A Great Year-Round Destination: Oxbow Loop Trail

Courtesy of Kimberly Schmeling

For the past two decades, the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and our partners contemplated the emergence of the Oxbow Loop Trail as a special recreation opportunity in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley. During 2018 and 2019, the trail and trailhead became a reality in a cooperative construction project undertaken by the Greenway Trust in partnership with the Washington Department of Natural Resources (WA-DNR). The 1.9-mile loop trail provides low-intensity recreation access in this scenic and special location in the valley, just 40 minutes from Seattle, and includes a parking lot, bathroom, and kiosks to provide a great user experience.

A Trail 19,000 Years in the Making

The story of the Oxbow Loop Trail began when the Vashon Glacier pushed its way past Mount Si some 19,000 years ago, forming a great ice dam and a large lake in what we now know as the Middle and South Fork Snoqualmie River Valleys. Melting glaciers sent cascades of frigid water into the lake, depositing copious quantities of stone-ground “glacial flour.” When the glaciers receded 17,000 years ago, the rivers started cutting through that sediment, which had consolidated into deep layers of clay. From this, the landscape was formed with its meandering watercourses, side channels, and ponds, including what we now call the Oxbow Loop.

When you hike the Oxbow Loop Trail, you will experience first-hand that ancient glacial drama. Soon after starting down the trail, you find a commanding view eastward of a sweeping river meander and nearby summits of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. As the trail continues to follow the river bluff, you traverse majestic stands of huge bigleaf maple and canopies of dainty vine maple. Your feet crunch on gravel, and you are lucky it is there (more than 220 tons of it!) covering the major clay deposits that would otherwise make walking a slippery, and even risky, undertaking. As the trail descends, you’ll hardly notice that the way threads along an old road bed, as this area was transformed by an artist on an 18-ton excavator, leaving little evidence that old logging trucks had ever been there.

After passing a spur to the river, you’ll reach a large, steel bridge (installed by WA-DNR), which forms a viewing platform overlooking a tranquil pond, providing a great place to pause for lunch or a little rest.  Continuing on, you’ll climb to bluffs above steep banks of clay and continue to circle the pond below, taking in the expansive views and passing numerous large and majestic Sitka spruce. It is rather uncommon to find these trees so far inland as they are typically a coastal species, and Oxbow Loop Trail provides a unique view into the heart of this special forest.

Funding the Project

The Oxbow Loop Trail was made possible thanks to WA-DNR Capital Funding plus funds from the Greenway Trust’s Middle Fork Campaign. After three years, the Middle Fork campaign has raised more than $8 million through private and public sector contributions to develop sustainable infrastructure, access, and stewardship in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley. You can play a role in bringing future projects such as this to reality by donating your time or money to the Greenway Trust.

Courtesy of Monty Vanderbilt

Getting There

Traveling on Interstate 90, take Exit 34 and follow 468th Ave SE to the north. Turn right onto SE Middle Fork Road and follow for several miles as it transitions to NF Road 5600, until you reach the Oxbow Loop Trailhead. The trail is accessible year-round, providing the Middle Fork Road is passable (snow is not cleared in winter). A Discover Pass is required to park at the trailhead; get yours here.

Directions  |  Trail Map

Priority Areas:
Middle Fork Snoqualmie Valley
Post Categories:
Explore, Recreation