This is a lovely little trail tucked behind the North Cascades Visitor Center outside of Newhalem. Learn about the area by exploring inside the Visitor Center, and then see some of the natural wonders for yourself by wandering down the River Loop Trail to the Skagit River.
The beginning of the River Loop Trail is clearly marked with a sign, and the route begins with a short descent to a forested lowland. The loop is actually more of a lollipop, and this first section is the lollipop stick. After the descent you may notice several unmarked turnoffs heading towards the Newhalem Campground.
Ignore those unmarked turnoffs, and continue down the main path. After approx a third of a mile you reach a signed junction, and here is where the actual loop begins.
You will return via the trail to your left, but for now, go straight, towards the river. In another one-third of a mile, you reach the grand Skagit River itself, one of only nine Wild and Scenic Rivers in Washington. Pause on the sandy beach at water’s edge, and then follow the trail as it meanders along the river. At 0.9 miles, find yourself walking along the boundary of a recent burn, part of the Newhalem fires of 2015. According to a nearby interpretive sign, this area was also completely logged in 1968. At just under 1.5 miles, you will find yourself back at the intersection where you previously went straight. This time, turn right and return to your car.
Due to its proximity to the Visitor Center, this trail is well-maintained in the summer. In the winter, when the Visitor Center closes, you may come across a few blow downs, but the trade-off is that you will almost surely have the trail to yourself. Regardless of the season, the trail is truly family friendly, smooth and non technical. It is lined with sword ferns, salal, and moss-laden cedars, and wooden benches are scattered along the trail for those who might want a rest.
When the Visitor Center is open (May 18 through Sept. 30, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) all amenities are available, including flush toilets, drinking fountains, and a gift shop. When the Visitor Center is closed, picnic tables and garbage cans are available outside, but restrooms and running water are not available. The parking lot is large and paved.
WTA Pro-Tip: If you want some spectacular mountain views, you don’t have to venture far. The Sterling Munro Boardwalk is a fully accessible trail that departs from the northwest corner of the Visitor Center. It’s only 300 feet long, and offers stunning views of the remote Picket Range at the end of the boardwalk.