By Brittany Schultz
It’s that time of year again when the Beatles song “Dear Prudence” comes to mind: The sun is out, the sky is blue…And you know what that means: It’s summertime, the season to get out of the house and embrace the warm weather. A good start? Day trips are the perfect way to get outside and entertain the whole family.
In the Pacific Northwest, we’re fortunate to have a wide variety of choices for day trips, hikes and activities to experience our area’s beautiful scenery. And one of the most unique is the Big Four Ice Caves.
Located about 90 minutes northeast of Seattle in North Cascades National Park, the drive along Interstate 5 provides beautiful scenery to help pass time for children and adults alike.
Once you arrive at the trailhead parking lot, you will find bathrooms and drinking fountains to make sure everyone is set for the hike. Before heading out, also be sure you have the basics: snacks, layers for cooler temperatures, a camera to capture stunning scenery and a trail map (since cell reception is spotty), as well as the Northwest Forest Pass. If you don’t hold one, a day pass is available on-site for $5.
The Big Four Ice Caves trailhead is clearly marked, offering a gravel and boardwalk path that’s an easy climb for almost anyone, including children. A 2.2-mile round-trip hike over streaming waters and under a canopy of lush trees, the trail is safe for even the littlest explorers, although strollers aren’t recommended due to some loose gravel and a few inclines.
With the sound of waterfalls trickling in the distance and songbirds singing a sweet, soothing song, you’ll hardly notice the 1.1-mile trek that gets you your first glimpse of the Ice Caves. Created by the melting snow and waterfalls from the cliffs above, the dazzling, aqua blue of the ice caves are a stark contrast against the backdrop of snow-covered Cascade Mountains, waterfalls and natural wonder.
But keep in mind the ice caves are meant to be enjoyed from afar. With changing climates that can melt and collapse the caves, in addition to being located under an avalanche chute, there are signs posted throughout warning not to enter them (although you’ll see plenty of hikers ignoring the warnings). Instead, stop at the viewpoint at trail’s end, which offers ample photo opportunities of the remarkable caves.
After heading back down the path, reward yourselves for a hike well done with an afternoon picnic. Surrounded by birds and the occasional beaver sighting, this day trip is sure to be one the kids will be talking about for the rest of the summer.
If You Go
From Interstate 5 in Everett, Wash., take exit 194 for Snohomish/Wenatchee, then exit 204 toward Lake Stevens. Follow the road for 2 miles, then turn left onto State Highway 9/9N for Granite Falls. Continue for 1.5 miles and turn right onto State Highway E 92/Granite Falls. In 6 miles you will come to a roundabout posting a sign for Granite Falls. Take the roundabout to Quarry Road and stay on it through two more roundabouts.
Once you come to a stop sign, turn left onto the Mountain Loop Highway. In 10 miles, you’ll pass the Verlot Ranger Station on your left. About 1 mile after the ranger station, you will cross over a blue and gray bridge. Thirteen miles from the bridge on the right-hand side of the road are two signs for the Ice Caves. Continue past the first sign leading to the picnic area and turn at the second sign, marked Ice Caves Trailhead.
What to Bring: A picnic lunch or snacks, along with plenty of water. Hiking boots with good grip are also recommended, as the trail includes loose gravel and some inclines, as well as slippery ice near the caves.
Tips: Don’t forget your Northwest Forest Parking Pass! If you don’t have an annual one, a day pass can be purchased for $5 in the parking lot.
Reminder: Stay OUT of the Caves! Many people have lost their lives by ignoring warnings, so avoid the temptation to enter, even though you may see other hikers doing so.