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Unread 09-30-2010, 04:54 PM   #1
lupinsea
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Camping Info Needed: North and Middle Forks of Snoqualmie River

Hey guys, I'm heading out with my son to do his first camping trip this weekend and I'm trying to decide between the North Fork or Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie river for some disbursed camping (since the FS campgrounds are now closed for the winter).

To limit time in the Jeep (think of a 2 yr old's attention span before getting too restless) I'll go up one or the other of the forks, but not both so not much time for "exploration". Just trying to decide which one.

North Fork Open To The End?
I've been up the North Fork tons of times over 30+ years and know that the best camping spots are about 20+ miles back once you cross into the Federal lands. But I thought I heard the road was blocked or washed out about half way up the North Fork. Is this still true?

Middle Fork Suggestions?
I've been up the Middle Fork exactly once and that was about 15 years ago. Didn't know my way around then, and still don't. How is the camping up there? I know this is more the hiker's / eco-nut's area, that they've been limiting vehicular access, and that there's a developed Middle Fork Campground about 12 miles out. But that's it.


The ideal camp site for this trip:
  • About 5+ miles out on gravel roads (to feel like we're leaving the pavement far enough behind)
  • Heavily forested with some lush under story flora
  • Near a creek
  • Maybe 100-200 ft off the main gravel road (enough of a separation), more would be great but I don't want to get into "hard core" offroading on this trip


If you know of good places to go up the Middle Fork, any chance of sharing the milage points (heck, or GPS locations?) of the good spots so I could find them.

Also, any idea how crowded it's likely to be up the Middle Fork? I know the North Fork doesn't get all that crowded, especially way back there.

Plus, any cool old bridges or log bridges to cross on the Middle Fork? Anything of particular interest to go check out and explore? We could probably do a mini-hike but with the short legs of a toddle (and their interesting in looking at whatever's in front of them) we're not likely to make a lot of ground.

Thanks a bunch.


For Future Reference, Any Other Areas?
Also, any other camping suggestions that are near-ish to Seattle would be good, too, for future trips next year. The North Bend area is maybe a 40-45 min drive from my place in Kenmore. So anything out along US Hwy to out along the Skykomish and up in the foot hills is do-able, too (figuring it takes me maybe 20-25 min to reach monroe and another 10-15 min to get out past Sultan / Gold Bar.

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Unread 09-30-2010, 05:59 PM   #2
zjzach
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I was just up the Middle Fork about 6 weeks ago mountain biking and hiking the Taylor River Trail.

Easily 5+ miles of gravel road in, forrest and woods like you described, near creeks and rivers along the whole way. Finding a good site off the main road will be the fun part, like you said with the main campgrounds being closed, but there's still a lot of other spots.
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Unread 09-30-2010, 06:09 PM   #3
lupinsea
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Thanks man.

Maybe I should not have said camping spot "off the main road" but rather, off a gravel road. If there is a side spur road that winds up a little ways from the main road, then the camp site, that would be cool. But I suspect it is the main road that stays close to the river.
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Unread 09-30-2010, 09:52 PM   #4
zjzach
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that river forks so many times, not to mention whatever other creeks come into it, im sure for this type of trip, you'll find something that works perfect. post some pics when you get back.
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Unread 10-03-2010, 01:49 PM   #5
SnoqulmieTJ
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there are some nice spots off of Tinkham RD,but you have to get there on a Friday to get them.
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Unread 10-04-2010, 05:33 PM   #6
lupinsea
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Thanks guys.

I've been up Tinkham Rd waaaaay back in the day. It's a little close to I-90's and its freeway roar for my tastes.


Anyways, we did make it up the North Fork. My son had a blast up there this weekend. And what I thought would be a little tricky, getting him to sleep in the tent, proved to be a non-issue.

Weather was over cast and the ground was damp, but it wasn't wet, it didn't rain and temps were surprisingly warm for the locale and season that I was expecting.

For those that don't know, most of the first 16-20 miles is on a gravel county road that bisects working timberland. Meaning, not many places to turn off and you go through a number of fresh clear cut areas. Still, there are enough sections of wooded area to make for a nice drive up. And it takes about an hour to go from the end of the pavement back to the prime camping areas.

Then you cross into the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. There isn't any clear cut areas and it's mostly old-growth trees. Not long after crossing into Federal land the route makes a sharp 90 deg turn to the left and crosses a concrete bridge. We took the first right after the bridge and headed up another 4-ish miles to our campsite along the bank of the river. It's a place my dad had been taking me since I was probably my son's age (2 yrs old).

I have a lot of great memories of this area from my youth and it was good to start working on my son's memories with his first camping trip.

While I set about setting up camp he did what he loves to do at creeks and streams; throw rocks in the water. Occasionally I'd pause in camp prep as he'd want me to throw a big rock for him. We got the camp fire going and ate dinner on a large embedded boulder that I build the fire next too. The rock made a great bench / table for my son.

