Friday, February 12, 2016

10 Winter Hikes for Families in the Seattle Area

Since moving to Western Washington 3 years ago, I have come to appreciate something called "Mid-Winter Break."  We lived in Utah, Arizona, Alabama and Iowa before here, and this beautiful reprieve from school didn't exist in any of those other places (to my knowledge). We had Winter Break, Spring Break, and in some cases, Fall Break, but never Mid-Winter Break.

I feel Mid-Winter Break is everything its name implies--a break from the middle of Winter. In a state that gets 55 more days of precipitation than the national average (most of it falling between October and April), this break is a good excuse to get outside and appreciate the beauty that is so abundant here--even during the rainy months!

I have compiled TEN tried and true hikes that are typically accessible in the Winter and early Spring months. We have explored each of these areas--many multiple times.  I will share our experience with these trails, pictures from the area, and links to more info.  With all of these hikes, an excellent resource is WTA.ORG. I recommend checking WTA for recent trip reports before heading out on any day hike to insure the trail conditions are safe and passable.

I  have also broken my list down into 4 general areas: Tiger Mountain, I-90/Snoqualmie, Mount Rainier--Carbon River Entrance, and Black Diamond/Enumclaw.

Tiger Mountain

West Tiger #3 Trail
Distance: 5 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 2100 feet
 Age Suitability: Experienced young children can do it as the trail is well-maintained and safe, but it is a thigh-burner. 
Access: Via I-90 Exit 20
View from West Tiger Summit

This trail head is marked and begins from the Department of Natural Resources parking lot (Discovery Pass required). Many other trails begin near by, so pay attention to the signage. It begins gradually but quickly begins climbing. The majority of the trail is an old logging road bed, so it is nice and wide (great for kids), and proceeds with long switchbacks. It doesn't let up on it's ascent until about the last 1/4 of the trail where it soon intersects with the Cable Line trail (you may see hikers to your right going straight up just before the two trails merge). 

About halfway up you start to get nice views of Issaquah and beyond.  I have seen gorgeous sunsets on semi-clear days, sometimes more expansive than the summit views, which are limited unless it is a super-clear day. 

We LOVE this hike. It is a favorite winter run for me and my husband. We did it when it was snowy at the top in January. Although you gain a good bit of elevation, it is never crazy steep so our trail-running shoes were plenty of traction. During a cold-snap (the rare days when freezing temps persist in day-light hours) the upper sections can be icy, so refer to recent trip reports if those conditions exist. 

South Tiger Mountain Trail
Distance:3-7 miles round-trip, depending on turn around spot
Elevation Gain: Varies depending on turn around--600-1100 feet. 
Age Suitability: Young children can handle it. Only one small section would require an adult's hand.  Last 1/2 mile to powerlines is steep, but doable.
Access: Via Tiger Mountain Rd, 0.3 miles off of Issaquah Hobart Road (see Map and directions below)
This is a go-to trail for us because it is easily accessible, never crowded, and you get a great view in a short-ish hike.  I do not recommend this hike for summertime, though. It tends to get quite overgrown with many thorny plants.  For winter and early spring, it is excellent.

This trail has beautiful ferns, mossy old growth trees, and a wide variety of native flora. You cross several little streams, and hike near some small natural forest ponds.  The trail climbs gradually for about 1 miles, then forks--the main trail goes left and the horse trail goes right. They meet up at the same spot, but I don't recommend the horse trail. It is much muddier and will have an abundance of horse poop to navigate around. 
The main trail's grade lessens some after the fork, and soon comes to the only section of trail where you will need to watch footing with little ones. The trail is in good shape, it just drops off steeply on one side so we hold our youngest's hand. (My research revealed this area is called "Carkin's Cliff"). 
Once past the cliff, the trail soon intersects with the South Tiger Traverse trail. You can turn right to continue on the Tiger Mountain Trail, or go just past it a few feet and you'll be at a road-width trail. This is the South Tiger Traverse Trail. Follow that up (this is the steepest part of the hike), to where it intersects with the Power Line Trail. This is frequently where we stop, enjoy the view, have a snack, and turn around.  On a clear day we have seen as far west as the Olympics from here. Typically you get some beautiful views of the Renton Highlands and surrounding area. Turning around here will make for a 3.8 mile hike, roundtrip.
If you want to keep going, you can wind your way up (continuing on the Traverse Trail--just behind the big power line transmission tower) to a drier forest that eventually intersects again with the main Tiger Mountain Trail. The South Tiger Summit is about 2 miles past the Power Line View point, and though we have reached it, it has never been well-maintained at the very top. 

