Friday, November 4, 2011

Hiking -- Cougar Mountain -- Issaquah, WA

    Cougar Mountain is, in our minds, one of the best examples of a place where the city and the wilderness come together to create a stunning hike-able area without needing to drive hours to get there. In fact, after passing I-405 on I-90 you only drive 3 additional miles to you reach the exit for the Anti-Aircraft Peak Trailhead, which is the trailhead we visited most recently. There are three other trail access points that you'll find on the King County Parks website that all connect with each other if you're willing to hike long enough and far enough to get there.
    From the base, Cougar Mountain looks like a big forested hill. It's not until you start to climb it in your car that you realize just how big it is. On your way up to the Anti-Aircraft Peak Trailhead, you'll pass by residential neighborhoods, an elementary school, and perhaps begin to wonder how on earth this is going to turn into 3100 acres of wilderness. Just keep driving, you're about to find out. Right before you reach the beginning of the park you'll be greeted with amazing views of Lake Sammamish and realize how far up you've come. The trail you're headed to is 1430 ft above sea-level, making this seem more and more like a real mountain all the time.
Beautiful views of Lake Sammamish await you on your drive up Cougar Mountain

    When you arrive at the trailhead, you'll see the ranger office off to the right, trees, trails, a hitching post for your horse, as well as a large field to the northwest with picnic tables. We decided to go down the Tibbetts Marsh Trail. We recently adopted a chocolate lab, so we were super tuned-in to the fact that the trails on Cougar Mountain are indeed dog-friendly. We traversed the trail, down a hill and across a couple of log bridges. We felt completely safe because the bridges were wide enough and had hand-rails, so no worries there. You'll find that Cougar Mountain is a place that's really well marked due to all the trails you can take throughout the park. There are maps available when you get to the park, but you can look at one online too. We decided to make our way the the clay pit mining area that was in operation over 70 years ago. 
    Our new dog, on his first hike with us at Cougar Mountain--he did great!

    After a little more than a mile you'll reach the big clay pit which we think is very cool. You'll find pieces of sandstone all over the area here. The sandstone is lovely with different colored stripes throughout it, but when you go to pick up a piece of it and it'll crumble in your hands--one of nature's phenomena. You'll also find great views of the mountains from here on clear days. 
The view from the end of the Clay Pit Road--mountains and sandstone await

    There's even a little pond in the clay pit, but be aware that if you decide to approach it'll probably be pretty mushy around the water's edge because it doesn't drain well through the clay. 
    It's difficult to express just how many trail options you have on Cougar Mountain. On our way back we chose to take Cougar Pass Trail to Anti-Aircraft Ridge Trail for some different scenes. For the record, Anti-Aircraft Ridge Trail is a lot more level than than the Tibbetts Marsh Trail. We were back to our car before we knew it.

 Here you can see just how carved out the clay pit is in the background

    We thought the natural side of Cougar Mountain was spectacular. Because there are so many trails, you can't see it all in one day, so we're looking forward to going back and exploring more of the mountain.

Things To Know:
  • Cougar Mountain Park is over 3100 acres
  • There are TONS of trails to explore
  • The trails are dog-friendly and many allow horseback riding, but no biking is allowed
  • You can find a map to the park online on at the trailhead
  • There are four trailheads to choose from on Cougar Mountain
  •    To get to the Anti-Aircraft Peak Trailhead take I-90 East
  •    Exit at Exit 13 onto Lakemont Blvd. SE for 2.5 miles
  •    Turn left onto Cougar Mountain Way
  •    Continue past the housing developments
  •    Turn right onto SE Cougar Mountain Drive immediately after passing the elementary school
  •    Continue up the steep road until you reach the end
  •    Here you'll find the trailhead
A colorful swirling stump we found on the trails with little orange mushrooms growing on it

You don't always have to travel far to reach the wilderness!
Head on out Around Puget Sound...and Beyond


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