Rainy days are frequent here, so its always good to have a good riverside or waterfall hike prepared for offering a bit of tree cover and protection from the elements. Located in Granite Falls is Lime Kiln trail, a relatively flat trail rich in history that is great year-round for hiking.
On a rainy Saturday morning, Marissa from Postcards to Seattle and I found easy parking. Due to the proximity to town, break-ins and vandalism have occurred at the trailhead, so be sure to have nothing visible in your car. The hike has you start up a small hill before descending down into the river valley. The newer-growth forest is flourishing now, but decades ago this land was the site of logging and a railroad that carried limestone to and from the kiln. The former railroad means the trail is very wide for nearly the entire duration of the hike, which is nice.
As you begin your descent, the trees and stumps around you get larger, some stumps with springboard notches still evident, when not covered in moss. You’ll have a few little crossings over streams and one larger one with a nice large bridge. Then you wind further into the river canyon. We got excited by the peekaboo views of a small creek next to us, but as the trail flattens, you join the south fork of the Stillaguamish River, which on a rainy spring day will be quite full. Signs are plentiful on this hike, and while it’d be hard to get lost, do follow them and make sure to stay off of private property. Note that the trail does not end at the lime kiln (unless you want it to) but most signs give mileage to the kiln and not the end of the trail.
Along the river you will continue, with a few signs of former washouts and a few more makeshift bridges to cross, evidence of erosion along the canyon walls. There was some evidence of rockfall and at least one tree that looked a little precarious on the edge, a good reminder that even with the trail close to town, this is still not a place to be at in times of high wind–and to not venture too close to the edge of the trail above the river. From here on out we started having more blowdowns to navigate, although none were too difficult to bypass (minus my bum hip getting a little cranky). The trail also got a bit muddier, but at least the rain had gotten intermittent as the day continued.
Suddenly, we saw a bit of rusted logging equipment on the trail and abruptly, there was the lime kiln. The kiln has been there since the 1890s and despite being only about 20 feet tell and covered in moss and ferns, it looks oddly out of place amidst the trees. Kilns like this existed to convert limestone from quarries into calcium oxide, which was called ‘lime.’ Another example of a local lime kiln can be found at Lime Kiln Point State Park on San Juan Island. While there are no clear signs here saying what is and isn’t part of the trail, take heed to not get too close or touch the kiln or climb on it to help preserve it for the next 130 years.
While you can turn around and head home now, the trail doesn’t officially end for another 0.7-ish miles. Being completionists, we pushed onward. Not long after the kiln you get your best-yet views of the Stilly, and we even saw a trio of kayakers going down the river! Skunk cabbage was blooming aplenty around us, the pungent aroma strong after the rain. We came up to a labeled bypass trail to the right that we hadn’t seen mentioned on WTA. We stuck to the main trail here and continued until we got to the signed option to either do the 0.2 River Shore Loop or continue 400 feet to the ‘End of the Trail.’ While these trails connect and you can take either one, we figured that the river would be rushing a little too quickly and closely on the shore trail, so we went straight to the end of the trail.
When the sign says ‘end’ of the trail it really means it–the trail stops where there used to be a railroad bridge over the river, now just a concrete slab in the water. It was one of the most abrupt endings I’ve seen to a hike, and there wasn’t even much of a space to stop for a snack, much less a pretty viewpoint. While many hikes in the area are for the view at the end or a nice resting area, this one is all about the history. We enjoyed getting to see the kiln from another angle on our way back, but the trail was getting more full of people. The rain got more intermittent and turning into a steady fall right as we headed back to the car. Despite the nearly 7-mile distance, we both felt great at the end and not overly tired or sore.
Distance: 7.0 miles according to WTA (my GPS said 6.6 but we did not take the River Shore Loop)
Elevation: 625 feet–mostly done at the end of the hike when returning to the trailhead
Parking: No pass required
Bathrooms: No bathrooms of any kind (sometimes there might be a porta-potty present but don’t count on it)
Best Beer Bet: Lake Stevens Brewing Company is the closest by distance