Icy Creek is a display of the unique geology and hydrology of the southern rim of the Green River Gorge. The Green River Gorge is a 12-mile sandstone gorge cut by the Green-Duwamish River located near Seattle. Icy Creek emerges from an underground channel where the gorge begins to slope toward the Green River. At the rim of the gorge, the large spring appears from beneath a hillside covered with ferns and salmonberry. Then the spring passes through a culvert under and old road that leads further down to an old dam. The dam was used in 1912 to create trout ponds. Then it was used again by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to raise bass. That was quickly abandoned when it was found that the 300-foot series of waterfalls and steep rocky channels beat the bass up, and they were missing fins and scales once they arrived at the lower end of the springs. The Icy Creek Spring tumbles down to a flat area near the main river along a steep cliff wall filled with lesser springs and undulating maiden hair ferns on one side. On the other side is a steep sloping garden of vine maple, salal, and cedars. Then the spring tumbles over a water diversion dam that collects water for the salmon pen located in a wide clearing. The rest of the spring enters a widened creek channel that is filled with returning salmon during spawning season. In the fall this is a great place to view returning Chinook and coho salmon.
To get to the upper gorge, there is a trail that branches off the main road just before it descends into the gorge. Turn left onto a smaller trail. It will head northwest sloping downward into a drainage. The trail splits near the bottom. To the left it climbs back out of the drainage, and to the right it continues down; just as it crosses the culvert, look to your left. This is where the spring emerges out of the sloping side hill. Downstream from the culvert, the spring is met by several lesser springs. Continue to walk down to the small dam. Here the trail was blown out in 2009 by some major flooding that blew out the hillside and took out the old existing trail that led up to the dam. Now you can walk around the area, but it is pretty much impossible to walk across the grating on the old dam. Note that, in really hot weather, the air will be about 10 degrees cooler because of the temperature of the cold spring water.
To reach the lower spring and the Green River, follow the gravel road as it descends steeply down through near old-growth forest of Douglas fir, western redcedar, and giant maples. The road turns to the right as it enters the older forest and passes smaller springs coming out of the side hill. It then turns sharply to the left past a memorial bench. From there the road continues to a circular open area with a salmon pen in the middle and a road that encircles it. This is the Pautzky Fish Pen. To the right the road leads to a couple of fishermen's trails. The first goes upstream. The second path is more established and leads to the confluence of Icy Creek Spring and the Green River. Here the spring enters the river as it makes a wide sweeping bend before being split by an island of rock and trees. Upstream the river is wider and shallower. Look for salmon spawning in the shallows and also staging for their last energetic blast up Icy Creek Spring.
If you continue to along the road there is a small side trail that goes to the small diversion dam and the wall of springs at the base of the cliff. Here the maidenhair ferns drip with water. Devil's club lines the base like spikey guards. Farther past the cliff you can see the spring tumbling steeply from above. It is here that you'll see why the salmon don't make the attempt to spawn farther upstream.
Access. Park at the red gate, and be sure not to block it. This is an access road for the Department of Fish and Wildlife to access their salmon pen at the bottom. Walk down the gravel road. You will walk through a young forest to a paved roundabout. This is part of a future development. Continue to the other side of the roundabout. The gravel road continues north to the river of the gorge. You'll pass by a side road on the right and then the trail to access the upper spring on your left. If you pass through an open green gate at the top you have missed the trail to the upper spring.
Carry it out! Please enjoy the beauty and wildness, but don't leave your garbage. If you bring it with you pack it out. Many of the roads and trails that go down to the gorge have been closed over the years because of thoughtless littering and intentional garbage dumping. The gates lessen the occurance of this, but people still seem to be too lazy to take out their trash. Don't be one of them!
Kid friendly! This is definitely a kid-friendly hike where children can discover springs, the giant forest, and the returning salmon. However, there are a few things to be aware of. The best times to visit with kids are in the summer and fall because the water is lower. Also, note that the rocks along the river and spring are very slippery when wet. Finally, be aware that there is an electrified wire around the salmon pen that helps keep wild animals from having a smorgasboard to engorge themselves on. It also it lessens the chance that traps will be set out by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to catch the offenders. Watch your children and dogs around the wires.
If you would like to learn more about the Green River Gorge and the local efforts to conserve it please visit: www.greenrivergorgegreenway.org