Coal Creek Trail, Cougar Mountain, Issaquah Alps

4 September 2015

Coal Creek Trail, Bellevue Trail System

7 miles, 550 ft. climb to 600 ft. max elevation

My first hike of the fall with my Little Hiking Buddy was accompanied by the seasonally cold and damp weather. Never fear, we had our waterproof boots and rain jackets on!  In fact, she got to test out her new The North Face Linnet Reversible Wind Jacket, which she absolutely adores. Since this was our inaugural hike of the season (after a pretty hot and dry summer), I thought it was best for us to do an easier hike filled with historical and natural points of interest to keep LHB engaged (in case I ran out of snacks!). Coal Creek Trail is an old railroad route eponymous to the main industry that once drove this Southeastern corner of Lake Washington: coal mining. This fun trail was complete with an old mining shaft, a vintage train turntable and cogwheels, as well as the natural wonders of Coal Creek itself and several waterfalls.

We started our hike at the Cindermine Trailhead. Apparently, we were the only ones who thought it was a good idea to begin somewhere other than the true start/end point of the trail. Oh well! Our journey began with a mildly steep downhill to the main trail. From there, we headed towards the Red Town Trailhead, which was the interesting end of the trail and the nearer end of our start.  LHB quickly found her central point of focus for the entire hike: slugs, and lots of them.  We decided to see how many we could count along the trail. She loved noting the variation among the different types of slugs, describing them by color, size and length of slime. We even found some on mossy trees, far up from the moist ground. All in all, we ended up finding 22 slugs, two centipedes, one snail, one bluebird and numerous other chirping species.

As we moved along, we immediately stumbled onto the North Fork Waterfall.  The forest here was wet and lush, making the waterfall still a spectacle to behold for a little child. Just after that stop, LHB and I found one of the old coal mine shafts, which led to great history questions about what, why, how and who. Her curiosity was piqued. I learned a lot myself from the signage posted nearby. Unfortunately, this point quickly led us to the end of the trail, making us backtrack to our start.  I was amazed by how she remembered which slugs we had already counted and what she had already encountered on our way in.

After traipsing through the forest beneath old growth trees for another few miles, we were led past the Cindermine access and into an open field of wild flowers remaining from the summer and loads of ripening blackberries. Knowing this is the time of year that our local black bears were foraging as much as possible to gain the needed weight for hibernation, I made sure we quickly passed through the thick, overgrown blackberry bushes. From there, we reentered the forest and followed the trail as it descended steeply through rugged turns filled with rocks and roots. We climbed up a narrow ledge and crossed a few more bridges before we decided to stop at one for our lunch break. LHB enjoyed the sights and sounds of the creek running past her feet beneath the wooden planks. When she wondered if there were any fish or frogs down below in the rocky bed, I suggested we turn back and head to the creek to find out.

So, back we went with many a chance to play in the creek. We followed a boot path to get down to the shallow waters of the rocky bed. With a pretend rod forged from a fallen branch, she went fishing like her daddy would in the rivers out east. As we moved further on, we came across a section of the creek filled with larger boulders, whose wide, flat surfaces provided a great canvas on which she “water” painted images of bugs. There were just so many things to do and discover that it was hard to move ourselves back onto the trail. Like a true water baby, LHB’s creativity and liveliness flourished while we played at the creek.

After much play, we headed back on the trail, but decided to take the Primrose Trail on our return. Luckily, this newly re-opened section of the trail closely hugged Coal Creek, giving LHB ample opportunities to play in the water. What a gorgeous side trail this was, with an up-close view of Sandstone Falls, more bootpaths into shallow creekbeds, a newly-built wooden bridge, and narrow ridges taking us up to the main trail. She declared herself a bonafide “hiking girl” at this juncture.

I don’t think she wanted our adventure to end, and neither did I. Unfortunately, we were out of time (and low on snacks!) for the day. I promised her we would return later in the season to count more slugs and create more paintings. Although we ambled along the Primrose Trail a few minutes longer, we quickly reconnected with the main trail and headed up to our starting point. The slugs were no longer in plain sight, but her explorer’s spirit was quite apparent.  What a perfect beginning to my favorite hiking season…

WTA: Coal Creek Trail

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