Skagit River Loop (WA)
This is one of the ultimate, excuse-free national-park hikes. Rain? Wind? Snow? Tree cover, baby. Too long? You’ve logged more mileage shopping at Cosco; here, you don’t dodge shopping carts, neither. Too arduous? Please. The only climb, at the end, lasts about 25 yards, less than half of Russell Wilson’s career-high for longest run. He had 11 angry defenders in his way; you won’t. Not exciting enough? Encounter one or all of the Big Three river critters (eagle, otter, salmon) and tell everyone how boring that was! See video below, about eight seconds in, for my encounter with a Douglas Squirrel.
The Skagit River Loop Download
Highlights: Rainforest-like conditions, small critters, mighty river, interpretive signs.
Travel Time (from Urban Centers to Park/Trailhead): About 2 hours, 40 minutes from Seattle; about 3 hours, 20 minutes from Tacoma.
Nearby Supplies and Gas: Marblemount for supplies and gas; Westhalem for supplies.
Difficulty: The only challenge is the fairly gentle descent on the way out, which turns into an ascent on the way back. This will be a pain only for the infirmed and very out of shape. Good signage makes it easy to stay on track the entire way.
Distance: 1.8 miles.
Entrance Fees: None.
Top Elevation: 570 feet (at the beginning and end).
Elevation Gain: 143 feet.
Trailhead Waypoint: N48.6663, W121.2664
Maps: Green Trails Marblemount No., 47; USGS Mount Triumph.
Getting There: I-5 North to WA-20 East to North Cascades National Park Visitor Center, well-signed in Newhalem. Trailhead is in back.
The Skagit River Loop packs almost too many ecosystems, scenes and experiences for such a short(ish) and easy … it’s almost stretching it to call it a hike. First you roll down a gentle hill immediately into cedar- and fir-lined flatness, everything carpeted by ferns and salal. Stroll past the campgrounds to a major, thoroughly signed intersection, where you turn left and pass over an old logging road through peaceful pine.
The silence soon will be broken by the distant roar of the Skagit. Through moss- and lichen-draped forest, you will reach the river. Take as many as the little spur trails to the banks as possible. The last time I went, I saw otters and a Bald Eagle and Red-Tailed Hawk circling not far overhead.
On the way back, I ran into a bunch of chattering Douglas Squirrels. If you avoid all the left turns (to the campgrounds, privies and amphitheater), you’ll quickly navigate the rest of the loop and maybe not even notice that you had to walk uphill to end your hike where you started.