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Two sections of the Whitehorse Trail, which runs along a former Burlington Northern rail line, are currently open for use. The eastern end of the trail spans nearly 7 miles between Darrington and the historic Old Fortson Mill. West of there, most of the rest of the planned trail to Arlington is officially closed due to trestles and bridges lacking decking and railings. In 2013, one such bridge was improved, and another trail segment is now open from the link with the paved Snohomish County Centennial Trail in Arlington to the former Cloverdale Farm site in Trafton.
Frequently paralleling State Route 530 and the North Fork Stillaguamish River, the trail winds through a series of farm, forest and river environments, and contains several fishing access points and river bridge crossings. The route is very scenic with many views of the Cascade Mountains, especially Whitehorse Mountain, Mount Higgins, Prairie Mountain, and others.
The trail surface is mostly unimproved, so mountain bikes are recommended. Trail users should look out for patches of loose rock.
Additional sections of the Whitehorse Trail will open as funding is raised for decking and railing installation. As of Summer 2015, full completion of the 27-mile trail between Arlington and Darrington is tentatively scheduled for Fall 2016.
The trail ends in Darrington with access at the junction of Railroad Avenue and Price Street. There is parking on Railroad Avenue near its junction with SR 530. Additional parking is available at the Old Fortson Mill on Fortson Mill Road (west of Darrington) and at the former Cloverdale Farm site on 115th Avenue NE (Trafton).
Late Summer 2018
TrailBear was not exactly “silent, upon a peak in Darien” when he parked at the twin bridges site (Rt. 530 & RR bridges) on the Whitehorse Trail (48°15'58.29"N x 122° 0'44.53"W).
“OMG, blacktop!” A few yards over, the trail surface was gleaming blacktop. Blacktop! Bear loves blacktop on his trails. Smooth riding. No ruts. Yes! We can do this! The trike came out and TB went spinning over the bridge and down the newly surfaced trail bed.
Smooth, fresh blacktop and dried leaves crunching under the tires. Looking closer, he wondered if he was one of the first riders on this stretch. There were only three tire tracks behind him. All evenly spaced. Might be him.
Was there some association with the construction crew he passed a few miles east where the trail crosses Rt 530 again… They were laying down more blacktop, heading east towards Darrington. Got a ways to go. Encourage them. They expected to be done with the trail project back in 2016. Perhaps 2020 might be the year. A bear can dream.
Regardless, the twin bridges is a lovely spot on the trail. You have a nice railroad bridge, a river with a long view, a beach for the kids and views. Locals are found recreating themselves here all summer.
Go west down the blacktop a bit and there is the Rt. 530 trail crossing – under construction. Wonder how they will do this. The Snohomish Centennial has a ped-controlled stop light at one crossing. This crossing is on a curve to make it sporting.
He managed to pedal across – but he waited and waited for a lull. Those fully loaded logging trucks doing 60 mph suggested caution. No sign of paving continuing west towards Trafton Trailhead. Back in 2016 when he checked out the Trafton Trailhead, he noticed they had laid a serious compacted gravel base heading east from Trafton, so there might be hope that was going to be a blacktop base.
@@@ MAP CHECK … The Whitehorse Trail project map – check it out
Here is the county project map. Currently, it is the best that you can easily put your hands on.
TB really hopes that the map note with a date of 2106 was a typo. You can see that they are doing this and that here and there. They have Phases. Must be a challenge to find all the funding for all the projects that add up to a completed trail.
The finished trail, combined with the excellent Snohomish Centennial Trail that runs from the Snohomish River north through Arlington to the Skagit County border will make this an even more attractive destination for riders.
The old right of way extends north along Rt. 9 in Skagit County and south into King County where it is the Burke-Gilman Trail. There are said to be plans to join the Snohomish to the B-G. Come that day, you can start at the Golden Gardens on Puget Sound and ride up to the Skagit line or cut over to Darrington.
@@@ FORTSON MILL TRAILHEAD … Welcome Wagon not in evidence (48°16'25.43"N 121°43'53.57"W)
TrailBear had such high hopes that morning. He would park at the Fortson Mill Trailhead and take a round trip east to Darrington and back. After all, the official map said this was the only open portion.
His hopes faded when he drove in … to the gate, hefty and well-locked. An official and rather annoyed sign proclaimed that “This Gate is Locked due to illegal dumping.” (Guys, if you are going to do caps, do caps for every word. More stylish.) Among the prohibited items were Alcoholic Beverages and Motor Vehicles. Not the place to party on a Friday night. At least the county hopes so. The gate says so.
Reading that ‘Foot traffic is allowed into the park” he hoofed it down the road to find a vast, empty parking lot in the woods. Great place to dump that old washer or have a kegger on Friday night. No signage.
More wandering about turned up the Fortson mill – now concrete walls with artistic graffiti, a dam and empty log pond and not much more. The trail is due north about 93 yards from the non-parking lot, over the slope and down.
