Ruby Creek Trail

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Review

Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
In an area famous for its 30 and 40 mile hikes, the Ruby Creek Trail offers a much less strenuous diversion. With a potential car shuttle between trailheads, the 4 mile one-way hike can seem easy. Don’t be misled by the short distance; though this short history-rich creek-side trail provides wonderful exploring and scenic opportunities it has a number of difficult sections where erosion has slid portions of the trail tread down slope and into the frothy waters of Ruby Creek. If in doubt, don’t chance it, there’s no great distance involved in going back the way you came.

For those wishing to squeeze every inch out of the downhill descent, begin at the eastern Trailhead named for Canyon Creek. From here a short trail meanders upstream through pleasant woodland to a modern bridge crossing of Granite Creek. Once over the bridge, the trail follows the creek back downstream. In a short distance you’ll encounter the Jackita Ridge Trail heading uphill to the east; this trail is used as an occasional alternate for the Pacific Crest Trail. Continuing along the lower trail, more pleasant hiking soon brings you to the remains of an historic cabin. The lush forest location at the convergence of Granite and Canyon Creeks (creating the beginning of Ruby Creek) insures that the native logs used in the cabin’s construction are quickly returning to the earth. Sadly, without maintenance and preservation this important historic structure is collapsing. From a safe distance, observe the finely crafted joining of the logs used for the exterior walls. This structure was originally so well constructed that it was actually moved from another location, log by log, and erected here to eventually serve as the remote Granite Creek Ranger Station, long before there was a nearby highway.

Besides the ruins of the Ranger Station, a log bridge provides an interesting crossing of Canyon Creek. The other end of the bridge is nearly anchored in a cliff. A hard right leads up the Canyon Creek Trail to connections with Crater Mountain and the Devils Dome Loop; but for now, turn left and begin following Ruby Creek downstream. Again, in a surprisingly short distance, another historic cabin is encountered. This larger structure, though also quite dilapidated, is of newer construction. In a climate that could be quite inhospitable, the combination of shared living quarters for both human and equine residents must have provided significant conveniences. From the open area in front of the cabin, looking across the creek, through the trees, the parking lot for the Trailhead can be seen. Mounted on one of the nearby tree trunks (and at other locations along the trail) a small metal sign is posted, declaring the mining status of the surrounding land parcel.

Picturesque locations along the creek appear as well as attractive turns in the trail. The trail, sometimes near water level and at other times perched well above the creek insures that the views are constantly changing. Lush and wonderfully varied mushroom crops can “bloom” during the fall and even the spring time. Remember when hiking through the National Park area that all natural resources are protected, meaning look but don’t pick any of the mushrooms; hopefully they’ll continue to brighten the forest floor each year if left undisturbed. Be mindful of the stability of the trail tread as you hike. Several places have suffered from soil erosion and the tread has slid down steep slopes into the very waters of Ruby Creek. Along the trail, the observant or at least interested hiker can find remnants of the mining activity that once impacted nearly every inch of this valley. Rusty metal, broken machinery and a sprinkling of telephone line insulators still hanging from trail-side trees are some of the tangible reminders to be seen. Upon reaching the large bridge across Ruby Creek, you’ll want to cross and head up to the East Bank Trailhead parking lot. Pause before climbing at the nearby interpretive signs and learn a little about the historic activities related to this once important gold mining region.

Even hikers long familiar with this area can sometimes find the trail names and numbers confusing. Historically, the original Ruby Creek Trail name was used for an ambitious route through the Cascades much closer to the Canadian Border using Hannegan Pass near what is now the Mt. Baker Highway. Nothing came of it but the name lingered on old maps and in documents. This modern Ruby Creek Trail is anchored between two bridge crossings both of which are junctions for multiple other trails. Some written guides and maps attach this trail to other longer hikes but essentially the Ruby Creek Trail is the creek-side trail following the north side of Ruby Creek from the bridge crossing below the East Bank Trailhead to the bridge crossing near the Canyon Creek Trailhead. Further adding to possible confusion is that the two trailheads are administratively attached to two quite different entities: the North Cascades National Park (Ross Lake National Recreation Area) from the west and the Okanogan National Forest from the east. The border between these two divisions is at a small pleasant bridge crossing of a minor tributary along the trail, a nice place to take a break, have a snack, and forget about names and numbers and enjoy the experience that the trail has to offer.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 5/11/2010

Directions

Ruby Creek Trail can be accessed from either of two trailheads. On the west end, use the East Bank Trailhead located within the Ross Lake Recreation Area near Milepost 138 of the North Cascades Highway (SR 20). On the east end, access the trail from the Canyon Creek Trailhead near MP 141 (SR 20) located in the Okanogan National Forest (Forest Parking Pass may be required). In the winter months the highway is usually closed and gated at the location of the Ross Dam Trailhead due to avalanche danger at higher elevations; this prevents you from driving to either trailhead during the winter closure.

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