Looking for an easy hike surrounded by gorgeous mountain vistas? Look no further than the Big Four Ice Caves.
The trail is 2.2 miles from the paved parking area and varies from paved sections to gravel and boardwalks. The climb isn’t too strenuous, and there are places to stop along the way to catch your breath, I mean, admire the beauty.
A Cautionary Tale
I’ve hiked the trail many times at different times of year, and every trip is memorable. The scenery is great, with mountains rising on all sides, with deep forests, meadows, and streams. I’ve watched young parents carrying their very young children, and even one dad pushing his baby in a stroller.
People of all ages make the hike up to the caves almost every day. Something to be very aware of, and parents should make sure their kids understand this before they reach the caves, people die in these caves. There are signs warning you to stay out of the caves, because, you know, people die in these caves.
And yet, every time I’ve been there, there are people standing next to the warning signs, taking pictures of their family as they walk inside the cave. Don’t do it, even if you see other people inside. And don’t climb on top of them either, or you might just meet the other people inside the cave in a way that none of you will enjoy.
I know the caves look inviting, especially on a warm day after a hike, but please do yourself a favor and stay outside and look. The ice caves are passages that have been carved out underneath the glacier by water melting.
The glaciers change over time due to the rate of snowfall each Winter and the amount of melt-off each Summer. Because of this, the caves look different almost every time you visit, which is another reason to return. The trail provides ample opportunity for photographers.
The early section crosses a marsh, and from the boardwalk you can see several species of birds and other wildlife. From the marsh you pass into the forest surrounding the Stillaguamish River. You can choose to drop down to the river to explore or stay on the trail and cross over an aluminum bridge.
The bridge offers some great views of the river for photos. Once across the river, you begin to climb but don’t worry, the trail is still an easy one. It’s often the first hike of the year for us and enjoyable even when you aren’t in great shape.
Near the top of the trail you pass through an area where past storms snapped tall trees. At this point you will begin to have a better view of the mountains that ring the valley and Big Four mountain will be clearly seen above.
The final section of the trail crosses small creeks that flow out from the snow and you can see the waterfalls coming down the cliff faces to form the ice caves beneath the snow. Bring a picnic lunch and plenty of water. Take it easy and enjoy the views, and make sure you bring your camera to record the memories.
How To Get There
The Big Four Ice Caves can be reached by following the Mountain Loop Highway 23 miles out of Granite Falls. You are required to have a Northwest Forest Pass to park in the lots, which can be acquired at the Verlot Ranger Station on your way to the trailhead or you can use the self-service pay station at the parking areas to pay for a single day pass.
Written by Todd Phillips