Island Center Forest
HIKE DESCRIPTION: A web of trails cuts through the green of Vashon’s Island Center Forest, visiting wetlands and hints of the forest’s logging past. Birds sing and play near the water as squirrels scamper through the foliage.
The 10 miles of trails are packed into the 435-acre park creating more of a choose-your-own-adventure hiking experience than one standard route. If you like loop hikes, this is the place to go. More than a dozen short loops make up the trail system. Mukai (dug to irrigate strawberry fields) and Meadowlake ponds are located close to the 188th Street trailhead and are worth a visit. (Although it should be pointed out that the trails can flood after heavy rains, and they were impassable near Mukai Pond when we visited Dec. 15.)
The trail system is a popular location for local runners. It’s also open to equestrians and mountain bikers. More than 80 species of birds live in the forest, making it a bird watching destination too.
According to the Vashon Maury Island Land Trust website, the state used to log the forest to fund public schools, which explains why some sections of the woods seem so much younger than others. The land trust and the community raised $4.7 million to preserve the forest. The forest was transferred from the state to King County in 2005.
DIRECTIONS: From Vashon Highway Southwest, which runs the length of Vashon Island, turn west on 188th Street and follow until it ends at one of the trail system’s five trailheads.
DIFFICULTY RATING: 2 (5 is most difficult, 1 is easiest).
MILES ROUND-TRIP: 10.
ELEVATION GAIN: 700 feet.
BEST TIME OF THE YEAR: Year round.
MAP: Maps are available on the King County Parks website and some trailhead kiosks.
ALSO: Unless you live on the island, you’ll need to take a ferry. Boats depart regularly from Tacoma, Southworth and Fauntleroy, and fees are $14.30 for a vehicle 14 feet or shorter and driver, plus additional fees for extra passengers ($5.25 ages 19-64 and $2.60 ages 6-18 and 65 and older). The fee for cyclists is $6.25 for ages 16-64 and $3.60 for ages 6-18 and 65 and older. When planning your trip, take note that the winter ferry schedule begins Sunday and may differ from the current fall schedule. Although Island Center Forest is the largest, there are various other parks and hiking opportunities on Vashon and Maury islands. A list is available on the King County Parks website. Dogs are permitted on the trails. They must be leashed, and owners must clean up after them. Several geocaches are hidden along the trails.