Friday, April 8, 2016

Hiking the Cascade Foothills: Lime Kiln Trail

In my adrenaline-seeking, motor mouse youth, hiking was all about the alpine high country and gaining as much elevation as my sturdy and (then) injury-free legs could tramp

Now I'm having fun discovering lower-elevation hikes around western Washington. I can appreciate a beautiful lowland forest as much as the sweeping mountain panoramas high in the Cascades and Olympics. 

With a normal snowpack in the Pacific Northwest mountains this year (thank goodness!), lower elevations offer the best conditions for spring season hiking. Think abundant fresh moss, early season wildflowers, and rushing rivers and streams.
While hundreds (thousands?) of Seattle-area hikers head east up the I-90 corridor on weekends, I wanted to go somewhere a little farther and less popular for an early April hike I was organizing. On the Washington Trails Association website, the Lime Kiln Trail in the Robe Valley Historic Park near Granite Falls, Washington, sounded perfect.

Besides the beautiful scenery, this trail offers a trip past some of the region's logging and mining history. It follows the route of the historic former Everett & Monte Cristo Railroad that was active from the 1890s-1930s. Along the way, the trail passes an old lime kiln and the site of a former logging camp.

Saw blade from former Cavanaugh lumber mill.

Hiking this area especially appealed to me because a spur of the historic railroad passed close to nearby Hidden Valley Camp, where I was a camper for several summers. Camp founder Harry Truman used to enthrall us kids around the campfire with his story of the Old Ghost Railroad.

We arrived at the trailhead just outside Granite Falls about 8:15 a.m. Already several cars were in the lot and a group of hikers were gearing up.  As we started up the trail through second-growth forest thick with hanging moss, a lovely morning mist softened the air.

Basically the trail is pretty mellow, with a total elevation gain of about 650 feet over 7-ish miles out and back. After the first stretch through the mossy forest, the trail travels along an open, shrub-lined path for a mile or so until it narrows in the woods, skirting easy-to-miss Hubbard Lake.

It's not until you reach the Lime Kiln Trail cutoff that the landscape becomes especially enchanting.

Here the trail moves back into moss-encrusted forest and down a lush ravine toward the South Fork Stillaguamish River, then traverses the slope above the river for over a mile.

On this day, the "Stilly" was a lovely opaque green, flush with the beginning of spring runoff and recent heavy rain. 

For the next mile or so, the trail stays high above the river, passing through healthy second-growth forest thick with moss. The lime kiln right beside the trail is obvious, but watch for the logging camp sign. 

A century or more ago this area was all clearcut and bustling with loggers, the railroad, and the lime kiln operation. Today it's hard to imagine what it was like back then.

Instead the regenerated forest is thick with underbrush and vigorous growth.


Eventually we reach a sign for the Rock Shore Loop or the railroad bridge site, and opt for the rock shore. Really it's all one loop so you can go either way.

From here the trail descends to the river, and we scrambled out on the rocky "beach" along with a couple dozen other hikers. (So much for the solitude, but it's beautiful.)

Swift spring river.
After a break, we hiked back up to the end of the trail, where the remnant concrete base of the former bridge is still visible.

I don't recommend climbing down to the river here because the trail is steep, crumbling, and hikers are no doubt hastening the erosion. But when my hiking buddies scrambled down, I couldn't just sit above and wait...okay, I suppose I could have. But I didn't.

And then we backtracked back to the trailhead, passing a multitude of hikers who have also discovered this splendid hike.

After Hike Eats
After hiking and scrambling, we stopped in Granite Falls for a bite before heading back to Seattle.  We dined at Omega Pizza & Pasta, situated in an old brick building dating to 1921. You can't miss it driving through Granite Falls.

The service was exceptionally friendly, the salads were large, tasty, and filling (couldn't finish my gyros salad), and in back there's a mural painted by Lake Stevens native son and Hollywood star Chris Pratt that's become a bit of a tourist draw.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  

When You Go
Scroll down to the end of the WTA website hike description for driving directions to the trailhead and a map. We left north Seattle about 7:30 on a weekend morning and got to the trailhead in a little less than an hourIf you go later or on a week day during rush hour,  the travel time easily could double.  This is not a difficult hike, but do come prepared for the weather and hiking in the woods. We encountered some muddy trail, so hiking boots are always a good idea. 



Lainey Piland said...

Great photos, Jill! Love the trillium. :) I've hiked this trail once... in the pouring rain... so it's great to hear how enjoyable it is in better weather. There are so many sights to explore there, so I know I'll be heading back there again! Isn't that forest so dark and lovely and enchanting with all the moss?

Suezy Proctor said...

Great hike Jill. Harry Truman stories around a campfire…very cool! The descriptions of the trail are helpful…the elevation over 7+ miles might be encouraging to many. The trail that circles around what a beautiful jackpot that was - that is one gorgeous photo, as is the previous one of “Stilly”. (my personal fav) Some people might bypass the trail altogether and head to Omega Pizza and Pasta…that salad looks amazing!

jill said...

Hey Lainey, thanks! Yes, another enchanting forest. I had never heard of this trail! Although it's fairly new (in Jill years), just opened for the first time in 2004. I get there were fewer people on the trail in the rain. Yea, I'll go back too.

Suezy, thanks again for you comment! I so appreciate people jumping in. Yea, that shot of the Stilly was the perfect viewpoint although I think the exposure, etc. could be a little better. Want to take a photography workshop and PhotoShop workshop this year....on the list.

Unknown said...

Another weekend out there for the stay-at-homes. i can almost hear the rush and ror of the river, and feel the trail squish under boots. Thanks Jill.