Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park

COUGAR MOUNTAIN REGIONAL WILDLAND PARK (Red Town Trailhead) Cougar Mountain is “Your Big Backyard” as described by King County Parks which is a perfect description. This backyard is over 3,100 acres in size and that’s a pretty big backyard. It’s pretty hard to lose your way as there are free maps available at the trailhead and trail junctions are well-signed. This intricately-engineered trail system could be compared to a giant cobweb, thankfully, without a giant spider. Hike as little or as far as you like including options for longer hikes as the park is connected to Squak Mountain State Park. Despite the popularity of the park there’s plenty of territory that provide solitude any time of the year. You can bring the family and the dog (leashed, of course). Bicycles are not allowed though there are a few trails open to equestrians (all depicted on the map). Every season has its’ own distinctive ambience – first of all Cougar Mountain is indeed a mountain, the high point at 1,598 feet is just a tad above Wilderness Peak (1,595 feet). True, Wilderness Peak is forested and without a “big” view though views are not impossible to come by in this park. Here, it’s the changing of the seasons that create the magic, not big views. In winter the entire forest glows green with shag-carpet moss, old trees sport shelf fungus, a variety of lichen and swatches of sword fern border the trail. The pale, slender trunks of alders are delicately wrapped with the yarn of moss. Thick, gnarled Wizard-of-Oz cottonwoods lean over the trail, their branches festooned with the green fire of licorice ferns. Do you remember those giant Crayola boxes from childhood? Do you remember all those shades of green? You can find all those shades of green, especially on cloudy days. The late author-hiker Harvey Manning described the park as a “great big green and quiet place”. Though social trails beckon; you are respectfully asked to stay on designated trails. This is not only to protect the wilderness but also to protect unwary hikers from tumbling into a mine-shaft as this place once bustled with coal mines and loggers. In the fall each stump, fallen tree or log is daubed with lichen and mushrooms abound, including turkey-tail fungus like the ruffled skirts of square-dancers peeking out from the dark roots of evergreens and deciduous trees. In fall red splashes of vine maple provide fiery hues to the tawny landscape. Big leaf maples let loose their golden leaves in the fall like Rapunzel letting down her hair; on a frosty, winter morning the leaves will crunch under your feet. In spring yellow violets wink and delicate saxifrages, creamy trilliums, red flowering currant, Indian plum, bleeding hearts, forget-me-nots and fringe-cup splatter the forested backdrop like a Pointillist painting. That first sense of spring is heady-stuff when hikers are greedy for the warmth of sunlight and bright hues just about the time you think winter will never end. Look for nettles springing up from the duff and curls of bracken already ravenous for light; nettles are one of the first signs the forest is awakening from a long winter. Though grand views are not the mainstay of the park that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see; several historical landmarks are designated on the map that tells of the toil and danger those miners once endured for a paycheck. To see some of these landmarks we suggest starting at the Red Town trailhead and exploring the trail system (with map in hand). There’s a kiosk at the trailhead with plenty of maps; our first stop was the Ford Slope coal mining exhibit and the nearby Steam Hoist as well (both exhibits can be reached via the Wild Side Trail which starts at Red Town). We’d planned to follow the trail system to the De Leo Wall but were side-tracked by the Meadow Restoration project; one of my favorite sites that my companions had not seen before. The recovering meadow was once a baseball field used by the coal miners. You can walk a short loop through the meadow where you will also find a couple of benches, one strategically placed under a tree. It’s not hard to imagine deer at dawn grazing in this quiet place in the middle of a metropolitan area. After our visit to the meadow we hooked up with the Quarry Trail to reach one of my favorite settings in the park, a big jumble of boulders. The mossy boulders are arranged in such a way that a protective arch forms a small cave for a drenched hiker to get out of the rain (not enough room for two, though!). At the next designated junction we turned off onto the Coal Creek Falls Trail, justifiably a favorite of those who frequent the park. We’ve seen the waterfall in all seasons; a lacy trickle in summer, a boisterous cascade in fall and spring and once frozen solid during a cold snap. Here Coal Creek is crossed on a poetic bridge with views for all who venture this far. Take advantage of the “furniture”, boulders on both sides of the bridge where you can settle for a while whether you seek a cool breeze on a hot day or want to photograph the 30-foot high cascade. From there we followed the trail-system back to Red Town. Back at the trailhead we crossed the road and walked down to pretty North Creek Falls which tumbles down a sandstone cliff, only a short distance from the car. Stay tuned for another installment later this spring as we explore the park from another trailhead. Getting there: Red Town trailhead – From I-90 take Exit 13 and drive south on Lakemont Boulevard SE for about three miles to the entrance to the Red Town trailhead (on the left side of the road). Our wandering added up to about four miles with around 500 feet. Additional Information: King County Parks – 206-296-4232 or visit their website: For photos go to: and scroll down to the second and third sets from the top. Karen Sykes

1 comment:

  1. Karen, forgive me trespassing on your Hikes blog, but the DalbyFamily blog seems to be inactive. Before that happened you mentioned there that you had family photos - your father Fritz etc. - which I'd be very interested in seeing. When I stayed with Valerie and Charles for the waterwheel ceremony I met Fritz's old bandleader Chet London. He showed me Fritz's banjo and gave me a recording of the band, which for a jazz fan like me was a great thrill. If you'd like to be in touch with your English cousin who's interested in our family history my email is Hope to hear from you.