Sunday, July 26, 2020

Garfield Ledges

Middle Fork Snoqualmie Valley from Garfield Ledges
2 miles round trip, 600 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: A couple of big potholes right before the trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required

Washington State's Middle Fork Snoqualmie Valley is just over an hour's drive from Seattle but for the time being it has escaped the swarms of hikers that descend on hikes like Mount Si, Rattlesnake Ledge, and Mailbox Peak near North Bend. Garfield Ledges is a short and sweet hike at the end of the paved road in the Middle Fork Valley that has pretty views over the river and the surrounding forested mountains. The trail is new, having just been completed by trail crews in 2019, and leads up to a small open viewpoint on the lower slopes of Garfield Mountain.

I've hiked Garfield Ledges twice since it's recent opening, once on a misty autumn soon after the trail's opening and again in June 2020 as a social distancing alternative to the more popular hikes around North Bend. From Seattle, I drove east on I-90 to exit 34 and turned left (north) onto 468th Ave SE; I took this road past the gas station and fast food joints near the exit and then turned left onto the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road, which I followed past the Mailbox Peak Trailhead until the pavement ended just before the bridge over the Taylor River. Be careful here: at the time of writing, there were some massive potholes just where the pavement ended, so pay attention. The trailhead was just across the bridge, with ample parking for the crowds that this trail will certainly draw in the future. Garfield Mountain's towering cliffs are not visible from the trail itself but are visible from the road on the drive to the trailhead.

From the trailhead, the trail climbs gently into second-growth forest. At the time of writing, the hike still had a new trail feel, with fresh gravel, comfortable dirt treads, and little erosion marking the surface of the trail. The forest here was characteristic of second growth forests on the western slopes of the Cascades: young trees grew above a lush understory of ferns, huckleberry bushes, and devil's club.

Ascending through the forest en route to Garfield Ledges
The trail ascended along a ridge and up a nicely built set of stairs before making a long switchback and exiting the woods at an open viewpoint a mile into this hike. This ledge on the lower slopes of Garfield Mountain is the hike's destination and there was a good view down to the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River below and around to the peaks surrounding the valley, including the great cliff of Stegasaurus Butte and snowy Preacher Mountain. North Bend's Rattlesnake Mountain was visible in the distance at the mouth of the valley.

View of Preacher Mountain from Garfield Ledges
In the universe of hiking that is the Pacific Northwest, Garfield Ledges isn't particularly special, with views that are enjoyable but rather pedestrian for a mountain range that's home to Mount Rainier and the Enchantments. Nonetheless, this is one of the few hikes one can drive to in less than an hour and a half from Seattle on a paved road that isn't flooded with other hikers; take advantage of this while you can.

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