The hike to the Big Four Ice Caves is an easy, family-friendly, 2.2 mile round trip that leads through some interesting and scenic terrain before reaching the unique, hollowed out snow structures for which this destination is named.
This gem of hike may only be two miles, but it definitely does not lack character. Many people are drawn to this trail due to the treasure at the end: the unique and picturesque ice caves. Ever changing and always a beautiful sight, the ice caves are a must-see if you live in the Seattle area. Starting on a long boardwalk over marshy land, the trail leads you through old growth forest and over rivers and creeks until you reach the Big Four Mountain face that is the backbone of the ice caves.
What Makes It Great
Even from the lot, you have wonderful views of Big Four Mountain as well as an old chimney that still stands as the last remnant of an old hotel that burned down in the late 1940’s. There are also picnic tables that are convenient to either rest up before the hike or to get your packs ready. You will see the familiar trail information sign and from there you want to take the boardwalk route to the right of the sign (towards Big Four Mountain), which will get you on your way to the caves.
Formed by melting snow, spray from the waterfalls above, and wind, these hollowed-out avalanche chutes are a joy to behold. Not only are they impressive in size and form, but they're truly beautiful in terms of texture, color, and appearance. There are also many different waterfalls and other features that are changing year round that are lovely to enjoy as well.
Who is Going to Love It
This trail is thoroughly enjoyed by avid hikers, newbies, photographers, and families alike. The short length and small elevation gain, combined with the endless exploration available makes this a unique and memorable excursion for any age or skill level. Being that the trail is only 2.2 miles round trip, you could complete this in as little as an hour and a half, however, there is so much to see along the trail and experience once you reach the ice caves, you could easily spend all day taking pictures and enjoying the lovely scenery.
Just make sure you keep an eye on any kids that may want to mess around near the caves, which could be dangerous.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Coming from Seattle, this is a 70-mile drive, which will take about 2 hours. Off of Mountain Loop Highway, you will see the Big Four Ice Caves sign, and from there, you drive to the circle shaped parking area.
A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park in the lot or you can pay a $5 fee for the day at the Verlot Ranger Station on your way to the trail. There is a decent amount of parking available, however, don’t underestimate the amount of people a clear Saturday could bring to the trail.
It is highly recommended that people do NOT enter or climb on the ice caves. In 2011, an avalanche killed an 11-year-old girl who was exploring inside the caves. Avalanches combined with randomly falling ice still occur frequently and often threaten the lives of people venturing inside the caves. So, enter at your own risk. The caves are still gorgeous from the outside and you can still have a great time even if you do not enter the caves.