Marking its 20th year, Rasar State Park on the Upper Skagit River is a little off the beaten path, but it’s worth getting to know.
CONCRETE, Skagit County — Happy 20th birthday, Rasar State Park, otherwise known as the moss capital of the Upper Skagit.
Bordering the minty green waters of the Skagit River just a few miles from the Western Washington town with the name most unlikely to put it on the top of tourist lists, this 169-acre park opened in 1997, making it one of the newer properties of Washington’s 104-year-old park system.
Its relative youth, and the fact that it’s a couple of miles off Highway 20, the main drag in these parts, means it tends to fly below the radar of some park lovers.
But it’s worth getting to know, for several reasons:
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• The park system’s coolest cabins: Want to get out of the rain? Rasar is home to three of the most deluxe (and most heavily rented) rental cabins the parks agency has built, with two more like them under construction and expected to be available by the end of June. Unlike most cabins and yurts in the state’s parks, these 16-foot-by-25-foot units have full bathrooms with shower and toilet. One is pet-friendly, for an extra nightly fee of $15 per pet.
The Baker cabin we stayed in featured handsome interior woodwork including peeled-log furniture, plus wall-sconce lighting, framed photo art, multiple lamps, efficient electric heat, and a kitchen area with cupboards and a sink. A local blacksmith produced decorative ironwork such as a towel rack in the bathroom. There’s an indoor dining table supplemented by an outside picnic table that on rainy days can be moved next to the Adirondack chairs beneath an amply overhanging porch roof.
What it doesn’t have is interior cooking facilities; for that you’ll have to rely on an outside charcoal grill or your own campstove set up on the picnic table.
• Gorgeous river, fecund forest: A network of 3.5 miles of easily walked, mostly flat trails leads through second-growth forest of big-leaf maples, cedars and Douglas firs (1 mile is ADA accessible). Along the trailside: Indian plum, salmonberry, bleeding heart, elderberry and huckleberry. Many trees wear a thick coating of moss — often sprouting a symbiotic plumage of ferns — that gives the whole woods a look of being upholstered in soft velour.
That has a lot to do with this area’s average 70 inches of rainfall in a year — more than double Seattle’s average. Embrace the rain, as friends and I did recently. Put on your rain gear, hike to the park’s 4,000 feet of sandy beach on the river’s edge and admire the view of low, misty clouds hugging the hilltops amid a peaceful, pastel palette of grays and greens.
Contemplate the Skagit, which fuels our inland sea with an average of nearly 10 billion gallons a day. With a state license in the proper season, you can fish here, too, for trout, steelhead or salmon, on the only Washington river that retains viable populations of all five native salmon species.
• The human history: Historically, the Upper Skagit Tribe hunted and fished here. Today, on your way to the river enjoy the view of an expansive open meadow, logged in the late 1800s and once a hayfield farmed by Anglo-European pioneers. Nowadays you might see deer, elk and coyotes, or hawks and bald eagles hunting for field mice. The majestic hulk of Sauk Mountain — a popular hiking ground — looms beyond.
The park was named for the Rasar family, who farmed here, and who donated the bulk of the park’s land.
• Dry camping and sustainable building. Another Rasar feature that’s unique in the park system: two Adirondack shelters in a walk-in area of the campground. Again, recognizing that the area is just plain rainy, here’s a way to keep dry. The simple, three-sided wooden structures include bunks where you can lay out an air mattress and sleeping bag. Again there’s a generously roofed front entry where you can pull your picnic table if the liquid sunshine is too persistent.
You might notice the number of park structures that incorporate walls built of large, rounded, colorful rocks. Such rocks came from the park, unearthed during construction. That’s one of the side benefits of building in an area that’s been a flood plain for eons.
More to do nearby
Once you’ve explored the trail system at Rasar, you’re not done. Drive east on Highway 20 for 25 minutes to Rasar’s sister, Rockport State Park. A few years ago the park agency permanently closed the campground because of the park’s primary attraction: towering old-growth firs and cedars (which, unfortunately, drop enough giant limbs to make the campground unsafe).
It’s worth a visit — preferably not on a day of high winds — to see the grand old trees, some more than 250 feet tall. If you visit in winter, take an interactive hike through the forest with a knowledgeable guide in what’s called the Deep Forest Experience, offered December through mid-February.
A walk I loved: From the parking lot, carefully cross the highway to find the half-mile Sauk Springs Trail loop, which includes some of the park’s tallest trees (crane your neck to see the tops), a chattering creek running through a gorge, and views of a wild, remote stretch of the Skagit River.
Looking for more of a workout? Climb 5,541-foot Sauk Mountain. The Sauk Mountain Trail is accessed by Forest Service Road 1030, located on the west boundary of Rockport State Park. From Highway 20, drive about 8 miles of gravel road to the Sauk Mountain trailhead.
The hike to the summit is 2.1 miles, with numerous switchbacks and 1,200 feet of elevation gain. When you get one of the area’s all-the-more-special (because it rains a lot) clear, sunny days, the reward is expansive views of the Skagit Valley and the North Cascades.
If you go
From Interstate 5 Exit 232 in the Skagit Valley, go east on Cook Road and then Highway 20 for 20 miles. At Lusk Road turn right and continue 0.6 miles to a “T” intersection with Cape Horn Road. Turn left and follow signs for 0.7 miles to Rasar State Park (38730 Cape Horn Road, Concrete).
Rasar’s cabins are the most deluxe in the state park system. Each accommodates up to five guests, with bunk beds that sleep three, a queen-size futon, a four-person dining table with chairs, counter space with cupboards and bathroom with shower. For kids, there are two playgrounds in the park.
Cabin rentals range from $59 to $93 per night (plus tax), depending on season. Note: The cabins are heavily booked for summer months. Plan now for a shoulder-season getaway or look for a midweek opening. Reservations: washington.goingtocamp.com
The park has 38 campsites for car campers and RVs, plus walk-in/bike-in sites.