Given its differing geologic origins, Rattlesnake Mountain is not technically part of the Cascade Range, although it is bounded on the north and east by several prominent Cascade peaks, but rather forms the easternmost elevation of highlands known as the Issaquah Alps, a one-time sea island that fused with the mainland as the earth’s plates shifted. Rattlesnake Mountain is traversed by an 11.00-mile/17.70-km trail along its spine, which can be accessed from either end. (Don’t worry, the name is a misnomer – there are no rattlesnakes on the west side of the Cascades.) Because the mountain is a managed forest subject to routine logging operations, its forest is a patchwork of clear-cuts, densely overgrown thickets, and stands of more mature, balanced woodland. Wildflowers flourish in the new-found sunlight of the open, recently logged areas on the west end of the mountain. Farther east, the dense forest opens to increasingly sweeping northward views at Stan’s Overlook, Grand Prospect, and the East Peak. Rattlesnake Ledge, which is actually a series of three pinnacles of rock jutting from the eastern end of the mountain, is the highlight of the trail and, on a clear day, affords magnificent views down the five arms of valleys that intersect or terminate at its base. Because they are only an easy 1.90 miles/3.00 km from the eastern end of the trail, the ledges are often thronged with hikers throughout the day. Try arriving early in the day to enjoy the views without the distracting crowds, especially those intent on teetering on the ledges’ brinks. (That said, on a partly cloudy to sunny day, the light is better for photographs in the afternoon when the westering sun is behind the ledges).
Because most hikers probably prefer not to hike the entire trail from end to end unless transport awaits at the opposite end, given its 22.00-mile/35.40-km round-trip distance, this trail’s profile is divided into two more manageable hikes, each just under 10.00 miles/16.00 km round-trip, one beginning at the east end’s Rattlesnake Lake and attaining the ledges and the East Peak, and the other beginning at the west end’s Snoqualmie Point Park and reaching Stan’s Overlook and Grand Prospect. For those wishing to go further in either direction, the East Peak and Grand Prospect are separated by approximately 1.10 miles/1.80 km of dense forest.
Given the mountain’s proximity to Puget Sound and relatively low elevation, it is generally hikeable year round. However, it can receive significant snowfall in winter, which, even if not present at the trailhead, accumulates and deepens quickly as the trail climbs, often trodden to ice by the ledges’ many visitors. Be sure to check recent trip reports before setting forth and take appropriate footwear.
EASTERN ROUTE — RATTLESNAKE LAKE TO RATTLESNAKE LEDGE AND THE EAST PEAK
From the trailhead at the edge of Rattlesnake Lake, the ledges loom directly above. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, December 30, 2016.
The trail wends through a pleasant woodland of fir and hemlock. Here and there, oddly placed boulders dot the forest floor, fenced by the columns of later-sprung trees. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 26, 2014.
In early spring, red-flowering currants (Ribes sanguineum) – often more red in bud than in bloom – brighten the forest middlestory. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 26, 2014.
From Rattlesnake Ledge, the northwestward view encompasses the second and third ledges, the Snoqualmie River Valley, and Mount Si. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 26, 2014.
Mount Si and Mount Teneriffe rise to the north across the cloud-dappled Snoqualmie River Valley from Rattlesnake Ledge. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 26, 2014.
Rattlesnake Ledge looks northeast down the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley, flanked at its mouth by Mount Teneriffe and Mailbox Peak. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 26, 2014.
Clouds stream from atop Mount Washington, which anchors the eastern view from the ledges. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, December 30, 2016.
The Upper Cedar River Watershed stretches southeast of Rattlesnake Ledge. Cradled in the Cedar River Valley lie Chester Morse Lake and Masonry Pool, formed by dams that inundated the original Cedar Lake to provide water for Seattle, Washington. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, December 30, 2016.
Glancing off of Rattlesnake Mountain, the Cedar River Valley continues southward beyond sight. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 26, 2014.