With the cloud cover overhead, darkness descended on the river choking out any stars. We had smores and read stories by fire light (and my head lamp) before bed.

The next day brought breakfast, a walk to look at "stuff", and then packing up the camp after lunch. We then continued to the end of the road and the closed off bridge via Jeep before heading home.

It was a short, simple over-nighter camping trip and while I prefer a full weekend of camping this was a good first step. Can't wait to do it again.




Crossing the first major bridge on the North Fork.





Scoping out a big bull dozer parked on the side of the road on the way up.





Heading up FS Rd 57. Our campsie was about 2-3 miles further up into the hills.




Ah, finally arrived at our camp site, about an hour after leaving pavement.





Eating dinner.





Getting ready to exit the tent the next morning.





Anytime we weren't doing something specific (dinner, walk, etc.) my
son was sloshing in the river, oblivious to how wet he was.





Misty hill sides.





Heading home. I love driving the forest roads in this area.











Oh, and if anyone is wondering, the Sunday Creek bridge has most definitely been rebuilt. Holy cow. They did an excellent job of it, too. The bridge looks great. Hopefully it'll be around for decades to come.

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Unread 10-05-2010, 11:40 AM   #7
SnoqulmieTJ
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Could you put some way points of your trip,and link it here plz? I have been wanting to check that place out for a while now
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Unread 10-05-2010, 05:08 PM   #8
lupinsea
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Let me see what I can do. I haven't downloaded the GPS data yet but I can map something out on Googlemaps and link it here.

Ok, let's see if this works:

Click Here For Map.

Here's a legend on the map points, they aren't in any particular order, I just right clicked for a new destination so they'd (hopefully) work on the linked map:

A - "Starting Point" at North Bend

B - The "Y" at Ernie's Grove, take the left to head up the North Fork

C - This is the new Sunday Creek Bridge, the bright red one in the photos above

D - This is where you cross into the Mt. Baker - Snoqualmie Nat. Forest, there's an empty sign post board and the end of some clear cutting area

E - A good place to do some shooting. Gravel bank at base of 2400 ft tall mountain. Main road takes 90 deg left over concrete bridge

F - End of the "main" road (FS Rd 57) at the abandoned wood bridge

G - Trail head for a the Bare Mountain hiking-only trail. You'll need a forest past to park at the trailhead.

H - Where my son and I camped last weekend

I - I've not been up this road in ages. It looks over grown but tire tracks to go up it. "Some day" I'd like to reach the end. Looks like it could afford a great view from the top based on the map (turn on Google Maps's "Terrain" setting to see topopgraphy if it's not on)

J - There are a few camp sites on this flat area between the two main valleys, this was the runner up for this trip as it's right next to a calm section of the river

K - Did some exploring on Sunday, got to this point and stopped at debris pile covering road. It would be passable in a Jeep but since I was on my own up there and my Jeep needs some TLC I didn't want to push it.

L - "End of the other road". The main gravel road stops but it looked like a side road continues on. Not sure how far. I remember this area used to be a clear cut. Now everything is about 25 ft tall.


Area Guide
There are not much options or opportunities to get lost on the way up to the North Fork. All the side roads between leaving the pavement and the edge of the National Forest lands have been gated. People hike those areas but you cannot drive up the roads. So . . . you can't really get lost up here. The only "trick" is finding the start of the road. It's on the outskirts of North Bend (see map) and starts at a little enclave called Ernie's Grove (point B) where the road "Y's" off. Take the left "Y" that climbs up hill.

The road bed itself is in decent shape with the occasional potholes punctuating here or there. All the old log bridges having subsequently been replace with solid, stout, concrete bridges, the newest and most impressive (if shortest) being the Sunday Creek Bridge (red one above).

The main road travels through working timberland on the way up and crosses in and out of clear cut area and standing forests.

FS Rd 5700 Camping Spots
There are 3-4 camping spots along the side of the river grouped around points H, G and F with the camp site that we stayed at being the best of them. As you can see, these are in a deep valley and the area is quite pleasant. Occasionally you might hear a car rumbling by on the main road as hikers go to and from the Bare Mt. Trailhead (point G) but it's VERY rare (there's just not that much back here) so it's plenty peaceful. Mostly old growth trees here. Across the river from our camp site (point H) and through the trees along the river's edge are some massive car and house sized boulders piled up at the base of the mountain. Makes for some interesting exploring if you don't mind getting your feet wet. Down stream about 2-3 blocks from point H is also a falls of sort. Not big, but it flows over a massive slab of rock and tumbles into a few pools. Hard to spot through the trees. It's pretty but there's no trail that leads to it so it's a cross country walk (of a few hundred feet) through the woods to reach it. When I was a teenager my friends and I would slosh through the river from our camp site to explore what it had to offer.

