Sword Fern Way (new Bells Mtn loop)

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Chip Down
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Sword Fern Way (new Bells Mtn loop)

Post by Chip Down » July 21st, 2021, 4:33 pm

When I was exploring around Bells Mtn a few weeks ago, I noticed a new trail, not yet signed, which was clearly sanctioned. It was rough in spots, but I could see it taking shape. It was essentially complete; I didn't violate signage or interfere in any way.

Today I went back to see if it was all done and signed. It is. Name is Sword Fern Way. It departs Bells Mtn trail at its high point, around 1600', goes essentially to the top of Bells Mtn, then descends back to Bells Mtn Trail. Details follow.

I started at Hantwick Trailhead, followed Rd 3000 and gained Bells Mtn Trail, up to the high point on Bells Mtn Trail, turned right on Rd 2020 for just a few yards and then right at the north end of Sword Fern Way.

SFW was a nice respite from the relentless ascent of Bells Mtn Trail. It was still uphill, but not brutally. It came close to a little tributary of East Fork Lewis River, close enough to hear it, but then turns away at a switchback. There's a road crossing, then back into the forest.

Just barely below summit, SFW crests and drops. At this point, there's a rough connector to the top. It's not a great view, but worth the side trip if you can spare a few minutes. From there, a gravel road can be followed NW or SW to pleasant scenery.

Dropping on SFW, the trail was a little nicer that the north end, slightly better scenery (but the north end had some charming stretches too). At a road crossing, the scenery changes abruptly, as the trail enters an old clearcut that's recovering nicely. Another road crossing, then down to Bells Mtn Trail, just a little south of the north junction. I'm guessing it's about 10 minutes undulating (mostly up) to the high point on Bells Mtn Trail, then the plunge down to the Moulton area.

Bells Mtn Trail south of the high point (i.e. between the two SFW junctions) was extremely overgrown, almost a bushwhack. Funny that SFW is pristine in comparison.

I returned to my car a bit after 9, way too early to go home. There was only one sensible way to kill time: do it again, clockwise the second time.

Other parties:
Bells Mtn Trail is always crowded.
Nobody on SFW, except a coyote.

Afterthought: The northern end of Sword Fern Way can be called NSFW. :D

edit: I forgot to mention this trail was designed to be bike friendly for novice/intermediate: bermed large-radius switchbacks, no big drops, no tech challenges. I suspect it won't get a lot of bike traffic though. It's a bit steep to ride up, and although there are road bypasses to gain the top, those roads undulate, and feature some deep new gravel that's hard to ride on. I suspect this trail will carry more hikers than bikers, but time will tell.
Early morning hillside on Bells Mtn Trail overlooking foggy Dole Valley.
North junction. As described in report, this junction is on a road; SFW north doesn't quite touch Bells Mtn Trail.
Ascending clockwise on the southern end of SFW. Ahead, trail crosses road and enters forest.
Looking across Dole Valley towards Silver Star, hidden in clouds at left.
Clearcut on south end of SFW. Dammit! I should have filled the jar 1/3, placed it to the right of the bottle, and captioned the image "thirty three and a third".

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Re: Sword Fern Way (new Bells Mtn loop)

Post by AlpenGlowHiker » July 22nd, 2021, 5:00 am

Nice find!

I checked out wta.org and it's there already as well. At the bottom of the description is rather interesting.
Washington Trails Association was the principal designer and developer of the trail and partnered with the Department of Natural Resources and Washington Conservation Corps. The trail is one of 10 new or planned trails in the Yacolt Burn State Forest by the Department of Natural Resources.
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Re: Sword Fern Way (new Bells Mtn loop)

Post by bobcat » July 24th, 2021, 7:47 am

Thanks for exploring these new trails. Yacolt Burn has both the Appaloosa and Sword Fern on their new trails map, which is not linked to their home page yet:


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Chip Down
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Re: Sword Fern Way (new Bells Mtn loop)

Post by Chip Down » July 24th, 2021, 7:57 am

Thanks for the map link.
Surprised they show the south Silver Star trail. On the ground, there's no indication its sanctioned. No signs, requires some luck or trial/error to find your way up.

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Don Nelsen
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Re: Sword Fern Way (new Bells Mtn loop)

Post by Don Nelsen » July 24th, 2021, 9:58 am

Nice map, thanks for the link. I notice they still have Pyramid Rock in the wrong place.

"Everything works in the planning stage".

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Re: Sword Fern Way (new Bells Mtn loop)

Post by Chip Down » July 24th, 2021, 12:46 pm

Good eye, Don!

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