North Fork Sauk Trail #649

North Sauk Trail, photo by Kim Brown

Each season brings something different to enjoy. In spring, delicate trillium with their gossamer, white petals bloom at the base of strong, gnarled, gigantic cedars. Early summer they’re replaced by a myriad of Queen’s Cup, Canadian Dogwood (bunchberry) line the trail, creating a beautiful “trailscape.” Wild ginger hides its lovely maroonish-brown blooms underneath fragrant leaves. In fall, wide varieties of colorful fungus dot the forest floor and create whimsical “fungus-scapes” on top of fallen logs. A delight in spring, summer, and fall, this trail is great for wandering – the giant trees begin at the trailhead. You can walk less than ½ a mile, five miles or more, and still experience an amazing old growth forest. At less than half a mile, come to a boardwalk lined with some of the largest skunk cabbage leaves you’ll ever see!
Carpets if Canadian Dogwood along the trial, photo by Kim Brown

 Within a half a mile, you’ll enter the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. From here on, trail maintenance is done with no mechanized equipment. Any fallen trees cut from the trail have been cut by an old-fashioned cross-cut saw, materials for bridges are brought in by horses, and built by hand!

Chanterelle Mushroom along the trail, photo by Kim Brown

At about 2 miles, the trail crosses a bare, rocky area. These rocks burst from a burst of mud and water in the heavy rains of 2003. Exit the trail and walk a little uphill, then look down slope to examine the battered trunks, scoured by the rocks that hurtled down from above.

In about another mile, you’ll notice another area of rocks and boulders, these being covered in brilliant green moss. Then look through the trees and up slope to see a bare rock face. The boulders strewn around this area came crashing down from the rock face, all at once! A pile of smaller boulders near the river represent the edge of the slide that came from above. The landscape then slowly recovered – a new growth of trees sprouted amongst the boulders creating this pretty landscape.

North Fork Sauk Trail on the twilight, photo by Kim Brown

There is a creek crossing that can be challenging to some hikers in early spring, but once summer is underway, it’s a simply rock-hop – but don’t let that stop you from visiting this wonderful trail! There is plenty to enjoy “this” side of the creek.


Just a nice place to walk, photo by Kim Brown

Because the North Fork Sauk trail is a major access trail to the Pacific Crest Trail nearly 3,000 feet above, and is the most popular route for climbers of Glacier Peak and backpackers, it receives excellent maintenance. There is very little elevation gain to the old hiker’s hut, Mackinaw Shelter.


Trail description by Kim Brown                                                                       


Type of Trail: USFS
Length: 8.4 miles & 5 miles to Mackinaw Shelter
Elevation: 2,100 - 6,000 to end at 8.4 miles - 2,950 at Mackinaw Shelter
Level of difficulty: moderate to Mackinaw Shelter, most difficult to end at 8.5 miles

Best Seasons: Late spring for short day hike - summer and fall for full 8.5 miles

Seasonal Interest:

General Information:

Wilderness Restrictions: Yes

Restrooms:  Accessible Vault Toilet at trailhead, wilderness toilets at 3.5 miles at Red Creek campsites & 5 miles at Mackinaw Shelter

Northwest Trail Pass Required

Bring drinking water

Getting There: To get to North Sauk Trail from the Darrington Ranger Station, take the Mountain Loop Highway 17.0 miles to the Sloan Creek Road #49 and turn left. Follow this road 6.6 miles to the trailhead.

Further Information:  Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

See Hiking the Cascades, North Fork Sauk Trail on YouTube