The Flat Land
Not sure what else to call this area around points D, E, and J and the second to last photo (titled "heading home") is a good depiction of the woods in this area. Its a broad, flat tree covered area at the convergence of two branches of the North Fork's upper reaches. Near point D there's two camping spots. And around point J there are a number of others. Point E is a shooting pit that's actually pretty good and safe if a bit "public" in that it's adjacent to the road but facing away from it toward the mountain. The woods here are a mix of alder and evergreen which is kind of nice. Terrain is flat, as mentioned, so there's little interest in elevation changes. The river flowing past D and E is very rock and bouldery. But the branch flowing past J is much more serene.

K & L
I don't go up here much. This was an area (around L) that was clear cut at one point but is now well on it's way to regrowing with anything in the clear cut area already 20-25 ft tall. The road is pretty far away from the river in the valley below. And while people camp at the ends of the roads (as evidenced by fire pits) there's not much there. . . the road just stops and there's a gravel turn-around. Not anything "I" would call a camping spot. But hey, what ever floats some people's boat. The photo of the trees in the mist was taken along this route some place. Point K is where a debris field covers the road. It should be passable to a Jeep maybe with some work, maybe simply by picking the right line. I didn't go any further since I was on my own this weekend.

Bonus 1
Past point J the road gradually climbs the hill side. I went up there one year when was in my 20's (now 34) and we stopped at a creek crossing (probably toward the end of the road). It was a decent sized creek that tumbled down a boulder wash on the steep hill side. Very pretty and it made for some nice climbing / exploration on foot heading up hill.

Bonus 2
Point I is a road I'd like to explore some time. It looked little used and a bit over grown when I drove past it this weekend. On another occasion I'd have checked it out but didn't want to go haring off with my 2 yr old son with me in a Jeep that was not in prime condition. Judging from the route on Google Maps it looks like it climbs the ridge line up to an impressive point. I'd love to check this out someday.


Camp Site Suggestions
"Camping Spots" in this area are not official places. It's not like a developed Forest Service camp site with a paved road and angle parking with a picnic bench and welded steel BBQ grate and out houses. This is dispersed camping. Basically, just places to pull off on the side of the road. Most of these pull-offs are reasonably private with a 50-100+ ft spur leading to them and plenty of vegetation screening between the site and the road. And that's it. If there's not a camp fire pit somewhere, drag some rocks into a circle and make one. And no, no out houses. No garbage cans so pack your stuff out with you. Better yet, pack up some extra trash if there's any in the camping spots (though they're usually clean).

My preference is for the sites around points H, G, and F. It's a pretty mountain valley up there. One or two of the sites are VERY close to the river and don't have a lot of room for a tent.

Second best are probably the sites at point J.

Third string options . . . I'd probably say D. There are two spots here and they are visible from the road with a bit of a 10 ft cliff to the river below and they look out on a view of the river that's basically a big massive rock field. Plus they're within a 2 min or less walk to the shooting pit. Convenient if you're really into shooting, but potentially a bit noisy.

Now, there USED to be a couple camping spots around point C, where the new Sunday Creek Bridge is now. It looks like the bridge construction wiped out one but you might be able to reach a sand bar on one side of the bridge, probably by a 20 ft foot path.
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Unread 10-05-2010, 08:39 PM   #9
SnoqulmieTJ
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Wow thanks this should be a sticky on some of the other local forums(www.wavjc.org) is the only one i know.
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Unread 10-07-2010, 03:24 PM   #10
RaggedOleMan
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Norman Rockwell comes to mind...

I'm always drawn to your write-ups, Lupinsea. Maybe a little handbook of Washington off road adventures in the future? Just for the fun of it...then again, might even develop a little revenue stream to off set the struggling construction industry, you never know...
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Unread 10-07-2010, 05:00 PM   #11
gensysmike
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That little boy has a great dad! Good job!
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Unread 10-08-2010, 06:13 PM   #12
lupinsea
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Thanks again guys.

I mentioned to my wife that I want to start taking him on Jeep offroad runs next year. He'll be 2 1/2 - 3 yrs old by spring when the season starts up again. Start small and simple, of course, and keep the excusions short. See how he does when the Jeep is moving around a lot.

BTW, when we headed down some of the side spurs to check out the other camping spots and the underbrush got tight to the Jeep he started laughing his head off and getting real excited. I think he'll like trail running.
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Unread 10-08-2010, 09:49 PM   #13
SnoqulmieTJ
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well once next season starts i wil have a winch, so if you need another to run with you can count me in. My friend also who will go.
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Unread 11-14-2010, 09:22 AM   #14
Lordwrench
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Excellent info here,thanks for the write up!!
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Unread 12-08-2010, 05:36 PM   #15
lupinsea
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No problem. I love the area up there. Not much for Jeep'n as most places can be access by a car. But it's pretty, there's not that many people up there, and there's a couple good spots for target shooting if you like. Oh, and the hiking trail if one is up for that.
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