WHY IT’S GREAT: Boulder River offers year-round hiking in a stunning old-growth forest complete with plunging waterfalls, and because it’s tucked just east of Arlington—within striking distance of Seattle—it’s just right for a day hike. With minimal elevation gain and few crowds, this hike is a rare winter escape without strenuous effort.
ROUTE: The trail begins on a gravel road, gradually progressing into the forest packed with red alder, cedar, fir, and maple. You enter the wilderness boundary at 1 mile, as the road narrows to a single dirt path and nudges closer to Boulder River. Another quarter mile reveals a breathtaking 200-foot waterfall, where a bench has been installed so you can sit and watch, jaw agape, without toppling over. There’s a smaller waterfall another quarter mile up the valley, an excellent turnaround point for a hike with kids or if you’re pressed for time. Continuing upstream, the trail leaves the river behind to climb high above the gorge, only to descend and repeat its roller-coaster rambling many times over. At around 4½ miles, you’ll reach a campsite where the trail disappears into the river and indistinguishably reemerges on the other side; it’s a good place to turn around and retrace your steps.
GETTING THERE: From Seattle, drive north on Interstate 5 toward Everett, take exit 208 onto Washington State Route 530, and head east through Arlington toward Darrington. Just past milepost 41, turn right onto French Creek Road. Continue for about 4 miles to the end, where you’ll find a parking lot with access to the trailhead. —Courtney Nash