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Sultan River Canyon Trail

Central Cascades


Central Cascades -- Stevens Pass - West
View map below


4.0 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 900 ft.
Highest Point: 1700 ft.


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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Sign in at the registration kiosk at Olney Pass before arriving at the parking area

If you don’t mind descending first, then ascending later, the Sultan River Canyon trail is a nice alternative for the shoulder season when snow is still too deep in the mountains. Drop to the sparkling Sultan River, then climb back up on nicely graded switchbacks in the shade.

From the Road 6122 trailhead, walk around the yellow gate on gravel road for one mile. You will gain 200 feet in elevation, but drop 100. At just over a mile, a garbage can and trailhead sign announce that your road walk is over. Go right at the sign and enter shady forest. The trail is well-built, wide and nicely graded. The alder and Douglas fir of the road walk are quickly replaced by moss-draped hemlock and Western redcedar.

Follow nice tread down numerous switchbacks, often seeing two or three sections of trail steeply below you. At 1.5 miles total, you have dropped 350 feet. In times of water runoff, listen for a waterfall. Peek through the trees to your right to see water cascading down a near-vertical rocky face for a couple hundred feet.

Continue down more switchbacks the final half mile, losing 200 feet more to arrive at the shore of the Sultan River. Enjoy the beauty of the river, which can take on a decidedly greenish cast. This part of the river is outside of the watershed, and therefore is open to swimming and wading. Just keep in mind the Caution sign at the trailhead: “Power Project water releases can cause sudden river surges without warning”.

Save enough drinking water for the ascent back to the road. When you are ready, return the way you came, climbing a steep 570 feet in a scant mile, all in the shade. Then follow the road back the final mile to the trailhead.

WTA Pro Tip: Hiking is open year-round, whenever the roads are driveable. Road conditions are listed on the PUD website.


Sultan River Canyon Trail

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 47.9725, -121.6801 Open map in new window


Central Cascades -- Stevens Pass - West

Sultan River Canyon Trail (#1246)

Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) Number 1

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Guidebooks & Maps

75 Great Hikes Seattle (Melissa Ozbek; Moon Travel)

Download a map to plan your hike

Buy the Green Trails Index No. 142 map

Getting There

East of Everett, follow Highway 2 to the town of Sultan. From the stout bridge over the Skykomish River, travel 1.1 miles to the first traffic signal east of town. At the signal, turn left on Sultan Basin Road. Travel 13.2 miles, first on pavement, then gravel. Stop at the Olney Pass kiosk to register and familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations. Registration is free but required, as you will be visiting Sultan Basin, which is Everett's public water supply.

Recreation signs from here on can be confusing. Mileages are to destinations rather than trailheads. For example, just past the kiosk, a brown sign reads “Sultan River Canyon Trail (hike in) 2.4 miles”, with an arrow to the left. The 2.4 miles includes 1.5 miles of driving and 1 mile of hiking. Take the left road 1.5 miles to a yellow and white Caution sign above another brown sign. To the left is “6122 Road” (your trailhead), which has a sign indicating that you must park inside the gated area straight ahead: “Gateway Trailhead Parking”. Continue, passing inside one yellow gate but not two, to the parking area, which has room for 25-30 vehicles. Other than a couple of picnic tables, there are no amenities.

The checkboxes on the registration form are to gather data on people’s expected destinations, not where they will park. For the Sultan River Canyon Trail, check the box for “Sultan River below Culmback Dam”. If you also intend to visit the dam, check the box for “Culmback Dam”. You do not need to check the box for “Gateway”; that is for people whose destination is the picnic tables near the parking lot.

A Discover Pass is required for parking at Olney Pass, but not at Gateway, which is Snohomish County PUD land. The PUD prefers that people restrict their visits to between dawn and dusk.

The PUD web page may include a notice such as, “The outer gate at 116th street will be closed after hours due to vandalism”. This refers to the power plant off of 116th Street (a mere 2 miles from Highway 2), not the recreation areas.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Sign in at the registration kiosk at Olney Pass before arriving at the parking area

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Sultan River Canyon Trail

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