A trail up high in the mountains is one thing, but a trail up high in the mountains—two yards off the ground—is something else. Like no other season, winter has a way of transforming a landscape. On a recent visit to Snoqualmie Pass, we discovered more than a new hiking trail; we discovered that trail elevation can be a seasonal thing.
Part of the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, the Franklin Falls Trail (#1036) is accessible year-around, accommodating all skill levels. Beautiful any season, I’ve always wanted to visit this place, especially under facades of snow and ice. And now just happens to be the best time of year for such conditions, so, time to bundle up and head for the hills!
Our GPS options—always helpful—made sure we were there. And we were there. Well, close. We just couldn’t see the route to the trail’s parking lot—not even the trail head itself. A wall of plowed snow at least seven feet tall stood between our makeshift parking spot, us, and the way to #1036. Eventually we noticed a path of sorts (forged by ambitious snowshoers and other hikers earlier that morning) weaving its way up and over the icy wall. A starting point! So up and over we went.
As the path continued, the compacted snow made for stable walking conditions, despite the fact we were several feet off the actual ground. As we walked, fluffy flakes quietly floated down around us, decorating the evergreens, contributing to this already beautiful wonderland.
Running roughly parallel to our snowy trail, water flowed actively in the creeks. We could hear the Falls, even though they remained out of sight for the time being. Eventually our path reached ground level as we made our way under the sloping canopy of trees. Here we crossed small foot bridges over steady streams of moving water. Active despite the freezing temperature, the creeks went about their business, competing with the Falls—and falling snow—for our attention.
Arriving at the end of the trail (a little rocky and slippery the last ten yards), Franklin Falls was there to greet us in all its glory. Water pounded down, as snowflakes continued to do the same. And there was just enough level ground for us and about 20 other hikers to take it all in, as well as take photos without having to take turns.
What a beautiful site! But what truly fascinated me about the face of the Falls was observing the water that wasn’t moving at all: the ice. Like icicles that form on the eves of homes and buildings, water found a way to camp out for the season along sections of the rock wall. The freezing temps fluctuate in this part of the world just enough to allow Mother Nature the opportunity to treat the cliff face like a canvas, painting various rocks with broad brushstrokes of ice.
Heading back up the trail, we encountered more evidence of ice finding a place in the scenery. Exposed root systems of large trees near creek beds allowed for mini stalactite formations of frozen water—water that will need to wait a month or two for warmer weather before it can reach the creek. A true freeze-frame shot of stillness.
Nearing the elevated part of the trail —close to our starting point—we noticed evidence of human interaction with the landscape we didn’t see before: a solar panel secured to a tree, graffiti on a freeway pillar and a road sign that barely cleared the snow drift. But thankfully not litter.
Lots of people visit this trail throughout the year, and for us, all were friendly. Everyone seemed to enjoy sharing this winter wonderland experience as we passed each other coming and going along the trail.
I look forward to visiting this place again, perhaps in the summer or fall. Until then, I’ll just have to imagine the landscape as it would look like without its winter blanket. J ❄️