From the trailhead hike through hemlock fir forest for a half mile to a junction with a spur trail leading to the Big Four Picnic Area. Go right for a three-fourth of a mile loop along elevated boardwalks over a marshy area popular for the song birds during the spring. Keep your eyes open for signs of beaver activity. The picnic area is the site of the former three-story 50-room Big 4 Inn built in 1920 and destroyed by fire in 1949. All that remains is the hearth and chimney from the lodge fireplace. Enjoy impressive views of the 6,153-foot Big 4 Mountain from here. A short connector trail leads from the picnic area back to the trailhead.
To see the ice caves, turn right at the junction and cross the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River on a footbridge. Do not proceed beyond this bridge during times of avalanche activity. From here enter a dense pacific silver fir forest more common at higher elevations. Notice the increasing number of trees broken off by avalanches. As you leave the forest only small scattered trees remain as plants usually seen in high alpine areas dominate, even though the total elevation gain from the trailhead is only 200 feet. The viewing area at the end of the trail provides a close-up sight of the avalanche accumulation at the base of the massive north wall of Big 4. The caves are melt outlet openings at the base of permanent snowfields created by winter and spring avalanches and are usually exposed during late July or August through October.
WARNING: Do not go past the end of the trail and viewing area. The caves and area below the cliffs are extremely dangerous. Rock and ice fall is a hazard year round. Avalanches are a constant threat through winter and spring. The caves are exceptionally dangerous to enter or climb on. Tons of ice from the cave ceilings come crashing down every year.
WTA hiking guide - trip reports
At a Glance
||WARNING: The caves and area below the cliffs are extremely dangerous. Rock and ice fall is a hazard year round.
||Granite Falls, Washington
||A federal recreation pass required at the Ice Caves Trailhead and Big Four Picnic Area.
||Check current conditions or call Darrington Ranger District office at 360-436-1155 or Verlot Public Service Center at 360-691-7791.
From the Verlot Public Service Center (11 miles east of Granite Falls, WA), head east on the Mt. Loop Highway 14.5 miles to the Big Four Picnic Area.
Darrington Ranger District
Green Trails: Silverton 110