Sunday, December 2, 2012

Great day hike near Seattle: Wilderness Peak

Bushtit at Cougar Mountain Regional
Wildland Park. Photo courtesy at Wikipedia.

Connecting trails covers mountain's
west side in 3.6-mile jaunt

The Wilderness Peak Loop, a circle of connecting trails, serves as nice summer jaunt through the forest for kids. The 3.6 miles of trails sit on the southeastern side of Cougar Mountain – the nearest of the Issaquah Alps east of Seattle – in Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park.

A quick 15 miles from the Emerald City, the trailhead can be reached by taking I-90’s Exit 15 onto State Road 900 (also known as the Renton-Issaquah Road). In about 3.4 miles, a small pullout serves as a parking lot with the Wilderness Creek trailhead off of it. If that lot is full, about 100 yards to the west is a paved driveway that leads to a slightly larger lot.

One might call this a trip up Emerald Mountain. Moss, tiny wildflowers, ferns, evergreens and aspen trees abound.

The Boulders
The trails definitely are for elementary school-aged children or those adults carrying a lone child in a baby carrier. A preschooler probably will find it too steep or slippery. The opening section of the trail boasts a number of switchbacks as it parallels Wilderness Creek, the latter’s water rushing down the mountain on its way to May Creek.

After crossing Wilderness Creek, the trail intersects Wilderness Cliff Trail. Take note of the site as the return portion of the hike will bring you back to this fork.

Staying on Wilderness Creek Trail, you’ll head left to The Boulders. The trail then takes a hairpin turn to atop a ridge’s right bank. Watch for Cougar Mountain Cave.

Reaching Shy Bear Pass, Wilderness Creek Trail ends. To make a full loop, you’ll want to veer right onto Shy Bear Trail. In a few yards, take another right onto Wilderness Peak Trail. Watch closely, as a number of trails intersect in the pass.

Wilderness Peak Trail leads to Wilderness Peak, at 1595 feet the trail’s highest point. As the trailhead was at 395 feet elevation, you’ve climbed about 1200 feet.

Since the summit is forested with old growth timber, so there’s no vista to see the surrounding region. A register sits at the peak, however, and it’s a good, shaded place to rest.

It’s mostly downhill from there. To return to the parking lot, take the Wilderness Cliff Trail for 0.7 miles. After a series of switchbacks, the sound of Wilderness Creek grows as the trail closes on it. Watch for a vista point, from which you can spot Mount Rainier on a clear day. Continuing on, you’ll rejoin Wilderness Creek Trail; take a left and head back to the parking lot.

While the single-file trails are well maintained, be aware that they are steep and during spring can be muddy. They also will be busy on weekends. Given the Pacific Northwest’s wet climate, be sure to bring your raingear.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.