Miles: 4 Miles Round Trip to Picnic Area
6.6 Miles Round Trip to Viewpoint
Permits: No permits required (park on side of highway near yellow gate)
Elevation Gain: 100 - 300 ft
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
My Hiking Time: 3 hours 15 minutes (to viewpoint)
With winter fading in the mountains I decided to take one more chance for some snowshoeing. So I headed up to Mountain Loop Highway for an easy track to follow. To my surprise they had recently plowed the highway, and yet the gate still remained locked. Undeterred, I headed out walking along the highway. While I was disappointed that the highway had been plowed I was excited to sit below Big Four and eat some lunch. Unfortunately I had to share the road with dump trucks, snow plows and other county vehicles throughout the day. So if the road looks plowed, I wold not recommend continuing on foot.
Luckily I made it to the picnic area unscathed, and was excited to see a fair amount of snow. After putting on my shoes and walking over to a picnic table, I was lucky enough to witness a small avalanche cascading down the face of Big Four mountain while eating some g.o.r.p. It was an awesome sight, but hearing the crackle of other avalanches throughout the day was a little unnerving as I approached the ice caves.
It should be noted that visiting the actual ice caves during the winter is dangerous and should only be attempted by those with training in travel through avalanche terrain and avalanche rescue. However, if you are able to follow the trail towards the ice caves, then you can stop where it warns that you are entering avalanche terrain. Just remember that you continue past the picnic area at your own risk.
Just above the avalanche area signs, there lies a small hill marked on green trail map No. 110 as “viewpoint”, this is where I stopped. It provided a decent view of where the caves will be in a few months, and a nice glimpse of some waterfalls starting to build on the mountain's face. But the journey through the woods also provided a much more interesting walk than Mountain Loop Highway.
Overall this trail was easy, and provided there is still snow on the highway, would be a great first snowshoe trip with kids or people new to the sport. The road is relatively level beyond the gate, and if you go on a weekday than you might just find some nice solitude (I saw no other hikers all day). How far you go beyond the picnic area depends on your skill and comfort level. Certainly I will be returning here next year while the highway is still blanketed in white.
*note that these directions are approximate. During winter the gate is closed approximately 12 miles past the Verlot ranger station, near deer creek road.
My name is Abrahm and I am a college student, and outdoor enthusiast . I spend much of my free time wandering through and photographing the great Pacific Northwest state of Washington.