@@@ DARRINGTON TRAIL HEAD … End of the trail (48°15'32.10"N 121°36'16.33"W)
Well, try the official open portion from the other end. Off to Darrington and the trail end on Railroad Ave. Pedal off down the trail and past the Three Rivers Mill. The trail here is gravel, and TrailBear was soon bored. Scrubby, cut over woods, no views, bumping over roots. Boring!
Stop, about face, pedal back. The reality is that from Fortson to Darrington, the Whitehorse is a woods ride. No bridges, no river, no views. TB has ridden the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and other scenic trails, so he is spoiled rotten and feels Entitled.
He wants scenic trails with endless unfolding vistas – an endless Instagram Heaven – not a bunch of scrubby woods. (And, while you’re at it – a rest room every five miles.)
He loaded up and headed back west to his happy discovery of real, fresh blacktop, a bridge and vistas at the twin bridges: “OMG, blacktop!” One happy TrailBear.
Starting at the western end of Whitehorse, branching off the Centennial Trail, I rode about a mile before hitting a landslide blocking the trail. Looking at the tangle of large trees and mud in front of me, I decided I'd rather not try to get past it and risk having the whole mass continue into the river, with me on top of it. So ended my first Whitehorse Trial trip.
The trail in this section has not yet been resurfaced, so it still has the old railroad ballast. It was a little tiring to slog through, but the short section of the trail I did get to ride was quite enjoyable. This looks like it will be a beautiful ride, once they complete the trail.
A bit of web searching and Der Bear came up with a trailhead for the Whitehorse – a former farm out at a place called Trafton. After a morning surveying a trail at Langus Park in Everett, amid the sloughs of the Snohomish River, it was time for a change.
The Whitehorse has been on Der Bear’s radar for several years. He had dreams of Arlington at the crossing of two nice trails, the front street lined with ice cream parlors, beer joints, bike stores and fast food emporiums to serve crowds of lycraed up roadies. (What they do in February is another matter which we shall ignore.)
He kept hoping that the county would get to work on it after finishing the Snohomish Centennial. An article on-line from last year suggested they were doing just that – brushing the trail, decking the bridges, rebuilding the section wiped out in the Oso slide and more. Time for a closer look.
So, off to Trafton, wherever that was.
Finding the Trafton Trailhead is a job for the GPS. Enter 48.231807 x -122.07994 on Google Earth or find 115 Ave. NE east of Arlington. Hint: There are two options for 115 Ave. Heading east from Arlington, you first see a sign for it on the right. Ignore this. Continue on a bit and there is another sign for it on the left. Nothing obvious. No signs.
Take this and head down the road until you see a blue silo on the left. You have arrived. Park inside and there is a sign for the trailhead with all the naughties to avoid.
TrailBear parks at the silo and goes limping off to see the trail. Past the barns, down a slope you can see the trail bed crossing a meadow. Limp down to the trail. To the west is a cleared track heading to the junction with the Snohomish Centennial about four miles off. The bridge on this section has been decked. (TB read the review.)
To the east is a new section of compacted gravel trail bed going out of sight around a curve. Bear loves this. If you can’t get blacktop, this is second best and good riding. Too late in the day to do any riding. Der Bear heads for the van. Time to find a bridge and see if it is decked and open.
Some miles further on both Rt. 530 and the Whitehorse cross the Stillaguamish River. Pull over, park, grab camera and take a look. The RR bridge is decked, has railing and is clear to ride. Last time Der Bear checked it out, it was unimproved. Something really is happening.
Head further east, see two more bridges and both show new railings. Wife wants to see the Oso Slide. We go to Oso. Oso looks quite untouched. Turn around for the day a bit further on. A later check of Google Earth shows the Oso Slide is 3.7 miles east of Oso and further by road. Next time.
They have to build a mile of new trail here.
TrailBear will return and spend the day seeing what they have done with the Whitehorse. Will it be ridable next summer. Stay tuned.
I always checkout the access to the Whitehorse Trail from Arlington when we ride the Centennial, and wonder what its like. I was out there last week and finally rode it.
First of all you will need a mountain bike, air the tires down, and lower the post. There is a lot of gravel/ballast and you may need to walk some portions. The first .4 mile is all gravel, then there are a lot of grass or compact soil sections, broken up the the gravel ones. But I did ride the 3 miles to the bridge which is open and decked for bikes. The trail is open as far as I could see there, but I stopped at the bridge.
The county has brushed out the trail, nevertheless there are blackberries growing back in places.
But the trail is beautiful and I'm excited for it to open. This portion follows the river and offers river and mountain views and some limited access to the water. I enjoyed the river and solitude and even saw a pair of deer. Check it out!
The trail has no real changes since the other reviews in 2011. From the Centennial Trail out on Whitehorse the trail only goes about 3.5 miles before it abruptly ends in the back of a farm. It may go further than that, but on a Sunday morning I didn't want to run up into someones back door. The "newly" installed gravel covers about half the trail. It is the wrong type to ever get compacted. It's also just the right size to get caught in your shoes, so you may have to stop and pick it out like I did. That said, this is a very nice flay trail that follows the Stilaguamish River for a large part and is great break from asphalt and concrete.
