A winter trip to the Big Four Ice Caves renders a quite different experience from that of the popular summer hike. For one, the ice caves themselves are not the primary point of interest, as they remain sealed shut beneath Big Four Mountain's relentless avalanche activity. The sheer north face of the mountain presents some of the most up-close and dramatic, if not downright intimidating, sights to be had on the Mountain Loop Highway. This serves as an exciting climax for the easy-going route, which primarily sticks to level road travel.
At 12 miles east of the Verlot Ranger Station, the closed winter gate at Deer Creek marks the Big Four Ice Caves winter trailhead. If the sun happens to be out, expect a long row of vehicles here. Make your way through the gate and begin the tame journey up the unplowed highway. Around the first bend you will pass Coal Creek Campground and the bridge over rushing Coal Creek. Shortly after, intermittent gaps in the trees along the road reveal some pretty views of the Stillaguamish River rushing toward the rising green and white backdrop of Marble Peak. 1.3 miles into the hike, just beyond Beaver Creek Campground, patches of fallen timber give way to cluttered views of Stillaguamish Peak to the north. Veer right at the Big Four Picnic Area sign and arrive at the summer trailhead, where you'll enjoy jaw-dropping vistas of Big Four Mountain and Hall Peak spread out to the south.
The summer trail cuts through open marsh land, which allows for outstanding panoramic views in all directions, before it crosses a long footbridge over the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River. Enter the thick fir forest and climb gently for 0.75 miles before breaking out into the slide-stricken slopes on the other side. Exercise serious caution here as you gape at the monstrous granite walls that tower above you.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.