were mortified at the report coming out of the restrooms that the ....gasp...toilet paper was gone. After sparing several squares from my personal roll we departed for the caves just in front of the large very happy restroom group who were surely now friends for life.

We heard some reports from returning hikers that snowshoes or other traction devices were helpful so we strapped on the shoes ( left the poles behind)and found they were indeed helpful navigating the icy trail.... For about 1/4 mile. From there they were off and on for the rest of the hike - great charging up the icy inclines, worthless on the bridges and steep icy downhills.

Since it was a holiday the trail was VERY crowded with large family groups and dogs both on and off leash. Normally this would have been expected but it was challenging today with everyone....dogs...kids...grandmas etc doing the icy trail slip and slide landing on their behinds, struggling to get up on ice (no easy feet:)etc. After slogging along through the trail chaos we arrived exhausted at the ice fields but the amazing scenery suddenly made it all worthwhile- spectacular! We heard and saw one small avalanche and had a very clear view of the main large cave and smaller side cave.

A short hike up and around the knoll on the right revealed two collapsed caves and a standing arch- also dazzling. We enjoyed a picnic lunch with hot soup and headed down late in the afternoon to miss the hoards of returning families. That plan worked well but the trails had really iced up by 5:00 and it even with the cumbersome snowshoes with good traction it was a wild slide back to the car.

Next time we will all definitely have StabilICERS traction devices and poles- that was clearly the right gear to have had for this hike in the winter.
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Big 4 winter brink.jpg
The opening to the main Ice Cave. Photo by Brink.
Location
Big Four Ice Caves (#723)
North Cascades -- Mountain Loop Highway
Mt. Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest - Darrington District
Statistics
Roundtrip 7.0 miles
Elevation Gain 250 ft
Highest Point 1800 ft
Features
Rivers
Old growth
Mountain views
User info
Good for kids
Northwest Forest Pass required
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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