The White River gets its name from the glacial flour pouring down from the heights of the Dakobed Range via Foam, Lightning, and Thunder Creeks. The milky blue-white color is a result of suspended rock particles that have been ground down from the peaks over millennia.
The trailhead offers a classic view of the river from a sturdy bridge spanning a narrow gorge in the rocks. Head upstream on the parking lot side of the river to access the White River Trail. Crossing the bridge leads to the Indian Creek trail if you head upstream and the Mount David trail if you go downstream.
At 0.4 miles the trail curves away from the river near a grove of large Western redcedars and equally large stumps attesting to the history of the area. While the river remains in earshot for most of the rest of the hike it is often hidden from view and not readily accessible until reaching a scenic bend at 2.9 miles amongst large old-growth cedars.
At 3.7 miles keep right at a junction for the horse ford and then cross Boulder Creek on a well used log spanning the river. The bridge that used to be located here has washed out. Massive, seemingly out-of-place, granite boulders lie near the creek bed and give the drainage its name. At 4.1 miles reach the junction with the Boulder Creek Trail at a well-established campsite with room for a couple tents. Easy access to the White River makes this a wonderful spot to sit, refuel, and contemplate the wilderness before returning the way you came.
WTA Pro Tip: Many a silver-haired hiker has fond memories of backpacking the White River and following old shepherd paths into the high alpine basins above. However, the White River Trail has not been maintained beyond the junction with the Boulder Creek Trail for many years and is difficult or impossible to follow for most of its length.
If you have a bit of time and a tolerance for brush and blow-down, hike some of the upper White River Trail to enjoy a bit of what has been lost. Continue past the Boulder Creek junction and in 0.2 miles encounter the first few blowdown and emerge from the old growth forest to avalanche stripped valleys of slide alder and thimbleberry with views to the high slopes above.
In 0.3 miles, Clark Mountain becomes visible and in 0.4 miles views open toward a large knob separating the White River and Thunder Creek Valleys. This is usually enough brush for most people and a good turnaround spot.
For those interested in continuing further a rough description is provided. In general, one should expect to find good but overgrown tread covered in frequent blow-down through forested sections, and extensive thick slide-alder through swathes where years of avalanches and neglect have hidden the trail. Those intending to hike all the way to the PCT should be comfortable with bushwhacking, route-finding, and off-trail navigation. A small camp is available with access to the river at 1.2 miles just after a crossing of the creek that drains the basin between the S and SE spurs of Clark Mountain.
At 2.4 miles, cross Thunder Creek. Here, an old sheepherders trail climbs along the creek to the high meadows of Thunder Basin below Tenpeak Mountain if you can find it. A small camp is available near Thunder Creek. The trail up to this point is used by mountaineers and is often flagged and semi-maintained. Beyond, it travels intermittently through forest and avalanche swathes passing Lightning Creek at 5.6 miles and crossing to the south side of the White River at 7.0 miles in order to avoid Foam Creek. The river crossing is not bridged, and the trail is overgrown and difficult to follow on the south side of the River.
At 7.7 miles the trail crosses back to the north side of the White River and becomes somewhat easier again, though cross-country travel may be more efficient. As you begin ascending away from the White River the tread becomes much more obvious in open forest near 9.0 miles and ~4200 feet in elevation. The trail climbs steeply and as you get higher becomes ever more crowded by small trees until reaching the PCT 10.5 from the Boulder Creek Junction near a small campsite.
The Forest Service and volunteer groups like WTA are focusing their efforts on keeping the Indian Creek Trail open around the south end of the Dakobed Range, but currently, the White River Valley remains a wilderness haven.