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.