Wintery view from South Tiger Summit vicinity. The actual summit is quite anti-climactic and has very little view, but we captured this a few yards below.

Poo-poo Point via Chirico Trail
Distance: 3.8 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 1760 feet
Age Suitability: Experienced young children (Our daughter first did it at 5). It is a relentless climb, but isn't too long.
Access: Issaquah Hobart Road--3.1 miles south of I-90 Exit 17
Mt. Rainier is visible on a clear day from the South Launch Viewpoint.

We LOVE this trail. So do thousands of other King County residents. It is popular, well maintained, and can be an extra-exciting experience if paragliders are launching.  It can get crowded, but I have never regretted a climb to Poo-Poo Point. 

The parking lot can get crowded on weekends and holidays, but we've never had to wait more than a few minutes for a spot to open up.  Once on the trail, you will find that it is a shaded, steep climb. The first half traverses the side of the mountain on a narrow trail of dirt and exposed rock.  Footing is good, even when wet. The second half gets wider and slightly less steep, but still consistently uphill.  You'll reach the South Launch Viewpoint first. It is a sight to behold, but don't turn around there. The North Viewpoint is less than 10 more minutes up the trail and is worth every step. 

Everyone seems to wonder about the name, myself included, so I looked up the origin. Several years ago before this area became the popular hiking and paragliding spot that it is,  it was a area used by loggers.  The loggers used whistles to communicate with the logging tower operators.  The signal that two logs were cabled and ready to be towed sounded like "poo poo."  Hence the name: Poo-Poo Point. (Source:
 The view is always rewarding. South Launch point shown here.

The North Launch View point is a bit higher and can have views out to Lake Sammamish and beyond.

High School Trail 
(and gateway to many other trails)
Distance: 6 miles round-trip if you take it all the way to Poo-Poo point; we prefer it as a starting trail to many others in the Tiger Mt System
Elevation Gain: 1700 feet 
Age Suitability: Age 6+ if experienced. Younger could handle many of the off-shoots from the trail. 
Access: Trailhead is behind Issaquah High School, on the south side.  There is a small parking lot off 2nd Ave south of the school that requires a Discover Pass. On weekends and holidays you can also park in the school lot, just below the tennis courts. The trail head is marked with a sign.
This was one of the first trails I hiked after moving here. My husband took our older kids on an outing, so it was just me and my little toddler. I hoisted her in the baby backpack and we took off. I had heard about Poo Poo Point from a friend, but somehow ended up taking the long way (this trail) to it instead of the Chirico trail. I also made a couple wrong turns at the beginning, where I got a taste of how interconnected and expansive the Tiger Mountain trail system is. I think I ended up hiking about 12 miles that day. 
Since then, we have learned that the High School Trail is an excellent place to start hikes to many parts of Tiger Mountain. One is the Bus Trail, an extremely well-maintained, flat trail that surprises you with the skeleton of a large old city bus.  This trail can also be accessed from the parking lot as West Tiger #3 (the first in this post). 
The High School trail can be a connector for a variety of relatively flat loops around the mountain (Adventure Trail, Puget Power, Wetlands Trail, among others). Many hikers and runners do a combination of these to get trail mileage and beautiful scenery with relatively little elevation gain.
This was me and my little lady after my meandering first jaunt up the High School Trail. Thankfully, she carries her own weight, now. :)

I-90/Snoqualmie Area

Rattlesnake Ledge
Distance: 4 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 1160 ft
Age Suitability: Great for any age that can manage the distance. Trail is well-maintained and has great footing. The "ledges" at the top are exactly that, though, and require a firm grip on little-ones.
Access: I-90 Exit 32, turn right on 436th Ave SE. Parking lot  does NOT require a special pass. 
I love this picture of my boys. Can you tell they are gifted honor students?!? 

