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.
Who would enjoy this experience?
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. Just make sure you keep an eye on any kids that may want to mess around near the caves, which could be dangerous.
Getting There: How long is the drive and how much time will people need for this?
Coming from Seattle, this is a 70-mile drive, which will take about 2 hours. 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.
Parking and Trailhead: What’s the parking situation, and are there fees?
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.
Where do you start and how long is this going to take?
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. 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.
What’s one thing about this place that visitors should look forward to?
The obvious focal point of this hike is the caves. However, don’t let that be your only point of interest. There are many different waterfalls and other features that are changing year round that are lovely to enjoy as well.
Features like the aluminum bridge that runs over the Stillaguamish River, the many boardwalks, and wide gravel paths make this trail very accessible. The WTA (Washington Trials Association) does a wonderful job of keeping this trail well maintained due to its high foot traffic for most of the year.
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.
In the winter and spring, waterproof boots are best suited for the melting snow that keeps the trail fairly wet. In the summer, a blanket to lie in the grass can provide a peaceful picnic area surrounded by the abundance of wildflowers that are found at the end of the trail.
Where to eat afterward:
On your way back to town while driving through Granite Falls, Playa Bonita is a great Mexican restaurant that will surely fill your post-hike cravings.
Difficulty: 1= Easy and 5=extremely difficult:
2.2 miles round-trip
Are fees or permits required?
Northwest Forest Pass required for vehicles
What’s the best time of year to go?
Anytime of year is a good time to visit the Big Four Mountain area, but obviously, winter is the time when the ice caves are at their most impressive.
What’s the best time of day to go?
The earlier the better; morning fog can add a really cool element to the mountain views.