Went back to re-inspect the eastern end of the Whitehorse Trail. It was a little more overgrown than I remember it from last year. The trail surface is quite rideable with a mountain bike or a sturdy street bike. At one place the Stillaguamish North Fork River is nibbling into the steep bank and we are going to lose part of the trail there within a few years. There is some illegal quad ORV activity on the east end of the trail, but actually that moderate motorized vehicle use improves the trail surface somewhat by packing down the gravel and makes it easier to ride.
Now that the extension of the Snohomish Centennial Trail is open from Arlington up to a new trailhead at Bryant, you can access the lower trail end of the Whitehorse just beyond the bridge.
It is signed for horses and with good reason. It is brushed (at least at this end) and there is a 10' trail topped with 1.5" gravel (no fines). The stuff moves with every step. It's like soft sand.
It would be a workout on a mountain bike. I suspect a trike might do better as it would not be shifting all over. After a 100 yrds, I packed it in. I was there to survey the extension.
Give it a try and tell us. A rider with a Surly LHT and 4" tires did the Columbia Plateau Trail in the undeveloped section and that is 2-4" ballast, so it can be done.
Heading back to that nice blacktop Centennial Trail
Currently only 6 miles on the eastern end between Swede Heaven Rd. and Darrington are open for public use.
There is not much parking space at the current western trail end at the Swede Heaven trail crossing at 48.27593 N, -121.70586 W. Two to four cars would fit on. A sign there reads "Darrington 6 miles". The trail bridge across Moose Cr. has a name sign, but that is currently the only one. The bridge across Squire Creek is much more impressive, but there is no sign to identify the creek. This bridge and another one of the bridges have a nice board along the railing, wide enough to sit on and relax, and would provide bench space for 200 people to sit on. The trail leads mostly through undeveloped second (third) growth forest and is in view of only a few houses, mostly in the proximity of where the trail crosses some residential access roads. The forest canopy is so dense that most of the trail is in the shade and you might even consider riding it on a hot summer day. There are two places where one can step off the trail and walk down to the shore of the river. The second one is after 3.2 miles where the trail crosses an unmarked gravel road that is inviting to ride north for several reasons: 1. immediately to the left is a wide gravel and sand bar along the river (easily seen from the trail) which would be a fun place to go sunbathing and splash in the river on a hot summer day. Judging by the amount of trash left behind, this place is also popular with locals. 2. Continue on the road north ~1/2 mi. to a concrete bridge with a very nice view of the river and another river access point. Also trashed. 3. For the more energetic mountain biker getting bored by riding only flatland trails along abandoned RR grades, the logging roads on the other side of the bridge (M1000) above open a vast network of riding opportunities, first past a (trashed) gravel pit (target shooting) and then further up toward U.S.F.S. Road 18 and Segelsen Ridge. The main roads are in good shape (surface OK for mountain bikes) and offer spectacular views of Whitehorse Mtn. across the valley and other peaks up the Sauk River valley. You should try at least for a 2.5 mi. (5 mi. R.T.) excursion, gaining 400 ft. elevation to a point where it reaches U.S.F.S. Road 18, with the coordinates N48.29307, W-121.68052 for the best views. The bridge and the road up to this point are not yet shown on USGS 1978 maps. This point can also be reached by a logging road from the Swede Heaven road, and, if the map is correct, theoretically one might be able to make a loop of it.
Back on the Whitehorse RR trail, the trail crosses a church camp, goes under the powerline, goes past a sawdust composting operation next to a log storage area, past the Darrington air field and ends unceremoniously next to the IGA grocery store in Darrington at 48.25534 N, -121.60285 W. There is ample parking here, but no trail directional signs or bulletin boards with trail maps.
After the return to the Swede Heaven trail head, one is tempted to explore the continuation of the trail to the west. A first sign states only that this is future trail, banked as part of Snohomish trail planning. Going west, you ride past a road crossing with a fish hatchery, a marshy pond, and the ruins of the Fortson saw mill with a mill pond. The mill pond appears to be popular for fishing. There is car parking at the turnaround of an access road (marked with "Wildlife Viewing Area" along Hwy. 530). Only after a little less than two miles the signs along westbound Whitehorse Trail state that this corridor is currently CLOSED to all public use. At the latest when you get to a crossing with residences guarded by free-running vicious dogs it is time to turn around and postpone further explorations. The map shows a picnic area past the fish hatchery which I should have explored. During a midweek exploration I did not see a single other person on the trail, only a few fishermen at Fortson Mill Pond and a dog walker on the logging road.
For additional information, see
There is some great wildlife viewing along the Whitehorse Trail as you pass the old Fortson Mill Pond. I have seen quite a variety of birds, deer and even a fox once. This is also beautiful in the early summer with wildflowers, lots of Bleeding Heart and Yellow Wood Violet. At several points along the trail there are clearings where you can catch vistas of the mountains and the Stillaguamish River.
The barricades throughout the trail detract from some of the enjoyment, but everything else that it has to offer, I recommend this trail.
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