The last couple of weekends, I’ve headed out to new-to-me trails with a group of friends. It’s been fun to explore new places, and it’s reminded me even when training, while the ol’ faves are faves for a reason, the world is big and it’s worth the time to do some dreaming, look at maps, read some trip reports, and go seek out the unknown.

HujxI4pLSgmX1ybneidYrAThunder Creek in the North Cascades

At the end of April, two carloads of us headed out to Thunder Creek as part of a birthday celebration. We parked at a mostly deserted Colonial Creek Campground, which hasn’t opened yet for the summer season, and shared exclamations over the sunshine and warm temps. (In Seattle, it was foggy and dreary, and we anticipated colder temps in the mountains. I love it when nature surprises me!)

After passing through the campground, we started a planned 12-mile roundtrip jaunt upstream. Shortly, the trail crossed a bridge, which took us across Thunder Creek and to the east side of the river. Sarah attempted to replicate her Colorado River bridge crossing photo here, but it wasn’t quite as successful this time.


We’d stay on this side of the river for the rest of our way. For the first few miles, we remained in the green forest—surrounded by the ferns and moss we’re so accustomed to. There were many crossings of feeder streams, which we started out hopping from rock to rock to cross and later accepted that approach as a lost cause and simply ran or walked through.

So lush!

The highlight of this section of trail were the old trees towering above us.

Remembering to look up! (PC: WB Abbey)

After a few miles, the trail worked its way above the river and noodled along a side slope a couple hundred feet above the river. This was a fun section, with some little steep ups and downs, but generally runnable. Trail gnomes haven’t been out yet, and there are quite a few trees down across the trail.

Our turnaround point was just before McAllister Camp, at about six miles. Here, the trail had dropped back down to the river, and the river—which was broad and relatively calm downstream—was squeezed into a tight canyon that made for some nice white water a great place to take some pictures.

Too bad we didn’t bring the kayaks.
Heidi and I enjoying Thunder Creek. PC: K Woznicki

As always seems to happen when I’m on a trail by a river, on the way back downstream I realize how much up we’d been doing on the way out. This made for a much quicker trip back to the cars.

After a quick stop at the cars to dump some gear, four of us headed across Highway 20 for a quick hike Thunder Knob for some advertised views of Ross Lake. This is a quick 3+ miles that started with an icy river ford. The water was just below knee deep and was cold enough it made my feet ache after about halfway across.

Brrrrr! PC: WB Abbey

We quickly started ascending and were surprised by the change in climate compared with the Thunder River Trail—here we were in pines, with much less undergrowth and much more sunshine and exposure. About a mile up, we paused to enjoy the view of Colonial Peak and we surprised by a territorial rufous hummingbird. This little guy did not like our being there at all, and buzzed us several times, up close and very personal! He was a beauty, with the classic coppery red throat that typifies the male rufous.

At the top of Thunder Knob are view-enjoying benches (which are also very inviting for nap taking on a sunny warm day after a long wet PNW winter!). However, our favorite part here was a very friendly … well, OK, let’s go with calm … snake who posed for pictures and seemed as interested in us as we were in him.

Post script: I later spent some time looking at my Green Trails map, thinking it’d be fun to continue further up Thunder River to explore some more as the snow continues to melt. That’s when I realized, duh!, Thunder River is part of the UltraPedestrian Easy Pass route. Well, that makes this a no-brainer, as Easy Pass has been on the list for a bit now.

Otter Falls, North Bend area

With the Middle Fork Trail currently closed due to a landslide earlier this year, it was a question where to go last weekend for a relatively flat middistance run last Saturday. The Snoqualmie Lake Trail was suggested, with Otter Falls as a destination, and then a continuation beyond there to our goal distance for the day. We had many of the same cast of characters, with Ana and Paula joining us this time but with Callista and Nina off on other adventures.

This was another follow-the-river-upstream trail—runnable, but much faster going back downstream! The trail between the parking area and the turnoff to the the falls is an old logging road the forest is gradually reclaiming; it’s kind of rocky and doesn’t feature many views beyond the moss, ferns, and trees (and trillium, because it is spring, y’know).

Snoqualmie Lake Trail Beyond Otter Falls Turnoff
Trillium, Ferns, Moss, and a Trail—Who Needs Anything More?

We were on the lookout for a cairn shortly after a stream crossing at about 5 miles. This would mark the turnoff for Otter Falls. It was very easy to find.

If you miss this one, it’s all on you.

Otter Falls allegedly cascades 1,200 feet, but you can only see the lower 500 feet. That’s OK; it’s totally amazing. (A guy launched his drone just as we were getting ready to leave, and I admit to being curious about whether he would be getting images of those upper 700 feet.)

Otter Falls

Back to Snoqualmie Lake Trail, we continued on our way. We wanted to turn around at 6 miles for a total of 12, and conveniently encountered this tree down across the trail at right about the 6 mile point.

We made Kelly go through and then all turned around to head back. Psych!

Post script: So, who knew? I had never been to Otter Falls or the Snoqualmie Lake Trail, but on our way back we passed mountain bikers and many other hikers. I clearly need to get out more.

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