Whitehorse Trail Survey

Early last summer, or late last spring, Ben D and I voyaged up to the northern Washington town of Darrington to ride Rat Trap Pass.  On the drive up we noticed a trail alongside Highway 530 that we later learned was the Whitehorse Trail.  Further research revealed that the trail runs twenty seven miles linking the towns of Arlington and Darrington.  Riding Highway 530 is undesirable, to say the least, and the discovery of the Whitehorse Trail opened up some potentially nice opportunities.

With the nice high pressure system that recently descended upon Seattle I decided to go check out the trail.  The first thing I noticed from the online map WhitehorseTrailMap2020 (snohomishcountywa.gov) is that the trail is closed east of Arlington and west of Darrington.  With that in mind I decided to go start at Trafton and ride as far east as possible. 

The small parking lot at the Trafton Trailhead isn’t obvious.  I drove Hwy 530 northeast out of Arlington four miles and then turned left onto 155th Ave NE.  The road goes down a steep hill and dead ends in an area peppered with no trespassing signs.  I turned around and drove back to Hwy 530 and began looking for details on my phone when a local pulled up alongside and said that I’d driven past the trailhead – both coming and going.  As it turns out the parking lot is bounded by a white fence and is quite easily found once you realize that a large blue Harvistore silo is in the middle of the lot.  The trail does not begin at the trailhead sign but begins to your right as you’re facing the sign.

Odd parking lot at the blue silo

The first one hundred yards felt very disconcerting to this Iowa boy as rule one in rural Iowa is “thou shalt not trespass” and this felt very much like trespassing.  Evidently it’s okay and in less than a quarter mile I was on the railroad grade heading east.

Like many railroad grades the Whitehorse (a) follows a river and (b) is dead flat.  The river is the very fishy looking North Fork of the Stillaquamish and it is rarely out of sight.  The trail surface is not-too-deep loose pea gravel – not really an issue with my 2.1” tires.  The snow-covered mountains against the smooth cobalt sky made for some dramatic scenery.

The trail passes through the site of the 2014 Oso landslide that claimed forty-three lives.  The route continues over bridges and trestles to a crossing of Swede Heaven Road.  From here the trail goes from pea gravel to unimproved dirt.  After a wet spell this section might prove tough, but on a dry day following a dry week the riding was most excellent.  My fat tires didn’t hurt.  The trail continues directly through the Darrington Bluegrass Festival Park where I stopped simply to take in the view of snow-covered Whitehorse Mountain.

Site of the fatal 2014 Oso Landslide

The trail is closed maybe two miles short of Darrington.  Had I the desire or the need I could have easily continued on Hwy 530, but I neither needed to nor wanted to, so I turned around and headed west.  The slight downhill gradient was more than countered by a steady head wind.  On the way out I had thought the trail sheltered and hadn’t really anticipated any difficulty in the return – I was wrong.  Oh well, nothing to be done about a headwind except gear down and keep pedaling.

In my opinion the trail actually improved east of Swede Heaven Road

The Whitehorse trail opens up the Granite Falls-Barlow Pass-Darrington-Arlington-Granite Falls century loop as it avoids nearly all of the dangerous riding along Hwy 530.  I look forward to doing this route when the snow melts off the high country.

Time to turn around

Route can be found here: Whitehorse Survey | Ride | Strava