By Jessi Loerch
I recently discovered that the Monte Cristo trail is still open for hiking. I thought that it was already closed to hiking for cleanup. Nope, it’s open, so I hiked up there this weekend. It’s a great hike.
If you’d like to visit — and you should — you may want to do so soon. Closures are planned this summer to allow for cleanup work of the toxic legacy left over from mining operations.
I talked to Peter Forbes, the district ranger for the Darrington District, and he said a closure is planned mid- to late summer this year. Those closures will allow for construction work to create an access road to the cleanup area. He said early summer should be OK for hikers. Next summer, the area will be closed while the actual cleanup work is done.
Exact dates for this summers’ closure aren’t set yet, so if you’d like to hike the trail, check the website or call the Verlot Public Service Center at 360-691-7791 before you go.
The hike up to Monte Cristo is easy. It’s four miles in, but it feels a lot shorter because the slope is so gentle.
Right now, about a mile in, the trail gets a bit confusing. While the river is to your left, watch for the remnants of a washed-out bridge. You’ll need to cross the river to pick up the trail on the other side.
For now, there is a wide log bridge across the river. (There’s a footpath to it, so it’s not hard to find; just keep near the river.) Someone has tied up a rope and it makes an easy handhold across the log.
At some point, though, that log is going to come down. Forbes, the Darrington District ranger, said that the log is going to be removed at some point. It’s not an approved crossing of the river, and it can be treacherous, especially during high water.
It’s not yet clear when the log will come down. For now, though, it’s a simple enough path across this river. Once you’re on the other side, it’s not hard to find the trail. It’s an old road, after all, so it’s wide and easy to spot.
The trail has a good number of trees blown across it, but all of them are easy to cross. They won’t slow you down for long. There are still a few small patches of snow on the trail, but it’s melting fast.
Right now, trillium are blooming everywhere. Most are still bright white, but a few are fading to a glorious purple. Violets are blooming, as well as salmonberry and bleeding hearts. I was delighted to see daffodils as we entered Monte Cristo. That’s not something you expect to see on a hike in the Cascades. Butterflies are also everywhere.
The town itself is fascinating. We had a good time wandering around, reading the signs and looking at the artifacts that are left over from the mining operations, when this was a busy town. I found the old turntable particularly fascinating. I may have gotten carried away taking photos with Hipstamatic.
There are campsites near Monte Cristo, and this would make a fabulous easy backpack. If you have kids, this would be a fun first trip.
Trails leading out of the town site called to me, but I only explored a bit before heading back. I’d like to come back and head farther out. There’s a sign pointing to Poodle Dog Pass, and how could I resist something with a name like that?