20 November 2015
Franklin Falls Trail (#1036), Wagon Road Trail (#1021) and Denny Creek Campground
4.5 miles, 400 ft. climb to 2600 ft. maximum elevation
Today was a beautifully bright blue day to explore with my Little Hiking Buddy. After spending last week indoors at the ice rink, safe from the incredible winter storm that hit the Pacific Northwest, it was great to enjoy our Adventure Friday on the trail. I couldn’t decide whether to ascend a peak for some views or to follow a river to its source. LHB decided for me – she wanted to play in the snow with her snow boots! Recent reports showed snow at one of our favorite, kid-friendly trails: Franklin Falls.
Given all the damage that occurred throughout the region from the heavy wind, rain and snow this past week, many areas around and within Mt. Rainier, Olympic Mountains and North/Central Cascades were closed due to dangerous conditions. The road to Franklin Falls itself was not without debris and blow downs. A large tree had fallen across Forest Road 58 and was just a few feet short of destroying a cabin and its occupant’s car parked out front; while road access to the neighboring trail of Denny Creek (another one of our family favorites) was also blocked from fallen trees. I’m glad we made it to our trailhead without any major obstacles. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised by the newly paved and delineated parking stalls, which was previously a well-worn parking pull off.
LHB and I were last here in June, when the snow was all but gone. It was not the case today! Patches of snow greeted LHB within her very first steps across the footbridge at the start of the trail. After crossing the bridge, we were immediately taken into the thick forest of tall pines and cedars. The trail initially hugged Denny Creek so closely that we were able to safely venture out to the larger rocks along the shoreline, as well as explore other spur trails to the creek from the summer cabins that dotted the trail. Today, the white water rushed past us without even a greeting as opposed to the welcoming hello of the summer flow.
The thermometer read a chilly 31F degrees when we arrived. But, it didn’t matter to LHB because she found exactly what she was hoping for. It was all smiles all day, making for a fun day to explore different facets of the trail. As she has been wont to do during our recent adventures, LHB made her way through the trail without any hesitation. She patiently waited on her “home” bench while I occupied myself with picturesque shots of snow laden logs, and then happily skipped across bridges, hopped up stairs and climbed over roots until stopping in her tracks at her first snowy playground. From then on, it was stop-and-play at every patch of icy white worthy to be crunched under her new Quebec Tundra Boots. This one mile section of trail was the slowest for me, yet the most thrilling stretch for LHB. As giddy as I was a few weekends ago to be on my first snow hike, I think LHB was even more ecstatic about her first snow of the season.
In addition to the improvements at the parking area, the volunteers of the Washington Trails Association worked throughout this year to make enormous upgrades to the trail, including raising and cribbing most of the trail to eliminate previously muddy sinkholes along the way. It was a lovely winter walk following a wretched storm…at least until we reached a couple of felled trees directly on the newly constructed portions of the trail. While these obstacles caused LHB some initial distress, she quickly tasked herself to get over these hurdles when I mentioned there was even more snow up ahead. She heartily climbed over one downed tree and stealthily crawled under the other suspended log.
Franklin Falls Trail also offered spectacular views of Denny Creek from a higher elevation, particularly at the new viewing deck spotting Denny Camp Falls in the distance. There were many smaller cascades throughout the trail that either didn’t exist or were mere trickles during our prior trip. Though I could still remember almost every nuance from our past visit, this was a completely new experience for us both. LHB was so alive today that her energy was irrepressible. This water baby was clearly in her element, and we weren’t even yet at our destination point of Franklin Falls itself!
When we climbed up the final section of the graveled trail, we found ourselves awed by the waters of Franklin Falls pouring into it’s pebbled splash pool 70 feet below. From our vantage point, we could feel the icy spray in the air from the exposed flows, flanked only by the highway viaducts towering above. We were also confronted with beautifully constructed stone stairs frozen slick with a fresh coat of ice. Making use of our climbing techniques (yes, teacher, we paid attention during our lessons!), we had three points of contact at all times as well as gripped and side-pulled ledges and horns where ever possible. LHB and I were content to enjoy our picnic from the leveled ledge – another wonderful addition by WTA! – looking out to the glorious Franklin Falls.
After finishing dessert, we crawled our way back up the stony staircase and hiked a bit down the canopied forest trail. I convinced LHB to divert from our route up to the Falls towards the less-traveled Wagon Road Trail in search for more snow. I loved this trail! We were the only ones here today. It was more rugged and less defined than the well-used Trail #1036, yet still easy to meander without getting lost as it runs relatively close to FS 58. There was certainly more untouched snow along the trail, which made for an excited LHB. We crossed bridges and run-offs, as well as imagined ourselves on wagons traversing this “road” when we saw old tie up posts for horses. She even found a large snow covered conifer branch and begged to take it home as her Christmas tree, which she earnestly carried for good quarter of a mile.
We did, undoubtedly, encounter a few more fallen trees and large debris on the trail, but nothing that truly impeded our journey. The light through the forest trees highlighted so many colors and contrasted a great many features we may otherwise not have seen on the main trail. I couldn’t help but point out to LHB the variations of white snow cloaked atop green moss layered over brown logs. This was my favorite part of our hike together.
After crossing FS 58 a few times, we linked up with Franklin Falls Trail once again and made our way back towards the trailhead. LHB wanted to stop back at the sloping boulders to tromp in the ice crusted water and snow. I enjoyed the early afternoon light of this sunny day as the view featured one of the many splendidly snowcapped peaks of Snoqualmie Pass overlooking the bubbling flows of Denny Creek.
Although we made it back to our start, LHB was so full of energy that we decided to cross the road over to the trail heading down to Denny Creek Campground. From there, we explored the water from higher ground and even saw a fallen tree that spanned like a suspension bridge across the creek. Once we got to the campgroud itself, we pretended we were on a summer camping trip. She scoped out a pad for herself that was, of course, just beside the creek. While watching her throw pebbles into the creek, I realized I had just shared my 400th mile of the year with her. It was the perfect milestone to reach with LHB by my side because she was, after all, the reason I started hiking.
True to her indefatigable self, LHB wanted more ice and snow to play on. Since we still had time before Big Hiking Buddy was done with school, we headed to our local rink to warm ourselves up with hot chocolate and a few spins on the ice. Thank goodness it’s Adventure Friday.