Mount Si‘s tiny next door neighbor has a lot to offer: from kid-friendly and beginner trails to bolted climbing walls and a scramble route, Little Si is definitely more than meets the eye. Sitting on the west side of North Bend’s famous Mount Si, Little Si is a great option for people who aren’t ready to tackle the big guy, are coming back after an injury, or have just a short window of time. At a mere 1550 feet high, the main trail to the top is just 3.7 miles round trip with 1300 feet of gain, but within those relatively small stats resides a primeval forest like no other, a Tolkien-like world of moss and rocks and ancient fir trees which is shaded year round, giving it a true storybook feeling on those dark gray cloudy days the Pacific Northwest is so famous for.
That 1300 feet of gain comes primarily at the start and end of the hike, with a fairly flat, rolling mile in the middle. You’ll start out from the parking lot right away with a staircase-steep incline that takes you up the side of a rocky outcropping, then level out to a stretch of trail that gives a fun option to hikers looking to tag on some distance or budding geologists looking for interesting rocks: The Boulder Garden Loop trail pops out to intersect with the Little Si trail at 0.3 and 0.5 miles and features rocks the size of small houses and moss as thick as a 1970’s shag rug. If you have the time and energy to add another mile, I highly recommend.
Continuing north into the forest, things get very cozy and very lush in no time flat. Ferns and firs, lichen and vines and soft spongy groundcover in a hundred vibrant intense shades of green are all around you, so thick that even in the peak sunlight hours it feels like pre-dawn under this canopy of shade and intimacy. Immersed, enveloped, wrapped in the arms of the forest, you’ll walk through a mile of these primordial ancient medieval woods, elevation gain undulating just slightly. Take note of the dark gray rock walls on your left on your way in, their cragginess is the giveaway that this little nub is indeed related to Big Si. Slow down and take a peek through the leaves here: on most days you can see roped climbers on the rocks. If not, look closely and try to spot the permanent steel bolts that they use to clip into. On your right, a bench dedicated to the memory of Doug Hansen, a local climber who was killed in the 1996 Mt Everest disaster.
The trail takes a sharp hairpin turn left and begins to climb again. The path thus far has been obvious enough to be safe and navigable, but rocky and rugged enough to remind you that you’re on a mountain, albeit a miniature one. The last couple hundred yards get rocky as you approach the summit, but nothing that your average beginner hiker, kid, or puppy can’t handle. On your left before you top out are a few ledges with no trees around them, giving you a clear view of the side of Mount Si. I so clearly remember standing there thinking I could never hike a mountain as big as that; it looms enormous from that vantage point. A few more vertical feet puts you on top, where you’ll find plenty of room to sit; even on a crowded day, Little Si’s summit block offers a decent amount of seating. You’ll also find not one but three geodetic survey markers; my favorite is the one that says “Small Si.” The view from here is primarily of the town of North Bend below.
The British Isles, Repo Rocks, Canopy Crag, World Wall I and World Wall II are just some of the climbing routes on Little Si. With its two large imposing walls and smattering of other smaller crags, Little Si holds Washington state’s highest concentration of 5.14 and 5.15 sport climbing routes, and the smaller crags have a good selection of moderate routes. Bolts are permanently fixed on some of the routes for climbers to clip into but occasionally you’ll see crack climbers free soloing the lower rock faces.
The Scramble Routes
If you want a little more of a challenge but are too short on time for the Haystack, consider going up one of Little Si’s many informal scramble routes. None are established trails or marked by cairns or tape, all are Class 2 and above and involve some degree of exposure. nwhikers.net has in-depth descriptions of various ways people have gone, but many folks have noted that they haven’t gone the same exact way twice. Please research; read these trip reports carefully and make sure it sounds like terrain in which you have experience and some confidence. If you start to feel like you’re in over your head, turn back immediately, as the way down often proves much more anxiety-ridden and gravity-propelled. The old “don’t go up anything you can’t come down” applies perfectly here.
A Kid-Friendly Adventure
Roped climbing and free soloing aside, I found the basic Little Si Trail to be a great hike to do with the little ones. There are plenty of distractions and the scenery changes often enough that kids don’t normally get bored on it. Watching the climbers midway is fun, crawling around on the rocks next to the trail, listening to all the birds and seeing so many different plants and trees, there’s so much to talk about and so many learning opportunities. Take the better part of a day and explore the forest with your kids, feeling safe with so many other hikers around but also experiencing the solitude and tranquility that these kinds of forests bring.
A Great Training Hike
This was one of the first trails I’d time myself running on, because I could run so much of the ascent, which on most trails I just can’t. It’s a nice distance if you want to work on speed, it’s uneven enough to hone your agility, and it’s short enough that you can do a double in a reasonable amount of time. It’s something you can add onto a Mount Si Hike if you’re looking for more vert or miles, and they connect easily in a few different ways: from the Little Si Trailhead, the Boulder Garden Loop Trail connects to the Old Si Trail, where you can summit Mount Si and come back the way you came, or go down the New Si Trail and cut across at the Douglas fir trail, looping back to where you started. Early season you’ll see folks on Little Si just starting to build their endurance for carrying heavy packs, with 40+ pounds on their backs to get their body ready for long backpacking trips or glacier climbs.
Afraid To Hike Solo?
If you like the idea of solo hiking but can’t quite make the leap to actually do it, consider Little Si on a weekend day in nice weather; you won’t be alone by a long stretch. Little Si has an overflow parking lot and the trail sees hundreds of hikers on days like that. Weekdays aren’t much less populated, and even in the worst weather on a random weekday I have never once been the only one out there. So do Little Si solo but know you won’t be alone, and allow it to boost your confidence and decrease your fear. If anything you might find yourself wanting something downright remote after being among the madding crowds it hosts on a bright blue June Saturday at 10 am.
From Seattle/I-90 East, approaching North Bend, take the 436th Avenue SE exit and turn left. Head 0.5 miles on 436th Avenue SE and take a left on SE North Bend Way. Proceed 0.3 miles and turn right on SE Mount Si Road. The main parking lot for Little Si will be 0.4 miles on your left as the road straightens out after the bridge and the bend in the road. There is also an overflow parking lot west of the main lot at SE Mt Si Rd and 434th Avenue SE, with a trail connecting the two. Both lots are often full on weekends after 9 am. There are two toilets in the main parking just off the trailhead. Discover Pass is required.
Wendy Harrington is a California native who has lived in a small town at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state since 2001. Her love of trail running and peakbagging has led her to summit all five Washington volcanoes, climb to the high points of three states, and put nearly a thousand miles a year on her boots. Her loves include ridgelines, saddles, granite, one-day pushes on big mountains, anything volcanic, long solo days, and objectives that push limits and test endurance.