The Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River extends upstream forty miles from North Bend, Washington. Downstream, it ends in Three Forks Park where the North, Middle and South forks combine. The combined Snoqualmie River flows over Snoqualmie Falls, eventually joining the Skykomish River at the great confluence to become the Snohomish River.
The Middle Fork watershed is the largest of the three forks of the Snoqualmie and includes the wildest lands and most outstanding scenery. Unlike nearly all other low elevation Cascade valleys, the Middle Fork has had no significant development. It’s now nearly all public land. One could say it was “saved by logging” from a potentially worse fate plus the trees are now growing back. The upper reaches of the Middle Fork valley are within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, which includes impressive stands of old growth forests, pristine alpine lakes, and challenging summits.
There are so many activities available: hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, mountain climbing, river rafting, swimming, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, wild berry picking, and even a wilderness hot spring (Goldmyer). Terrain/nature include challenging mountain peaks, rivers, waterfalls, old growth, lakes, wildlife, spring and summer wildflowers, fall foliage, and mountain views.
Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road - Forest Road 56
Entry to Middle Fork Snoqualmie Trailhead Parking
Take Exit 34 off of I-90 and turn left onto 468 Ave SE. In a half mile, turn right onto SE Middle Fork Road (Forest Road 56). Drive 12 miles to the large parking lot at the Middle Fork Trailhead (elevation 1,000 ft). The road was recently paved all the way to the Middle Fork Campground which is just past the Middle Fork trailhead parking and just short of the Taylor River bridge and camping area.
Along the way (in order as you drive in) are trailheads for Mailbox Peak, Granite Creek trail, and Granite Lakes shortcut, after which the road crosses the river to the North side. After crossing the river, you pass trailheads for Bessemer Road and the Pratt River trail before arriving at the large Middle Fork trail parking lot. Just past this parking lot the paved road ends at the Middle Fork Campground. The road turns gravel and shortly thereafter makes a bend to the right and crosses the Taylor River and you see the Taylor River camping area and trailhead.
All along the way are several river access points for rafters, kayakers, etc. Triad Tours or Compass Adventures offer organized river trips. The difficulty ranges from Class II (intermediate) to Class IV (expert) depending on the section of river.
Middle Fork Trailhead Parking to Dingford Trailhead
Once you pass the Taylor Creek campground, FR 56 continues up a hill to the right on the north side of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River. The road is open only to high-clearance vehicles from the Middle Fork Trailhead to the Dingford Creek Trailhead, and the road is closed to vehicles at the Dingford Trailhead. It’s about 6 miles from Middle Fork trailhead to the Dingford trailhead. On the south side of the river, there is the Middle Fork Snoqualmie trail but unfortunately due to a major landslide in 2018, the lower portion from Dingford trail to the trailhead has been closed for over a year.
Middle Fork Snoqualmie - National Forest Development Road 5620 Trail
NF Dev Road 5620: Hike, Bike, Horses. 7.4 miles 1 way, 1974 ft elevation gain
National Forest Development Road 5620 Trail is a hiking, biking, and horse trail. It is 7.4 miles long and begins at 1,413 feet altitude at the Dingford trailhead. Traveling the entire trail is 14.9 miles round trip with a total elevation gain of 1,974 feet. The highest point is 2851 feet. The Dingford Trailhead parking is near the trailhead. There are also restrooms. At Dingford Trailhead, you can also take the Dingford trail up the creek or down to cross over the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and join the Middle Fork Snoqualmie trail. Note that you can only use the Middle Fork Snoqualmie trail upstream of the Dingford Junction due to a major 2018 landslide and washout.
Dingford Creek to Goldmyer Junction
Immediately after leaving the Dingford trailhead, the 5620 trail crosses Dingford Creek. On the left is Dingford Creek Falls. From the road, approximately 100 feet of waterfall can be seen pounding down among large boulders and potholes carved in the granite bedrock. The portion of the falls visible from the bridge is split between a back-to-back 25 and 50 foot horsetailing falls about 350 feet upstream, and a 20-foot cascade immediately above the bridge. However the creek in actuality drops around 600 feet in total over a run of about 2,300 linear feet, in a long chain of pothole plunges and cascades, one right after another.
