Discover this quiet ramble along the wild Sauk River as you follow the site of an old railroad grade. The trail will take you over a sturdy bridge across small Beaver Lake. End your hike at a scenic spot by the river and eat lunch with views of surrounding peaks. This is an especially good hike in the winter and early spring when the leaves are off the trees and you have better views.
Start your hike by following a nice gravel path past an old trailhead and down toward the river. The gravel ends and the old railroad grade begins, now a wide flat trail through an old second-growth forest of hemlock and sword fern. Everywhere there is soft green moss, carpeting the forest floor, on the branches of trees and covering old stumps left from long ago logging.
The forest opens in a half mile and you are above the river with a nice view out towards the peaks of the Mountain Loop. As you follow the bank, look for sections of the old rails that were once part of the railroad, most of which has been washed into the river. If the river is low they should be visible. The trail sometimes succumbs to the same forces of nature as the railroad did, and slides and washouts periodically occur in this section. There is currently a small slide here with a trail traversing through. If the trail seems unsafe, you may need to bushwhack above the slide or scramble below it along the bank of the river.
Once past the slide area the trail leaves the fast-flowing river and skirts along the marshy areas and standing water of the old river channel. Enjoy the charming old moss-covered bridges crossing over the small creeks and through the mud. Be careful though, they can be slick and the wood is rotting away. In the spring, the bright yellow spathe flowers of skunk cabbage, or, as some prefer to call it, swamp lanterns will light up the muddy water. If you are willing to get your boots muddy, bend down and look closely at the flower shape. The true flowers are on the spike, the bright yellow that draws our eye is the bract. See if you can find pollinating insects on the small flowers. After the bloom is over the leaves continue to grow and get quite large.
After winding through the marsh, come to a sturdy bridge, much photographed. If the water is still, the snow-capped mountains and stand of alders will be mirrored in the water, making for some more great photography. You can find old beaver dams too, they will look like long piles of sticks with grasses growing on top. If there are any beavers living here now, you will see trees freshly chewed at the base and beaver felled logs. Listen for birdsong and watch the water for small amphibians rising to the surface to feed on insects.
Follow the trail a bit further through a small section of large old growth cedar trees to where it ends above the river. Eat your lunch while soaking up the views of the Wild and Scenic Sauk River and the mountains around you. When done, head back along the same trail.
Extending your hike: This trail used go further along the river and head back up to the highway until a large slide took it out. The southern end is still there, but unmaintained. Now called the Lookout Tree trail, you can find it in just over 2 miles further south from the Beaver Lake trailhead along the Mountain Loop highway. Look for an old brown hiker sign on the right side of the road. There is no trailhead parking. The trail, if you can find it, heads down steeply to an old cedar tree used as a fire lookout long ago. Just before a huge blowdown, find the tree on your right. A sign marking it may, or may not, be there.