On the north face of Big Four Mountain in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, Mother Nature is doing her thing in a beautiful way. Avalanches fall off the mountain all winter and spring. As that snow continues to melt it turns into waterfalls that melt more snow at the base, creating caves. Enter the Big Four Ice Caves.
Once a year experience
Most hikes in western Washington are gorgeous. Sweeping views, lots of greener, a few critters, and water of all shapes and sizes depending on your hike. Unless you are there in the dead of winter you will probably see about the same thing going on. Not at the Big Four Ice Caves.
This phenomena only happens a few months out of the year, and that’s if there isn’t an early snowfall. According to the USDA Forest Service, “the caves themselves usually are exposed during August and remain visible through October, for they are in reality melt outlet openings at the base of a permanent snowfield.” You can check the Washington Trail Association web site to see when the caves open. Hikers post the conditions regularly so you can head out during prime viewing time.
Not much of a hiker? How about a family with small kids looking to get into nature for a few hours? This hike is perfect for hikers of all skill levels. This 2.2 mile round trip hike takes you along well maintained paths that even a stroller can make its way through, although it is not recommended. Once you arrive at the caves you will see toddlers tumbling over rocks as their older siblings beat them to the snow bed.
Parents can sit back on a boulder or peer into the caves with the rest of the hikers. Those who are daring can make their way to the farthest ice cave, sometimes known to be the best if a waterfall is crashing down behind it that year. Step carefully as the path is slippery and mostly on a layer of ice. Younger hikers may need to sit this one out.
Snow in summer
Cold, wet, winter, and well, cold. That’s what one thinks of when the words ice and snow are thrown around. Usually you really have to work for it to have fun in the snow, unless you are a skier who likes going down in your boxers that is. Finding snow in the summer months is a rare gift to wear your t-shirt and shorts, and not be looked upon as a crazy person by more than half the mountain.
No mittens, snow pants, or parka required to enjoy the ice caves here. It does get a bit nippy once you are at the caves as the wind blows off the ice, but a light sweatshirt will keep you warm enough. You will be undressing the second you are off the field making your way back to your car. Enjoy these rare moments when you can act like a kid again, throw a bit of ice around, maybe lick a cave, and not worry about getting frost bite while you do it.