About 1 mile after Dingford Creek Falls, the trail approaches the side of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River. There are several areas with nice views of the river and mountains in the background as well as a couple of nice areas for a swim. The trail continues steadily but not steeply uphill to the junction of the trail to Goldmyer Hot Springs (elevation 2000). Take the left fork to continue up the river or the right fork to cross over to the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Trail and Goldmyer.
Goldmyer Junction to Dutch Miller Gap Trailhead
Beyond the Hot Springs the road steeply climbs another 3.5 miles to the end. It meets up with the Middle Fork Snoqualmie trail just shy of an old car-accessible horse camp at the original Dutch Miller Gap trailhead (when the road was open to vehicles to this point). It’s now a pretty quiet spot with riverside campsites.
At this point, the old road ends and the Dutch Miller Gap trail begins. Immediately come to a bridged crossing of Hardscrabble Creek. Tumbling down from lakes of the same name beneath Big Snow Mountain, be thankful for the bridge or it would be a hardscrabble crossing. Within a mile after the crossing you enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. This is as far as bikes are allowed as they are not permitted in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.
Snoqualmie Lake - Taylor River Trail
Taylor River Trail (also known as the Snoqualmie Lake trail) is a hiking, biking, and horse trail. It is 5.6 miles long and begins at 1,159 feet altitude at the Taylor River Crossing of Forest Road 56. Traveling the entire trail is 11.2 miles to the junction with the Snoqualmie Lake trail is a total elevation gain of 750 feet. There is parking near the trailhead. If you continue the last 2 miles up the Snoqualmie Lake trail to Snoqualmie Lake there is an additional 1200 feet elevation gain and 5 miles distance.
Getting to the Trailhead
Once you pass the parking area for the Middle Fork trailhead on the right, the entrance to the Middle Fork campground will be on your left. Don not go into the campground and continue across the bridge on the road which has now turned gravel. Soon after the bridge, the forest road forks off to the right up a hill towards Dingford Creek. At the fork, stay left and very quickly hit the end of the road and park. Cement barriers block cars from proceeding up the road and this is the beginning of the trail. There is no signage for the trail at this point – you need to proceed up another half mile or so to a bridge over the river. Just before the bridge there is signage for the “Snoqualmie Lake Trail”.
If you continue 9.5 miles on this trail, it does indeed take you to Snoqualmie Lake. The trail is also called the Taylor River Trail because it follows along the river much of the way, and the trail itself was indeed called Taylor River Road at one point. It was an old logging road and there was also a plan for a development project many years ago that never happened. Five miles into the hike is a bridge that looks out of place because of it.
Trailhead to Snoqualmie Lake Junction
The former road, now a trail between the trailhead and Big Creek falls is wide, slow rise and very pleasant for the first 5.7 miles through shady forest. It’s also suitable for horses and mountain bikes. There are many small streams/ waterfalls in addition to Big Creek Falls and the spectacular Otter Falls. This portion of the trail is featured in a ‘Hiking with your Dog’ book and there are lots of dogs. While suitable for biking, don’t expect to stay on your bike the entire time as there a several rocky stretches (mostly streambeds or stream crossings) where you will have to get off or portage. It’s still much faster than hiking it.
Taylor River Trailhead to Marten Creek
Start from the small parking area and admire the wide Taylor River as you cross a paved bridge about 0.5 miles in just after the Snoqualmie Lake Trail sign. Pass a couple of dispersed camping sites and come to a junction with the Quartz Creek trail branching off to the left at about 0.5 miles. Take the right fork, staying on a relatively flat, rocky trail that heads through quiet forest. Gaze at moss-laden birches, western red cedars, and western hemlocks towering over you. The trail can be brushy when the understory is in bloom, but in winter and early spring it is quite wide – hikers can walk three abreast in some sections.
Along the trail, Taylor River rushes past you, and craggy Garfield Peak plays hide-and-seek through the trees. Near a creek crossing, the forest opens up, offering hikers a glimpse of a spire of Treen Peak. This is one of the few sections of the trail that also offers good sunlight – on a clear day, bask in the warmth and enjoy the view of the surrounding mountains before continuing on your way. It is worth noting that there is no cell phone reception the entire route with the exception of about 2.5 miles in before you get to Marten Creek. We verified the service at least with T-mobile. There is a 600 foot elevation gain from the trailhead to Otter Falls and Big Creek Falls. Nearly all of that gain happens before Marten Creek. The trail gradually narrows and gets more rocky as you proceed but is still mostly bikable.
