This was our first official overnight hike-in backpack experience. We...
We've got a slogan for this classic river hike in the Cascade lowlands: Come for the waterfalls, stay for the trail. Most of the action happens within the first couple miles of this hike along Boulder River – you'll see several waterfalls, plenty of old growth, and lots of river. Because of the quick payoff, this trail is very popular for newbies and timid hikers, and we couldn't be happier to see them out on the trail getting a taste of this 50,000-acre protected wilderness.
Since the main attractions are early on, most people turn around after only a mile or so, leaving you with plenty of empty trail to stretch your legs. True, we wish there was more of a destination to draw you all the way to the end of the trail, but the going is so pleasant that we'll forgive the anticlimactic turn-around point.
Begin the hike on a wide railroad grade for the first 0.5 mile to the wilderness boundary. Enjoy the views looking down on the river, but keep your eyes on the lookout for the gigantic old-growth cedar and hemlock in the surrounding virgin forest. At 1.0 mile you'll see the first of two nearly side-by-side waterfalls. The second is much more spectacular and arguably the biggest attraction on the hike. Enjoy the views and decide whether to press on or call it a day.
For those that continue, there's a third prominent waterfall at about 2.0 miles. From here on out it's all river and trees with an increasingly thick canopy overhead. Explore the many side trails to the river and carefully pass through several washed out sections of trail and blowdowns to your turn-around point at the river's edge at 4.75 miles. There's a big damp flat area; you can't miss it. Heck, we even saw camping going on there. Return the way you came.
Permits & Tips
Northwest Forest Pass required. No water available. An outhouse is available 2.5 miles in on the gravel road to the trailhead. Use caution when crossing washouts and negotiating fallen trees.
How to get there
Drive north on I-5 and take exit 208 heading east 4 miles to Arlington. (At the west edge of town, jog left onto SR 9 for one block, followed by a right back onto SR 530.)
Continue to follow SR 530 east to milepost 41, about 19 miles past Arlington.
Turn right onto Forest Road 2010 (French Creek Road). There is signage.
Continue 4 miles on a gravel road to the trailhead.