A couple of short jaunts upward lead to the second and third ledges, where the views are similarly spectacular. Here, the third ledge peers down upon the first two, as well as upon Rattlesnake Lake and the trailhead on its far shore. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 26, 2014.
The trail continues upward through unthinned new forest, where weaker trees and branches that cannot survive the deep shade cast by their larger neighbors die, littering the barren floor where little else yet grows. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 26, 2014.
The East Peak offers a view of Mount Si, Mount Teneriffe, and the mouth of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 26, 2014.
WESTERN ROUTE — SNOQUALMIE POINT TO STAN’S OVERLOOK AND GRAND PROSPECT
Groves of red alder (Alnus rubra) abound at lower elevations on the western end of Rattlesnake Mountain. The trees’ slender trunks and flecked, white bark is reminiscent of that of their cousins, the birch and aspen, and add interest to the wayside even when leaves are absent. The tree is called the “red” alder because wounds to its bark quickly redden as the tissues oxidize, similarly to an apple when sliced. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 05, 2014.
Pendulous flower clusters grace the Indian plum, or, osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis a.k.a. Osmaronia cerasiformis). Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 05, 2014.
Coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus) cheers the early spring trailside with perfectly formed bridal bouquets in miniature. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, March 26, 2016.
After departing the alder groves, the trail traverses recent clear-cuts, now home to seedlings and a few scraggly survivors. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 05, 2014.
A few wildflowers appear prolifically in the abundant sunlight where forest has recently been cleared. Clockwise from the top left, Pacific trilliums (Trillium ovatum) emulate their distant Easter lily cousins; salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis) brighten the forest’s edge with demurely downcast blooms; red-flowering currants (Ribes sanguineum) loft sprays of neon (and clearly un-red) blooms about the trailside; and tiny, unassuming evergreen violets (Viola sempervirens) peer upward from the forest floor. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 26, 2014 and March 26, 2016.
In contrast to the clear-cuts, gloomy thickets of seedlings enclose the trail where new forest has taken hold. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 05, 2014.
At approximately 2.50 miles/4.00 km from the Snoqualmie Point trailhead, a short side trail leads to Stan’s Overlook, with a sweeping, albeit treetop-fringed northwest view of the Snoqualmie River Valley. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, July 22, 2017.
Not far from Stan’s Overlook, the trail leaves the clear-cuts behind and reenters more pleasant woodland, where vine maples (Acer circinatum) arch throughout the forest columns seeking pools of sunlight. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, July 22, 2017.
Fungi abound on the plentiful dead wood produced by the rejuvenating forest, including many similar but unrelated species of jelly fungi, named for their gelatinous texture. On the left, a unique jelly fungus imaginatively named poor man’s gumdrops (Guepiniopsis alpina) studs a fallen branch. Other orange and yellow jelly fungi, as on the right, are generally known as witches butter. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, March 26, 2016.
Large, somewhat grotesque wood conks (left) jut from a trailside tree stump, “sweating” water droplets along their undersides by a metabolic process called guttation. By contrast, a colony of more delicate wood conks (right) nestles among lush mosses lining another wayside snag. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, April 05, 2014. and March 26, 2016.
Deceptively mild-mannered in comparison to others of their raucous kindred, gray jays (Perisoreus canadensis) wait at the mountain’s overlooks to snatch snacks from unwary visitors. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, March 26, 2016.
Approximately 4.90 miles/7.90 km from the Snoqualmie Point trailhead, Grand Prospect rewards with a view of the Snoqualmie River Valley, Mount Si, Mount Teneriffe, and the North Cascades beyond. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, July 22, 2017.
Logging operations in 2016 have marred the landscape between Grand Prospect and the East Peak. For most of that distance, the trail has been rerouted onto a gravel logging road through the resulting clear-cut. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, July 22, 2017.
However unfortunate, the logging operations on Rattlesnake Mountain have opened expansive southward views that, on a clear day, reach as far as Mt. Rainier. Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, July 22, 2017.