After three miles past the Snoqualmie Lake trail sign, come to a large bridge spanning roaring Marten Creek. A bootpath veers off to the left just before the bridge – a mile’s hike up this primitive, overgrown trail takes you to Marten Lake. Do not take this bootpath unless you are planning to go to Marten Lake (not recommended).
Marten Creek to Otter Falls
At Marten Creek there are beautiful pools both above and below the falls itself for cooling off in the summer or even a whole body plunge.
Press on, crossing roughly ten drainages before the turn-off for Otter Falls (about another mile past Marten Creek). Two of the drainages are major – the waters of the large creek have destroyed the trail and you need to cross on the rocks. It’s not passable during a hard rainstorm. Bikes will need to be walked/carried. The first larger creek is just after Marten Creek and the second one features an enormous culvert. Five feet in diameter, the culvert is set into the creek, just downstream from where you will cross the drainage. After crossing this drainage, it’s only about 0.3 miles to the turn off for Otter Falls. There is a small sign and a cairn marking the turnoff. Otter Falls is the most impressive thing on this entire trip so you don’t want to miss it! Overall it’s about 1.5 miles from Marten Creek to the Otter Falls turnoff. The good news is that the going is nearly level all the way on this stretch.
Otter Falls to Snoqualmie Lake Trail Junction
Past the turnoff for Otter Falls in another half mile, arrive at Big Creek Falls. The falls is visible from a large concrete bridge. This is a remnant from the days of logging in this area.
Once past Big Creek falls it is about 1 mile to the Snoqualmie Lake Trailhead.
At the turnoff for Otter Falls, go left into the forest, and begin climbing up a steep incline to the top. After about 500 yards and 100 feet elevation gain, you’ll reach the crown of the slope. Otter Falls is visible through the trees, but the best view doesn’t come until you take a short steep path down to a small beach, where the imposing falls stream down a huge granite face. Though the water falls 1,200 feet, hikers who make it here can only see about 500 feet of falling water. Do NOT try climbing up the rocks by the falls. There have been several people who fell to their death trying it and slipping 100 feet or more. We can tell you from experience that a photo does not come close to showing how impressive this Falls is when viewing in person! That was our biggest surprise when we did this trip for the first time.
Big Creek Falls
Big Creek Falls is the final waterfall encountered along the Taylor River Trail before it enters the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. It is the only of the major falls in the area that is entirely visible from the trail itself. Big Creek pours out of Dream and Pothole Lakes with a catchment basin about the same size as nearby Marten Creek. As the creek runs down to meet the Taylor River it intersects a long stretch of granite benches and slides. This is similar to nearby Otter Falls. However, due to the significantly larger volume of water, it has managed to wear down the rock into a much less pronounced series of falls and cascades.
The visible portion of the falls drop 238 feet, though there is a very good chance the overall height is considerably more than that – perhaps up to 350 feet in all. A short distance past the bridge one can find the unofficial Dream Lake trail, which climbs steeply alongside Big Creek and affords some different perspectives of the falls. To reach any clear views one must scramble off the path and down to the creek. Because Big Creek Falls is the only waterfall that is plainly obvious from the Taylor River Trail, it is sometimes confused for Otter Falls since Otter Falls is the only mapped waterfall in the drainage. But they don’t look at all alike.
Snoqualmie Lake Trail to Snoqualmie Lake
If hiking, you may want to turn around at Big Creek Falls unless you’re up for 7 more miles and an additional 1250 ft elevation gain on a steep trail which is rocky in many places. That will give you an 11 mile round trip. There’s nothing to see between Big Creek Falls and the trail junction for Snoqualmie Lake a mile further on. So don’t continue unless you are planning to go to Snoqualmie Lake. If you have your bike, then continue to the junction and leave the bike. It is not allowed in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and you couldn’t get it up the trail if you wanted to. The sign below states 2 miles but our Apple Watches showed 2.5 so expect 5 miles to the lake and back and that’s if you turn around when you first reach the lake.
At the trail junction, take the left fork to stay on the Snoqualmie Lake Trail. After 0.3 miles you reach the boundary of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
Continue up sharply through the forest and after about 0.5 more miles there is a large impressive waterfall (on the order of Big Creek Falls) just off to the right of the trail. It’s quite loud.
