I’ve spent the better part of this year coming to grips with the fact that I’m a bit of a hiking snob.
For years I’ve avoided hiking the Interstate 90 corridor between Issaquah and Exit 34.
From Cougar Mountain to Mailbox Peak (and beyond in warmer months), sits some of Washington’s most popular hiking trails. And popular isn’t usually what I’m looking for when I go hiking.
It’s not like I’ve totally avoided the area. I spent enough time there to see the impressive trail building and maintenance done by the state and volunteers groups such as the Washington Trails Association, Mountains to Sound Greenway and the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance.
Here’s what kept me away. The trails are busy. In fact, at places such as Mount Si and Rattlesnake Ledge it gets so busy at times some hikers stop acknowledging each other. They just pass each other like they’re walking through the mall.
Also, the low elevation of many of the hikes makes them an ideal hiking destination between midfall and early spring. So, I told myself, why should I spend my summers hiking here when that’s the only time many higher hikes are available?
And I don’t like that even on top of some of the peaks, I could still hear the I-90 traffic. Traffic I was going to have battle on my way home.
Plus, I was turned off by the online articles that seemed to be proliferating on my social media accounts. Many seemed to talk about Mount Si as if it is the Cascade’s ultimate challenge. (It is a serious workout, but not even the toughest hike in the neighborhood.)
Never mind that some of the most talented outdoor athletes I know spend tons of time training in this area.
Like I said, I’m a hiking snob. Then, my wife decided she wanted to explore these trails and that I was going with her.
We started New Year’s Day by hiking Little Si with friends. Just as I’d warned her, finding a parking spot was more challenging than the actual hike.
Needless to say, I wasn’t converted. But we weren’t done. Seven times we returned to the area and it didn’t take long for me to come to the realization that the area isn’t just more enjoyable than I ever gave it credit for being, it’s a gem.
The views can span much of Western Washington on nice days. Many of the trails are well maintained. And those searching for an uphill workout will have plenty of opportunities.
I know, I’m a little late to the party, say the hundreds of thousands of hikers who visit the area each year.
But don’t make the same mistake I did. There’s a reason these hikes are so popular. Here are some classics worthy of your fall hiking list. Most are typically accessible at least through November, but check for current conditions before heading out.
Mount Si looms over North Bend and has a reputation as both a convenient training hill and a bucket list hike. It’s long been a conditioning spot for those aspiring to climb Mount Rainier. For others, this is their Rainier.
It all makes for a rather eclectic collection of hikers. On any given day you might see runners zipping up and down the trail multiple times, families, hikers in blue jeans and more.
At the top, on nice days, hikers are rewarded with a view that includes the Olympics.
If 8 miles and 3,200 feet of climbing sounds like too much, Little Si (5 miles, 1,200 feet) is right next door. Want more? Mount Teneriffe (14 miles, 3,800 feet) is also Si’s neighbor.
MAILBOX PEAKA legendary steep challenge that can be a little easier these days thanks to a new trail built by the state and volunteers in 2014.
You’ll still have to climb more than 4,000 feet to reach the top, but the new trail lets you do it in 9 miles (roundtrip) rather that 6. Many choose to climb up the rugged old trail and descend on the knee-friendly new trail.
A mailbox sits atop the peak and it’s filled with letters and trinkets deposited by hikers. The peak also delivers stunning views that start about half a mile below the summit.
RATTLESNAKE LEDGERattlesnake Ledge is one of the state’s busiest trails, but ducking the crowds requires just a little extra effort.
Most people do the 4-mile (roundtrip), 1,200-foot trip to a rocky ledge with a dramatic view of the lake and valley below. Just keep hiking less than another quarter mile to find more overlooks that are higher and sometimes free of people.
POO POO POINT
My wife and I recently spent a rainy Saturday afternoon making our way up the popular Poo Poo Point trail in Tiger Mountain State Forest and we were surprised by what we found at the top. Despite the nasty weather we could see from the South Sound to Lake Sammamish.
The hike from Issaquah High School to the point (a popular paraglider launching point in warmer months) is 7.5 miles and climbs about 1,600 feet. As far as the view-to-work ratio goes in the Issaquah Alps, it’s hard to top.
Poo Poo Point is on the edge of the 13,745-acre forest packed with considerably more opportunities for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.
COUGAR AND SQUAK
From Poo Poo Point, two small, forested peaks sit in the middle of the panorama. Both Squak Mountain State Park (13 miles) and Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park (35 miles) are loaded with trails to explore. The parks are low enough that they’re usually usable all year.
CEDAR BUTTECedar Butte doesn’t fall into the classic hike category, but it’s worth having on your list if you’re looking for a short hike a bit off the beaten path. The hike is usually doable all year, has a view of North Bend and you can count on having few people with whom to share the trail.
The route (3.6 miles, 900 vertical feet) starts on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail before climbing through the trees to the top of the 1,880-foot Butte.