Rattlesnake Ledge is arguably the most popular hike in King County. I believe this is partially because of its easy access and the fact that no special pass is required, but mostly because hikers can enjoy such incredible views after only 2 miles and 1160 feet of ascent.
Many people stop at the lower ledge, which is a large outcropping of rocks with some deep fissures between. On sunny days hikers will hang out there for snacks and photos enjoying the 180 degree views.  However, a few more minutes up the trail will take you to a less scary but just as (maybe more) expansive view without as much fear of losing a child in a crevasse.

Twin Falls Trail
Distance: 3-3.5 miles round-trip, depending on where you start.
Elevation Gain: 500 feet
Age Suitability: Older toddlers on up
Access: Preferred start is via I-90 Exit 34 (7600 SE 159th St, North Bend), but check WTA trip reports for trail conditions. It can also be accessed via Exit 38 at Homestead Valley Trail head. This way will take you to the falls, but isn't quite as fun or pretty, and is a bit longer. Either starting point requires a Discover Pass. 

Twin Falls is so named because of the "two" waterfalls you reach. They could be called one with a step between them, but they are impressive however you number them. The hike from the main parking lot starts along the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River.  My kids could spend hours just playing along the banks. It proceeds with a gradual ascent through a beautiful old-growth rainforest that receives significantly more rain than Seattle proper (about 20 inches/year more).  The fact that most of this falls during the winter makes these falls most impressive during the colder, wetter months. 
As you approach the falls, a trail goes down steeply to a couple of viewing platforms. These are worth the walk back up; they present an excellent view of the falls, and the lower one gets sprayed when the falls are full. 
Once you get back up to the main trail, you'll soon cross a nice bridge over the falls. This is generally where the hike is considered to end, though the trail keeps going and eventually meets up with the Iron Horse Trail. 

Mount Rainier

Carbon River Trail to Ipsut Creek Campground
Distance: 10 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 400-ish feet
Age Suitability: Any who can make the distance. The trail is wide and safe--but long.
Access: Carbon River Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park via SR 410 to SR 165

The Carbon River Trail has become a go-to hike for my family.  We have hiked, biked, and backpacked along it during all seasons of the year.  Since it is the lowest-elevation entrance to Mt. Rainier NP, it is the most likely to be snow-free during the winter. It CAN have snow, though.  But even with snow, it is usually hikable, (especially if you have good boots and gaiters) because it is wide and mostly flat. 
The hike was a road until 2006, when flooding caused enough damage that the park decided to close it to vehicle traffic. This decision had 2 fortunate results for families who enjoy the outdoors: (1) The trail is open to bicycle traffic--the only trail in Mt Rainier NP that allows bikes, and (2) The Ipsut Creek Campground is now the nicest backpacking campground around, complete with picnic tables, bear boxes, and bathrooms! This was our family's first location for a family backpacking trip, and we loved it!
The trail begins in an old-growth rainforest and follows the Carbon River, offering beautiful views of the foothills surrounding Mt. Rainier about 3 miles in.  Summer hiking offers some off-shoot trails to waterfalls and high lakes, but they are either inaccessible or not easily accessed during winter months. 

Rainforest Nature Trail at Carbon River
Distance: 0.5 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 80 feet
Age Suitability: Anyone
Access: Carbon River Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park via SR 410 to SR 165
This short nature hike showcases the mossy, lichen-filled old-growth rainforest created by the floodplain of the Carbon river.  It is a self-guided tour with many species labeled, and endless flora (and maybe some fauna--but less in the winter) to see. 

