This is a road report for the North Fork Road, which follows the North Fork Snoqualmie River out to Bare Mountain and Lennox Creek. I wrote up a separate trip report for the Lennox Creek Trail, where I hiked today: https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/trip-reports/trip_report-2022-06-10-4715777441.
SUMMARY: The North Fork Snoqualmie is a rather lonely place, and after driving the road out there, you'll understand why! For the most part, the road runs through or alongside the Campbell Global Snoqualmie Forest, so you're mostly seeing views of clear-cut hills. There is some nice river scenery in places - the road crosses the North Fork Snoqualmie, along with Sunday Creek and Lennox Creek. As you get nearer to the end of the road, the mountains become a bit more rugged and interesting, and in particular the Lennox Creek spur runs alongside some very dramatic cliffs alongside the rushing creek.
ROAD NETWORK: The road you'll drive on is a county and forest service road, but tantalizingly nearby is the nice and smooth Hancock Mainline road that goes all the way from Snoqualmie to the Tolt Reservoir, and on to Highway 2 near Index. Unfortunately, mere mortals are not allowed on the mainline road, or any of the other gated roads, without a "motorized permit" from Campbell Global. These permits are expensive and sell out in the spring every year. Nevertheless, the North Fork Road is open to anyone, and you won't even need a forest pass, since there are no facilities of any kind on this road. There are plenty of places for dispersed camping, notably near the rivers and creeks you'll pass along the way. See the links below for more information on the Snoqualmie Forest and permits.
NAVIGATION: A note about navigation out here. Once you get about a mile off the pavement, you will most likely lose cell service. More importantly, it is not a good idea to trust your GPS for directions to any of the trailheads on the North Fork Road. Google Maps, for instance, stubbornly tries to route you onto the private roads, even though they are all gated. You want to stay on the "North Fork County Road". It looks confusing on the maps, but it's really not. Just DO NOT drive through any gates or past any “private property” signs,, and stay straight at the big four-way intersection about four miles in.
SNOW: The road is entirely snow-free.
CONDITION: After all that, what you really came here for was to hear about the road condition, right? In summary, it's about 19 miles of pure torture. About 1.5 miles in, you will come to a series of road-spanning potholes and one giant lake that is probably larger than your car. This is just a small taste of things to come. If you don’t think you or your car can handle driving across these sorts of bone-jarring potholes for over an hour, then you should just turn around and return to North Bend. The Middle Fork Road is much more scenic and it’s paved all the way to the Taylor River!
The road is actually in fairly decent shape for the first four miles, before you reach the four-way intersection that connects to the Hancock Mainline (remember, go straight!). After that, the potholed sections continually increase in number and severity, at times resulting in 100’ long stretches where the road is nothing but potholes. It’s no that it’s technically difficult - rather, it’s a test of your reflexes and your car’s suspension as you try to find that ever-elusive “best line” through the holes. The road is certainly plenty wide enough for you to try different approaches, but I guarantee you will “miss” at least one major pothole at some point, and that’s where having a high-clearance vehicle may save your bacon.
The worst of the road seems to be between mile 6 or 7 and mile 15, though you could be forgiven for thinking that sounds like most of the road! After you turn onto the Lennox Creek spur at mile 15, you get to drive for about half a mile on what seems like the best part of the entire road! This doesn’t last, however, as you soon encounter more giant potholes. About 1.2 miles past the junction, there is a pretty gnarly washout. The storms from this year (or maybe last year) ran down the road for a couple hundred feet and washed away much of the top layer of gravel. There are deep ruts and exposed rocks, making your choice of line critical if you don’t want to bottom out. My Forester handled it fine - any high-clearance vehicle should be OK if you take it carefully. I can see this section being undriveable in a couple years if it is not repaired. You may want to get in your hikes to Bare Mountain and Dog Mountain while you still can!
The Lennox Creek spur is definitely narrower and brushier than the rest of the road, but it’s not too bad. If you’re so inclined, take some loppers and you could probably clean up the worst of it in 30 minutes or less. Finally, there is a 2-3’ log that fell across the road a bit closer to Bare Mountain. Someone thankfully chainsawed it out, but the opening is very narrow and it’s at an angle to the roadway - my Subaru barely fit through. Take this one really slow.
DESTINATIONS: From the end of the pavement, it's about 13.5 miles to the Sunday Lake Trailhead, which is at Gate 30. At 15.3 miles, you reach a junction after crossing over Lennox Creek (watch out for the giant pothole at the east side of the bridge deck!). The left fork crosses and then follows the North Fork Snoqualmie and dead-ends in about 4 miles. The right fork follows Lennox Creek and reaches the Bare Mountain Trailhead in 3.2 miles, or 18.5 miles from the pavement. The Lennox Creek Trailhead is 0.5 miles further where the road ends, 19 miles in. Only the Bare Mountain Trailhead has any kind of signage - the other two are apparently on a “need to know basis”! :)
TIME: It took me 1:15 to drive from the Lennox Creek Trailhead back to the pavement. And that was more or less in “bat out of hell” mode, yet still only averaging about 15 MPH. If you are a timid off-road driver, I can easily see this trip taking a full two hours. It’s not really a road I would “recommend” for a day trip. At least if you are spending the night, the pain will be spread across multiple days.
FINAL NOTE: If you’re going out to the North Fork Snoqualmie, you’re unlikely to run into many other people. I only saw two cars on the entire road today, near the bottom of the road. While this is great if you want solitude, it also means that no one is likely to come along if you run into trouble. Bring a satellite communicator device (e.g. InReach) so you can message someone to come help you if needed. Also, it’s a great idea to always bring a chainsaw or other saw to help clear logs or debris from the road, and maybe a tow strap if you need to pull a heavier log. It’s no fun driving an hour over a horrible road, just to be turned around by a fallen log while still several miles from the trailhead.