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Originally published April 21, 2010 at 7:00 PM | Page modified April 22, 2010 at 1:17 PM

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Walkabout

The Middle Fork offers gentle climbs into the foothills

Taylor River trail offers a gentle climb in the western foothills of the Cascades mountains.

Special to The Seattle Times

Location: North Bend.

Length: From gate to wooden bridge, about 2.5 miles (5 miles round-trip).

Level of difficulty: Gentle trail climbs slowly but steadily about 600 feet. The gravel road has many potholes (doable for most cars except those with low clearance).

Setting: The Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley has a reputation for good low-elevation hikes not far from Seattle. It's also known for its precipitation due to its location in the western foothills of the Cascades. On a recent visit I saw several inches of snow although it had been generally clear this winter.

This broad, relatively easy and lesser-known trail follows, then gradually climbs above the Taylor River, to reach a wooden bridge spanning Marten Creek.

If you want to see some big trees, just before the bridge, go up the hill to the left about 400 feet to locate several huge old-growth cedars at least eight feet in diameter. If you don't feel like bushwhacking, look for the trees from the far side of the bridge. To extend your hike, cross the bridge, continue 1.2 miles, and look for a sign on a tree marking the short trail to beautiful Otter Falls, which scours a broad rock face and ends in a pool.

Highlights: Many people love the Middle Fork. Two of them, Brad Allen and his teenage son Zach Allen, produced a 25-minute documentary film about the valley in cooperation with several local groups. The film tells four stories about the valley's history from the 1890s through the 1940s. Photos depict the area's local mining and logging history. A free premiere of the film will show at the downtown North Bend Theater (www.northbendtheatre.com) on Sunday, May 2, at 2 p.m.

For a full day in North Bend, hike the trail in the morning, go see the film and then explore the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum.

Facilities: Vault toilets at the large Middle Fork trailhead parking lot before reaching this trailhead.

Restrictions: Leash law in effect.

Directions: From Interstate 90, take Exit 34 and head north a half mile on 468th Avenue Southeast to pass the truck stops/gas stations, then turn right on Southeast Middle Fork Road (Forest Road No. 56). Go 12.8 miles (pavement ends after 2.5 miles); near the end, stay left at the junction, and park where the road ends at a gate (Northwest Forest Pass required). More information: 425-888-1421 (North Bend Ranger Station) or www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs. The film's website, www.middleforkgiants.com, describes local history. The Snoqualmie Valley Museum is open April through October on Thursdays through Sundays from 1-5 p.m. (www.snoqualmievalleymuseum.org).

Renton-based freelancer Cathy McDonald, a former geologist, has written about science and nature travel for 20 years. She's currently a travel guidebook editor at Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door. Contact her: nwwriter@hotmail.com

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