Black Diamond/Enumclaw

Franklin Ghost Town
Distance: 2.5 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Age Suitability: Toddlers on up. A few parts require hand-holding.
Access: Via WA-169 S into the city of Black Diamond. Turn left on Lawson and go about 4 miles to road-side parking. 
I first discovered this hike thanks to a women's hiking group I participated in a couple of times when I first moved here.  Many women brought toddlers and we completed the entire outing in time for some moms to pick up half-day kindergartners.  It was a bit rushed for me, so I brought my family back soon after. The ghost town is an old cole-mining town.  A shaft still exists that goes down 1,000 feet. It is covered by a grate, so no safety worries. My kids loved tossing pebbles down to see if they could hear them drop after several seconds. 
In addition to some peeks of Mt Rainier, the top of the hike has an old cemetery.  This was the part that most intrigued me. My kids brought paper and crayons to do rubbings of the headstones. With a few of them, due to the weathering of the stone, we couldn't tell what they said until we did the rubbings. It was a remarkable experience. None of the life-spans were to what we would consider full by today's standards, and a few were babies or children. We talked about how life today is so much easier in many respects than it was back then. 

This picture was from the field at the beginning of the hike. I think it is used for parking sometimes. It was a sea of dandelions on this early spring trip, and absolute heaven for my little girl.

Mt Peak
(aka Pinnacle Peak, Mt Pete, Cal Magnusson Trail)
Distance: 2-2.4 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 1058
Age Suitability: Tough youngsters (I'd say age 4-5+) can do it. It is steep, but not too long.
Access: Via SR-410 in Enumclaw, head south on 284th Ave SE at the King County Fairgrounds, then west on SE 472nd Street. The trailhead is at the corner of 276th Ave and SE 472nd. Roadside parking, no permit required.  
An alternative, south route is accessible along SE Mud Mountain Road, just south of 481st Street. I haven't done the south route, and according to WTA, it is a bit gentler, but also open to mountain bikers. 
Thanks to my friend Kristen for this shot of the trail!

Thanks to our friend Eric for this shot from the Cal Magnusson (north route) Trail.
Mt. Peak is a great hike if you don't have a ton of time, but want to get a good workout in. It ascends aggressively (but safely) up the side of this volcanic mound that seems to jut randomly out of the ground in Enumclaw. Though the summit is a bit closed in, you can still manage a view on a clear day.  You can also marvel at the basalt columns near the top. The hike is through a beautiful forest, and the entire area surrounding the peak is lovely farmland with Mount Rainier as a backdrop. 

Now go hit the trail! :)

Sharing at some of these link-ups.


  1. Thanks for the list! My family did the twin falls trail today based on your advice. Got to love those NW trails :)

    1. This seriously made my day to hear! (And I love hearing from a fellow WA blogger!) I hope this continues to be a good resource for you and your family.

  2. We loved hiking when we were living in the Seattle area. Would love to go back and try some of these. Thanks for sharing on the Let's Get Real Link Party.

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  4. Thanks for sharing a nice post. Winter backpacking is an exceptional pastime, and while similar to hiking trails during the warmer months, there is something a bit special about backpacking through a winter landscape. The air seems fresher, crisp, and with nothing but you and nature all around you, it becomes easy to hear your footfall on the soft snow beneath your feet as you walk. See more here

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  6. Thank you for the informative blog! Your family is adorable, and I love the fact that you have taught your children to enjoy hiking with you even in the winter! This is something all parents should consider doing for the well-being of their kids! I love your photos too.

  7. Winter hiking is my favorite! I can't wait to try out one r more of your suggested trails next winter when I will be moving nearby! It's great that your children enjoy the hikes with you. It took me years to start really enjoying hiking.

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