July 11, 1996
Six hikes through old-growth forests
1. Lower Eastside Trail -- Hike a long stretch of continuous ancient forest to Ohanapecosh Falls, after first whetting your old-growth appetite with the gnarly, 1,000-year-old red cedars and 8-foot-thick Douglas firs of the Grove of the Patriarchs. The well-marked trailhead is just beyond the Stevens Canyon entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, off SR 123 about 14 miles south of Cayuse Pass. Do the 1-mile grove loop, then head north on the Eastside Trail, along the exceedingly clear Ohanapecosh River and past old fir, hemlock, cedar and even a large, healthy Pacific white pine, a species devastated by an introduced fungus, blister rust. The falls, in 3 miles, are an excellent picnic/turnaround point.
2. Blue Lake-Sheep Canyon trails -- The Sheep Canyon Trail (No. 240) in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument travels through one of the finest Northwest forests of old-growth noble fir, a striking midelevation conifer with deep blue-green foliage. Even more stunning is the setting, with parts of the forest along streams beds leveled by mud flows roaring down the mountain during the 1980 eruption. Take I-5 south to Woodland, then head east on SR 503 to Forest Road 81, heading north past Kalama Horse Camp. Take a left on FR 8123 and go as far as you can. At last report, the road was washed out just before the Blue Lake trailhead. Walk to the trailhead, and then go north on Blue Lake Trail 238 about three miles through notable noble firs, to the 2.2-mile Sheep Canyon Trail and absolutely noble noble, plus post-eruption landscapes. Numerous loops are possible, and if the washout is repaired you can drive up FR 8123 directly to the Sheep Canyon trailhead.
3. Classic U -- This 250-acre fir and cedar forest was the subject of protest in 1978, when the state Department of Natural Resources prepared to put the tract up for logging bids, designating it the "Classic U" block. Whidbey Island residents, led by Harry Wilbert, came to the rescue in the form of a lawsuit, and ultimately this tract became part of South Whidbey Island State Park. Appropriately, the Wilbert Trail winds 1 miles through the oldest and best, ranging from 100-year-old second-growth to true virgin timber hundreds of years old. From the ferry terminal at Clinton on the south end of Whidbey, head north on SR 525. Shortly after you pass Freeland, turn left onto Bush Point Road, which turns into Smugglers Cove Road. The park is 8 to 10 miles from 525.
4. Lake 22 and Heather Lake trails -- Two short trails outside Granite Falls in Snohomish County, each with distinct features of cathedral cedar and fir forests. The Lake 22 Trail offers not only impressive old growth, some 5 or more feet in diameter, but also a series of lovely waterfalls. The route to Heather Lake is interesting because it begins in suffo-catingly dense second-growth before topping a ridge and opening up into fairy tale forest primeval. You get to see the "after," then the "before." Drive the Mountain Loop Highway east from Granite Falls. For Heather Lake, go right on Mount Pilchuck Road, about 1.2 miles to a parking area and trailhead. For Lake 22, follow the Mountain Loop about half-mile past the Pilchuck Road, to the trailhead on the right.
5. Big Beaver Valley -- The adventurous tree-hugger should hike this remote valley in the North Cascades National Park complex simply to witness some of the most stunning and varied old-growth forests anywhere, with groves of enormous western red cedar, Douglas fir, silver fir and hemlock. The loop trip up Big Beaver Valley, over Beaver Pass and down wild Little Beaver Valley, or vice versa, is a classic North Cascades backpack trip. The best trees are in Big Beaver Valley, the setting for the largest stand of western red cedar in the United States, some fully a millennium old. Logistics are difficult. Drive Highway 20 beyond New-halem, east past Colonial Creek Campground about 3.8 miles to the Ross Lake trailhead. Walk to Ross Lake Resort, (206) 386-4437, and either arrange for a boat taxi to take you to Big or Little Beaver trailheads, or walk the Ross Lake trail about 6 miles to the Big Beaver trailhead. The loop trip is 26 miles.
6. Bogachiel River Trail -- Some of the most impressive old-growth forests left on the planet are along the rivers that flow west from the Olympic Mountains. This dandy sampler is less crowded than the well-known Hoh and Quinault valleys (car-trippers might want to try Hall of Mosses Nature Trail in the former or Quinault Loop Trail in the latter). The Bogachiel Trail is one in which you can shoulder a pack and hike through ages-old rain forest for mile after mile -- even though it begins in ugly second-growth. After entering Olympic National Park at two miles, the trail traverses luxuriant bottoms full of wide-diameter Sitka spruce and western hemlock, with an understory of mossy vine maple. In a couple more miles, gargantuan Douglas firs begin to line the slopes above. The largest known silver fir, almost 7 feet in diameter is across the river about 2.5 miles upstream of Bogachiel shelter. From Highway 101 south of Forks, drive east on the Bogachiel River Road 4.3 miles to its end and the trailhead.