NORTH BEND - There are good reasons Mount Si - dubbed the "I-5 of trails" by Doug Schindler of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust - is so busy.
It’s close (an hour drive from Tacoma). It’s a challenge (it climbs 3,150 feet in four miles). And those who make it to the top are rewarded with a view of the Cascades and Seattle.
“I hike up here when friends and family visit from the Midwest,” said Tim Locke of West Seattle as he stood just below the 4,167-foot summit with his dog, Stella. “Of course, they think it’s the hardest hike in the world, but really it’s not that bad.”
The top of Mount Si is so low it’s one of the few places in the state where hikers can get in more than 3,000 vertical feet in the spring without worry about traveling over snow.
The trail is packed with everybody from hardcore hikers with 50-pound packs training for Mount Rainier to overmatched hikers with 50-pound bellies who consider Si their Rainier.
“This is not a beginner stroll,” Schindler said. “It’s not a family trail. ... It’s for people who tend to prefer a strenuous hike.”
More than 100,000 people a year hike Si heightening the need for visitors to know trail rules.
The biggest problem, Schindler said, is hikers cutting switchbacks to shave a few steps off the hike or to avoid having to pass hikers on the trail. This, however, damages the trail and the mountainside.
“It turns it into a muddy mess,” Schindler said.
The trust has put up logs and even fences to try and discourage hikers from blazing their own trail, but it doesn’t always work.
“The best way is peer pressure,” Schindler said. “If other hikers say something to them, they’re more likely to think twice before they do that.”
The need for hiker etiquette could get even more important if the state Legislature slashes the state Department of Natural Resources’ funding for trail maintenance. The Senate is trying to preserve the $278,000 funding, while the House is proposing to eliminate the funds, said Mark Mauren, the department’s recreation programs manager.
“We’ll have to work with the (Washington Trails Association) and other organizations to look for ways to keep trails open,” Mauren said.
“It’s going to be a disaster,” Schindler said, pointing out that everything from trail maintenance to pumping the trailhead toilet will be impacted.
While Mount Si is one of the most challenging hikes for getting your legs warmed up for summer, there are other options around the Puget Sound area for those looking for something a little easier.
Here are four progressively easier options for snow-free hiking this spring:
Miles: 6.6 Elevation gain: 1,600 feet
A section of trail at Squak Mountain State Park is closed because of flood damage, but there are still plenty of ways to get up and down this 2,000-foot peak. The hike climbs at a modest rate with an occasional steep pitch to a microwave station. A view of Seattle’s skyline is available near the summit. It should be noted that there are many trails in the park giving hikers numerous opportunities to get off course if they don’t know where they are going. A kiosk at the trailhead shows the trail system and the closure, but a map could prove handy for those unfamiliar with the trails.
Map: Green Trail 203S: Cougar Mountain/Squak Mountain
Directions: From state Route 18, turn northwest on Issaquah Hobart Road. Turn west on May Valley Road and drive 2.5 miles to the trailhead, which will be on your right.
Miles: 4-7 Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
You can get up and down Green Mountain in just a 4-mile hike, but the payoff at the top is so spectacular you might feel guilty the hike is so easy.
From the top of the mountain you look down at Bremerton and across Puget Sound to Seattle. You can see south to Tacoma and on a clear day you can even see Mount St. Helens. The elevation at the top of Green Mountain is only 1,639 feet so you can hike the trail all year.
If you want to tack on some mileage, it’s easy to do at Green Mountain State Forest. Adding a loop on Beaver Pond and Wildcat trails pushes it to almost eight miles.
Map: USGS Wildcat Lake
Directions: From state Route 16 take state Route 3 north to Chico Way. Turn left then right on Lake Way. Turn right on Seabeck Highway and continue three miles to Holly Road. After four miles turn left on Tahuya Lake Road and continue past the lake to the trailhead.
MUD MOUNTAIN DAM
Miles: 5.1 Elevation gain: Mostly flat
This trail along the White River actually takes you east away from the dam and the Mud Mountain Recreation Area. The easy walk along the rim travels through trees but also offers occasional views of the river below. Start by walking the Rim Trail. The trail cross several services roads, but the route is clearly marked. Bring your boots because the trail is often muddy. The park opened for weekend use Saturday. The park gates close at 4 p.m.
Map: Green Trails 237-Enumclaw
Directions: Follow state Route 410 about four miles past Enumclaw to Mud Mountain Road. Continue two miles to the recreation area.
Miles: 2.5-4 Elevation gain: Minimal
This is the perfect place for an easy stroll. While hikers never get farther than a mile from downtown Belfair, they’ll feel like they are far away from the two highways that bound most of the area. A series of short nature walks with interpretive signs cut along the marshes where Hood Canal meets the Union River.
The trails, the longest of which is the 1.5-mile (each way) Union River Estuary Trail, give hikers the chance to see more than 800 kinds of plants. The trails are popular with birdwatchers.
Pets are not permitted on the trails.
Map: Available at the trailhead.
Directions: Follow state Route 3 to Belfair and the trailhead at the Theler Community Center.
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497