The Wild Sky Wilderness, just 90 minutes northeast of Seattle, is an incredible place for hiking among old growth forest dotted with alpine lakes.
The 106,000-acre landmass meets up with the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness to complete a verdant biomass jigsaw puzzle that's impressive even by the Evergreen State’s standards. Ecologists call it island biogeography: natural environments that offer ideal wildlife habitats, but are surrounded by inhospitable areas of human development.
But it's hard to believe that up until a century ago, much of the region was ravaged by the logging industry. Even after the 1984 Washington Wilderness Act resulted in the Jackson Wilderness, supporters of the Wild Sky Wilderness, which is comprised of lower elevation Ragged, Eagle Rock, and Cady areas, cast political differences aside and worked tirelessly to preserve the entire region. In 2008, Wild Sky became Washington's first nationally designated wilderness area in 20 years.
During a time of extreme environmental degradation and public guilt, it’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of Wild Sky’s success. But observe the turbulent pools of spawning salmon along 25 miles of undisturbed habitat, or listen to the drawn buzz of the varied thrush, a rare altitude migrant that travels each winter from high to low elevation rather than from northern to southern latitudes, and you realize the protection of a complete watershed is still possible in this country.
Four rivers run here, including the most pristine steelhead runs in the state. The many riparian ravines of Wild Sky proved too steep for even the most ambitious logging companies. Today, the Douglas firs, hemlocks, and cedars in the old-growth forest blend with mature forest.
Ironically, access (a road does run through it) is exactly what makes Wild Sky such a fantastic natural escape. Wild Sky’s abundant low-elevation, old growth forest is extremely rare because it has easy access to so many alpine lakes, including Barclay Lake, Blanca Lake, and Eagle Lake, which are reached after a gradual hike into the Wild Sky wilderness.
The trailhead for the two-mile Eagle Lake hike follows a drive up Beckler River Road. Hikers disappear into old growth forest within ten minutes, emerging into Paradise Meadow, a classic alpine meadow, before arriving at Eagle Lake, which has camping available. Unlike national parks, wilderness areas like Wild Sky also permit dogs, so bring your four-legged friend if you like.
Wild Sky's North Fork Skykomish Trailhead is located 20 miles off US 2. Every personality of the northwestern rivers is evident here: Bald eagles perch in snags above the Skykomish River’s white water, while spotted owls call in the night and, with a careful eye, can be spotted during the day.
Several other trails reveal Cascade Range vistas (Evergreen Lookout Trail, Johnson Ridge Trail, West Cady Ridge Trail), riparian zones (Meadow Creek Trail), and alpine lakes (Barclay Lake Trail). As always when hiking in the wilderness, check with the ranger station for conditions and alerts.
Wild Sky may not be the largest of northwestern Washington’s 4.3 million acres of federally designated wilderness. It may not possess the altitude of Glacier Peak or the grandeur of North Cascades National Park. But its proximity to Seattle, as well as its astounding accessibility and awe-inspiring terrain, may make it well worth a visit—soon—for any outdoor lover in the Emerald City.
The National Forest Foundation promotes the enhancement and public enjoyment of the 193-million-acre National Forest System. By directly engaging Americans and leveraging private and public funding, the NFF improves forest health and Americans’ outdoor experiences. The NFF’s programs inform millions of Americans about the importance of these treasured landscapes. Each year, the NFF restores fish and wildlife habitat, plants trees in areas affected by fires, insects and disease, improves recreational opportunities, and enables communities to steward their National Forests and Grasslands. Learn more at www.nationalforests.org.