The Rattlesnake Ledge hike is a well known hike to Seattle residents. It’s a very popular location just 30 miles east of downtown Seattle. The trail climbs over 1,000 feet over 1.5 miles. The total trail is a 4.0 mile round trip and is often ranked as moderate hike.
Notes: As we said, this is a very popular hike. On good weather weekends the trail will see hundreds of visitors climbing to its picturesque peak. Do not hike this trail if you’re seeking a quiet day hike.
Reference: Washington Trail Association
Trail Report for Rattlesnake Ledge
It was my dog Tyson’s bark that woke me up. I rolled over and checked the time: 10am. Oof, later than I wanted. The weather was supposed to be great all day but I prefer to hike early-ish. I hop up and get dressed, my cargo shorts and a t-shirt.
I get up and take care of my morning chores, feeding and walking the dogs. As we come back in my wife is coming down the stairs and we go over the day’s plan. Hiking, watching MLS soccer, and maybe a trip to Ikea for frames for our art. I review where I’m going hiking with her, Rattlesnake Ledge. We always plan for the worst when it comes to hiking, so I email her the trail info in case the unthinkable happens. I also assure her this is a well traveled hike, I won’t be alone out there.
Then comes the hiking prep, filling my CamelBak with water, stocking the daypack with a few snacks, compass, knife.
The clock strikes 11 and I’m off. Out the door and down to our garage.
This is a new trail for me, but the directions to get there are super simple. I stop for gas before hopping on the I-405 then hitting I-90 and heading east.
There’s a bit of a mental discord still for me to get on an interstate and head east. For all of my life the “world” has been to the west (I used to live in Florida) and now it’s all flipped as the “world” exists east of us. But this day’s weather is astonishingly gorgeous, clear blue skies, low 70s, and a cool breeze. Traffic cooperates as I get on I-90 and put down the gas to pick up some speed and head for today’s exit, 32.
The miles fly by as I listen to the crackly radio for tunes from an oldies station, as I turn off on exit 32 “Carry on my Wayward Son” comes over the air. Without thinking too deeply about the lyrics I pull up the iPhone to confirm the next leg of directions. Four miles and get in the parking lot, easy.
This back road is curvy as we dodge around farms and rural communities. As the four mile mark nears I come across a telltale trail head. That is: a slightly broadened road, and car after car parked bumper to bumper. I quickly slow and pull off, surveying for a parking spot of my own.
It was at this point that I had my first thought that something was amiss. Namely that the directions called out the well maintained parking lot. This was a, relatively speaking, a nice parking area with some deepened parking area and some separated parking. But it wasn’t anything of real note. Hmmm.
In any case, I parked the car and hopped out. As I looked around I got another sign that something was weird. Lots of cars but almost no one was around. No one coming on or going off the access roads I thought led to the trail. Well, I shrug it off and decide to hit the trail. With my Vibrams on my feet, sunglasses and day pack, I head off for what I believe to be the path to the trail.
Hiking is about getting away from civilization and so with that you get used to trails being more wilderness than clearly marked attraction, so when the direction says “follow the old road for a quarter mile and then you’ll spot the trail head” well, that’s just the way it is. So I hike for 3/4 mile or so on this dirt road, just enjoying the weather and the endless curiosity of what’s around the next bend, before turning around deciding I had gone the wrong way. As I get back to the main road I run into a couple walking with a dog and ask them for some directional help.
Though before I continue on, I have to share something I found while I was hiking the “wrong” way.
It turns out I stopped driving about a quarter of a mile early, which it turns out was actually wise given what was likely to be a stuffed parking lot. Rattlesnake Ledge is a very well kept and very well known trail, so I head down following the new directions and come upon a parking lot that is a lot like a city park. At this point I’ve walked almost two miles before I even start the real trail.
The trail is rated moderate because it ascends over 1000 feet in 1.5 miles. I was playing with that math problem in my head as I started the hike, trying to remember my high school geometry and using it to calculate the third side of that triangle. Having arrived at the true hiking trail’s start I can’t help but smile, eager for a new trail.
You pass a lake on the left before beginning the ascent up the mountain. The secret to this trail is the use of many many switchbacks, apparently the first version of this trail made the same ascent in just a mile, so this newer 1.5 mile length makes it somewhat easier. The WTA’s description of the hike is somewhat snarky as it tells readers about this, asking them to not complain about the hike’s difficult because it used to be even more tough.
Also, as I said earlier, there were lots and lots of people. There were only a few moments when I was on the trail without other hikers around me. This actually hampered my photo taking habit quite a bit. But that’s okay because the real photos would come at the peak of the mountain. All my hikes so far this year had been to waterfalls and this would be my first hike up a mountain rather simply deeper into the woods.
There’s something magical for me in the forest. As a technology addict like I’ve been since a kid, the wilderness (even with an iPhone in my pocket) represents an escape and disconnect from the world I choose to surround myself in, like submerging myself in a pool of water.
I love the smells. The sights. The feel of my body moving over ground. Walking should be fun, and that’s what hiking does – it makes walking fun. You’re not endlessly shuffling over cement or concrete, you’re moving over uneven terrain, next to trees, over rocks and dirt and sometimes water or mud.
The climbing begins to take a toll on me probably after the first mile. My quads are aching and I’m sweating profusely and I’m breathing heavy at this point. I’m still getting into shape, so the hike’s moderate difficulty is taking its toll. I did draw motivation from the hikers around me, including one man in his 40s who was thin as a rail and who ran up and down the trail twice during my single trip up and down.
I’m a very polite hiker, quick to yield right of way to other groups or hikers. But I also grow very frustrated by rude hikers, or people on their phones, or people who clearly have no respect for the wilderness hiking in work or club clothes. Eventually I reach the top and man, what a view. And, holy crap there are like 75 people up there relaxing on the rocky top. They picnic, talk, feed the squirrels and chipmunks and of course take lots and lots of photos.
I’m exploring the peak and as I snap some photos near one of the ledges I look down and suddenly see a guy climbing up from one of the lower ledges. He apparently had dropped down to do some simple exploring and then climbed up without any ropes or gear. “Show off” I say to him as he climbs up next to me.
I also took this quick video:
After 20 minutes on the peak I load up and head back down. Descending the mountain is actually one of the hardest parts of the hike for me, mainly because of the added impact on my knees and the exhaustion of my quads. I have to take it slow and go easy or else I run the risk of crashing, losing my footing, or straining my knees too much.
This hike, with all the people around me, actually also carried with it an interesting experience. I fielded dozens of questions about my Vibrams. Usually it was only in passing as they came towards me and asked “Are those comfortable?” Eventually I got the answer right, “You’re barefoot basically, if that’s comfortable for you…” Also entertaining were the people who whispered about my shoes as they went past. I also had a few extended conversations explaining that while yes there can be discomfort of walking on rocks but I wear them for balance and feeling the ground under me.
The hike was great, it’s a well known trail and having reached the peak makes me that I want to climb more mountain peaks. I’ve begun toying with the big dream of climbing Mt. Rainier here in Washington but that is a good ways further off.
Now to figure out my next hike.