Bridal Veil Falls
|Scenery:||(4.5 / 5)|
|Difficulty:||(4.0 / 5)|
Roaring out of beautiful Lake Serene above and falling more than 1,000 vertical feet across five sections, Bridal Veil Falls may be one of Washington’s most dramatic cascades. It’s so big that it’s hard to take it all in—indeed only two of the five sections are viewable from the trail. Nevertheless, hikers interested in bathing in its glory will do just that as the falls’ abundant spray is hard to avoid—and is usually a welcome relief after the switchback-laden two-mile hike up from the trailhead. Pushing even further on to Lake Serene is the icing on the cake on this classic Northwest hike (but it will turn a 4-mile out-and-back into an 8-miler).
Starting out at the marked trailhead with hiker’s register at the south end of the Lake Serene Trail parking lot, hike up a gravel logging road on a slight grade. In 0.1 mile take the right fork in the trail. Red alders, western red cedars, big-leaf maples, devil’s club, and salmonberry dominate the forest trailside as it encroaches on the roadbed. Nurse logs and standing dead tree snags provide supportive growth media for mosses, lichens, fungi, and even newer trees, not to mention great habitat for chipmunks, birds, and other forest wildlife on these flanks of Mt. Index. Follow the road as it turns into a trail, gaining 600 feet in elevation over a slow and steady climb. At a marked junction 1.5 miles into the hike, head right (south) for Bridal Veil Falls (save the left fork toward Lake Serene for later).
On the way to view the falls, the trail switches back a couple of times steeply and continues up with occasional crib ladders and boardwalks to help hikers along past tougher stretches. Within another half mile of the junction, the trail delivers hikers to a fork. Go left (east), following a boardwalk toward a viewing spot of the middle section of Bridal Veil Falls. From there, head upstream (south) to view the upper section of the raging cascade, where you’re sure to be covered in spray any time of year. This makes for a good lunch or snack stop, but be careful around the falls, as a bad step could be fatal. After enjoying the spray and scree atmosphere of the falls, loop back down to the junction with the middle falls boardwalk and then descend the way you came back to the junction with the trail up to Lake Serene.
If visiting Bridal Veil Falls is enough of an experience, retrace your steps back to the parking area. Those with still more energy to burn can head east for the steep hike up to Lake Serene—2 miles, 1,400 vertical feet, and more than a dozen switchbacks away. Don’t be deceived by the initial quick descent down into a rock grotto where a lower-section Bridal Veil Falls rappels itself in veiling spray down a 100-foot rock face into a cliff-bottom boulder field. Enjoy a little spray and watch your step on wet rocks, then proceed east on the trail, disappearing back into deep forest cover. The lack of views only makes it easier to bear down and power through this thigh-burning section of the hike. Besides, you’ll have to watch your step as roots, boulders, and fallen trees abound.
Dozens of timber-hewn crib ladders/stairs ease some of the transitions, but more than a dozen switchbacks and constant uphill hiking make the next hour of hiking feel twice as long. But within another 1.5 miles, things start to finally level off, with views opening up through occasional rock-slide chutes across the Skykomish Valley to the imposing Cascade snowpeaks to the north. It would not be a nice place to be during a storm, as evidenced by all the old tall trees leaning precariously over the ridge, some of them snapped in two and left to dangle.
Forge on and within a few hundred more feet stop at a small kiosk and trail fork with information about conservation efforts to keep the meadows surrounding Lake Serene pristine. The trail sign points left (south) down an 80-foot trail dead-ending at a backwoods “throne”-style pit toilet or straight (west) toward Lake Serene. Unless you need to go, continue straight and within another 0.1 mile you will be standing on the eerily calm shores of Lake Serene. From there, feel free to wander on the trail to its terminus at Lunch Rock on the north side of the lake by crossing a minimalist but beautiful log footbridge over the outlet for log-choked Bridal Veil Creek and continue straight to the huge lakeside boulder with roughly an 80-foot diameter as it slopes down into Lake Serene. If it’s hot and you’re bold, there’s no better way to cool off right quick than by jumping in the lake off of Lunch Rock. After lingering as long as necessary and perhaps enjoying a little lunch, head back toward the footbridge, following an optional 0.1-mile side spur north to an overlook of the gorge Bridal Veil Creek has created in its eons of streaming down. Otherwise, retrace your steps back down—the switchbacks seem much easier on the way down—and make your way back to the parking lot.
Proceed south on Mt. Index Road from its junction with US 2 (7 miles east of Gold Bar, WA, and just before a bridge crossing the South Fork Skykomish River; if you are heading east on US 2 and get to the turn-off for the town of Index, WA, you’ve gone 0.3 mile too far). After 0.4 miles on Mt. Index Road, take the right fork following the sign for “Lake Serene Trail 1068” and proceed another 500 feet to the large parking area that can accommodate about 50 cars and offers up two bathroom privies. (Northwest Forest Pass at $5/day required for parking.) Look for the trailhead kiosk and register at the south end of the parking area.
For more info, contact Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Skykomish Ranger District; (360) 677-2414