Mileage: 5.8 miles RT (but trail is being developed, eventually it could be roughly 6.6 miles one way)
Elevation Gain/Highest: 245ft/1345ft
Map: Green Trails Sloan Peak No 111, my GAIA
11/5/2017 I just had to get out of the house but with the snow falling and still recovering from an injury, I needed a river hike to keep me safe and sane. I had been meaning to check out this trail since driving past it for our Crystal Lake attempt and figured the roads would be clear enough to make it. It turned out to be perfect!
Going off the directions on WTA, I was a little confused at first trying to find the trail and spent about .5 miles walking along the Sauk River from the boat launch before realizing that I was not heading in the right direction (or on the right river!).
This turned out to be just a short path that ended quickly in bramble, so I decided to check out the river shore for a bit before getting back in my car and continuing on the road to see what I could find. I knew where the White Chuck River was, I just had to find where to begin. If you stop to use the bathrooms here, make sure you wander down to the river, it is worth a peek!
Driving past the parking lot at the boat launch on FR 22 for another half mile, I soon saw caution tape strung across trees on the side of a bend in the road and then just past this was a pullout on the left and some signs on the right, none of which said White Chuck. However, double checking my odometer and GPS told me this had to be it so I hopped out and took my chances.
The trail starts out fairly close to the river but higher above than I had anticipated. I know the trail is slowly being rebuilt from the infamous storm damage of 2003 and 2006 that devastated so many bridges and trails in this area, including both the White Chuck and Suiattle River Roads. My guess that they are purposely building higher up and further in to prevent all their hard work from being washed away from any further havoc that the river may dole out.
The trail was well maintained and kept fairly close to the edge of the bench with the sound of the raging river below. I could catch a few peeks through the trees as it meandered through the forest and the views across the valley denied me Pugh and Sloan but the closer frosted mountains were a beautiful contrast to the last of the colorful deciduous trees below.
At about 3/4 mile in, there was a view of the river and a small path leading down to the viewpoint. The White Chuck stretched out in both directions as it snaked below. I didn’t step out to far as I could see there wasn’t much supporting the edge, so I snapped a few pictures and wandered back up and continued further on the trail. From here, the trail moved into the forest and the river is dulled to a softer roar.
In another 1/2 mile, there was a sturdy bridge across Black Oak Creek and I continued on. I took my time to notice sawyer steps cut into the stumps of huge old growth and the last of the tiny fall mushrooms poking out from the soft, moist moss.
Some sections of the trail seemed older than others, possibly due to the repairs. It was hard to see the turnpikes and other places the trail is shored up because of all the golden leaves littered on the ground, but for the most part the trail was free from mud. I loved how the snow was dusting the branches and logs, what little was on the trail was from fat globs falling from the trees like powdered sugar on a chocolate cake.
At 2 miles in, the trail left the river again and made a switchback up and above even further from the river. Here, the trail is being carved into the slope and was more raw than what I had been traveling on before. It is also had streams flowing down over it leading to more erosion and mud to leap over. It wasn’t bad, just in contrast to the highly groomed path previously. My guess is there is still work to be done like drains and water bars to fend off the water coming down from Thorton Lake and White Chuck Mountain above. There was even evidence of work yet to be done, I imagine it will be several more years before the trail connects through the other trailhead at the other end.
The trail did eventually end at about 2.9 miles in at a stream crossing down a ravine littered with a huge pile of logs. The flagged markers showed where the trail is supposed to continue and I could see where chainsaws have begun to make work of the logs. It sure helps you appreciate the work that goes into building trails when you can see the sharp contrast between where you can walk and where the trail must go.
I sat for a bit to eat a snack and drink some tea before returning back the way I had come. Although I had very little gain today, a 6 mile hike was satisfying and I look forward to another hike when the trail has been completed!
Directions: Drive south on the Mountain Loop HWY 8.9 miles from the T intersection of SR 530 (in Darrington), turning left at the sign for the White Chuck Boat Launch (FR 22). Cross over the bridge and in .8 miles there will be a pullout on the left and a trailhead sign on the right. It can be confusing because the boat launch is about .2 miles in and that is where the privies are. The forest road continues past here and winds up away from the river and there is no longer a sign at the actual trailhead that says White Chuck Bench. Just two empty posts and a generic Mountain Loop kiosk. There is room for about 5-6 cars in the pullout. There is also another access point further south on the Mountain Loop if you turn on FR 23 and follow it about 6.5 miles to where it crosses over a bridge and the trailhead is down on the right with a privy. This road is very potholed and the trail does not connect through (yet).