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Greider Lakes Trail, Upper Sultan Basin NRCA — June 2004

By Holly Zox

Anyone who’s had a glass of tap water in Everett has tasted melted snow from the Upper Sultan Basin Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA). Located where the Convergence Zone meets the mountains, The NRCA includes 26,308 acres of state land in both the Stillaguamish and Sultan watersheds. The moist marine air hits the steep topography and makes this one of the wettest, coldest parts of the North Cascades, which allows subalpine plant communities to exist at unusually low elevations, and creates habitat for plant populations more common to Southeast Alaska. The NRCA includes old-growth forest, riparian corridors from low to high elevation, subalpine parkland, lakes, and bogs.

The Upper Sultan Basin NRCA, largest in the state, was created to protect the natural ecosystem processes, maintain habitat for threatened, endangered, and rare plant and animal species, and provide environmental education and allow low-impact recreational use only if these activities do not adversely affect the natural features. To that end, hikers must stay on official trails, and camp only at official campsites. An excellent trail that is a good introduction to the NRCA, and reliably snow-free in June is the Greider Lakes Trail.

The Greider Lakes Trail begins at a beaver pond in old-growth western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) forest. Detour on the short Loop Trail to explore the pond. Return to the Greider Lakes Trail and proceed up the first of many switchbacks, as the trail climbs steadily for the next 1.5 miles. Though steep and rocky, the trail is well-constructed and well-maintained, with strategically placed steps and benches…and of course great botanizing to ease the ascent. Oak ferns (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) and beech ferns (Thelypteris phegopteris), fern-ally running clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum), lichens, liverworts, and all that precipitation cover every surface of the lower trail in green.

Where the slope is less steep and dead wood creates hummocks and terraces, see much green, and many tree seedlings. Where the slope is steepest (at times it is nearly vertical), see almost no tree seedlings. These less-green slopes include single delight (Moneses uniflora), western coralroot (Corallrhiza maculata ssp. mertensiana), and non-green pinesap (Hypopitys monotropa). The oldest trees in the forest are fire-scarred from a blaze in the mid-19th century.

The switchbacks eventually end in the Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis) zone, and soon Little Greider Lake is reached, 2 miles from the trailhead, 2900 feet elevation. See Alaska-cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) and copperbush (Cladothamnus pyroliflorus), one of those Alaska plants.

Charming as Little Greider Lake may be, the trail continues ½ mile across an avalanche slope with blooming columbine (Aquilegia formosa) and tiger lily (Lilium columbianum), overlooks wetlands, and reaches Big Greider Lake, one of several glacial cirque lakes in the region. Lunch on the logjam at the lake’s outlet; evidence of wild winters; proof that the geologic features that created this lake continue still.

Directions: From U.S. Highway 2, just east of Sultan, turn north on the Sultan Basin Road, near MP 23. Drive the Sultan Basin Road 13.5 miles to Olney Pass and take the middle of three forks (and only open gate). Continue 7 more miles, to the trailhead on your right.

Updated: July 3, 2016
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