The trail keeps to the left of the creek outflowing from Snoqualmie Lake all the way up although there are several side creeks to cross including one major one coming in from the left about a half mile from the Lake or 1.25 miles past the first falls. Towards the upper end of the trail there begins to be occasional breaks in the forest where you can get good views of the surrounding peaks and area. Just before the second falls, there is a long area where the trail follows a major creek and you need to follow the cairns through and across the various streambeds.
Once you reach the second big falls, Snoqualmie Lake is very near (elevation 3,200 ft). The air temperature noticeably drops when you approach the lake and get out of the valley. There is easy swim access for the bold. Hopefully you have left some time to enjoy the lake before having to go back.
Dingford Creek Trail
The Dingford Creek Trail starts at the trailhead at the end of the driveable portion of Forest Road 5620. This is 18 miles in from the start of the Middle Fork Road and 6 miles past the paved section of the road. The last 5.5 miles after Taylor River is full of potholes, rocks, and dips for streams. It will take you 30-35 minutes just to drive that section. Don’t forget to check out Dingford Creek Falls before or after your hike as it’s just past the parking lot on the Middle Fork Road and is well worth seeing.
There is a sign for the Dingford Creek Trailhead on the uphill side of the parking lot at the end of the road. The Dingford Creek Trail is dog friendly -please keep your dog leashed for their own safety. Here the elevation is 1500 feet. The trail immediately starts up steeply, climbing 1000 feet in the first mile. At 0.9 miles, you enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. At 1.2 miles, there is a beautiful small waterfall on the left (might be dry by mid to late summer). Then, at 1.4 miles is the impressive Pumpkinseed falls whose water drains out of Pumpkinseed Lake.
The trail is fairly level between Pumpkinseed Falls and the Goat Creek crossing at 2.5 miles. The Goat Creek Crossing could be problematic at high water (although not as problematic as the river crossings on the Hester Lake trail later on. From here until the Hester Lake trail junction (Mile 3.6 elevation 2850 feet), the trail starts climbing again although not nearly as steep as the first section.
Hester Lake Trail
At the Hester Lake – Myrtle Lake trail junction, take the right fork to go to Hester Lake. The trail is quite swampy down to the first river/creek crossing (3.9 miles). Depending on the season, you may need to wade. There are two other crossings to make, one of which is Dingford Creek.
The trail heads southward up the Hester Lake drainage and begins to climb again. At 4.8 miles, go around the left (East) side of a small swampy meadow and follow the switchbacks up the hill past two small ponds to Hester Lake (elevation 3900 ft). Although some of the websites show 5.4 miles from the Dingford trailhead to Hester Lake, we think it’s closer to 6.
At the Hester Lake – Myrtle Lake trail junction, take the left fork to go to Myrtle Lake. The trail begins to climb more steeply. It’s two and a half miles of lengthy, sometimes overgrown switchbacks to get to Myrtle Lake (elevation 3800 feet). A faint, mile-long trail leads to small Upper Myrtle Lake at 4,200 feet. This makes for a total of 6 miles from Dingford Creek trailhead to Myrtle Lake, about the same distance as to Hester Lake.
Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Whitewater Trips
Middle Fork Snoqualmie, The Upper Middle
This is the section of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie between the Taylor River junction and the bridge where the Forest Road 56 crosses the river. Difficulty is mainly class II rapids on a wide winding river. Distance is 7.5 miles.
Middle Fork Snoqualmie, The Lower Middle
This is the most difficult section of the river – between the 5 mile bridge and a takeout near Tanner Road. There are pool drop class II-IV+ boulder gardens. At high water expect to see some monster holes. Triad River Tours offers guided rafting trips which include this section. Their normal rafting season is April through July and inflatable kayak trips in June and July.
Middle Fork Snoqualmie, The Club Stretch
This is the 4.5 mile stretch of the river from Tanner to North Bend. Rapids are small Class II boulder gardens separated by long calm pools. Takeout is at a bridge (428th Ave SE) just above where the North Fork Snoqualmie joins the Middle fork in Three Forks Park.
Links to Trails and Locations with Trailheads along Middle Fork Snoqualmie
Gateway Peaks area: Mt Si, Little Si, Mailbox Peak
Granite Creek area: Granite Lakes. Winter snowshoeing
Pratt River area: Pratt River Trail
Dingford Creek Trail and Hester Lake
Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Pacific Crest Trail
Goldmyer Hot Springs
Dutch Miller Gap Trail