Grand Ridge Trail via South Pond / Central Park Entrance, King County Parks & Recreation, Issaquah Alps
4 miles, 350 ft. climb to 1050 ft. maximum elevation
Just in case you were wondering if hiking ever gets old for me – it never does! However, as a busy mom of two incredibly active girls, I tend to have little time for myself during the week. Even with the many number of hiking trails just a short drive from my home, the capacity for me to get out to, up, down and back from a trail can be stressfully daunting if I’m not organized or mindful of my time. There have been days when it just seemed easier during those pre-caffeine, bleary-eyed moments for me to choose not to get outside. But, and a great big BUT, then I end up fully regretting my choice throughout the day and next. My restlessly introverted soul needs the nourishment of solitude and the physical energy of activity the trail can offer. Considering I live within walking distance from Grand Ridge Trail, a well-maintained multi-use trail in our neighborhood, I now sometimes swap out my two boots for the two wheels of my mountain bike when I need a quick mental and physical recharge.
After spending most of 2013-2014 relearning how to ride a bicycle (this is not an exaggeration!) and then building up endurance on paved trails, I garnered enough courage and strength this spring to complete several long distance rides throughout greater Seattle. As of this writing, I have ridden nearly 1200 miles since the beginning of 2015, with my greatest one-day effort being over 60 miles round-trip on the Centennial Trail in Snohomish County. I have even biked through parts of the famous John Wayne Pioneer Trail, from North Bend to Easton, as well as from Issaquah all the way to Seattle and back. These bike rides have all been solo and have involved riding on railroad grade trails for hours on end through mountainous forests and bucolic countryside. Once I got the hang of being on two wheels, I realized I could do more than just go back and forth. I could go up, down and sideways on dirt trails with my Diamondback Lux!
Long story short, I now hop on my mountain bike at least once a week for a short 4 mile ride on Grand Ridge Trail. My first attempt ever on any kind of mountain biking trail was at the end of June 2015 (yes, this year!). It took me over an hour, with many stops and starts, falls and crashes, as well as walks and pushes up the trail, to complete the round-trip on that initial ride. I’ve even come home many a time with shredded shins, bruised calves and a split lip since starting this fun, adrenaline-filled, yet wildly challenging discipline. But, I’ve also seen myself grow and learn something new with each ride, regardless of how it went. I didn’t mind riding the dry, dusty trails during the summer because – well, let’s be honest – the city girl in me wasn’t fully willing to get THAT dirty. Now, with the arrival of autumn here in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve continued to ride through the now mud-laden, leaf-covered paths of Grand Ridge Trail, even pumping my way through deep puddles in the pouring rain. I now prefer the stickiness of the gooey trail as it prevents me from slipping out and allows me to control my ride more smoothly. (SHH!!) I’ve also learned to take every obstacle in stride on these rides, and in life, because I will crash terribly if I hit my brakes too hard. It just takes a little bit of anticipation, planning and trust in myself to ride out the ups and downs. Applying these lessons, as well as the muscle strength I’ve acquired from boot-time up steep trails, I can now complete my ride in less than 40 minutes without any crashes or walk ups with my bike.
While there are various access points to Grand Ridge Trail, my start location is at the South Pond Trailhead just past Issaquah’s Central Park. I often take a few seconds during each ride to enjoy the splendid views of the South Cascades in the distance, as well as the stillness of the storm pond itself, before heading into the forest.
This technically easy, yet physically moderate trail starts off with a sloping grade up the ridge. At the first junction, the right trail heads down a long, steep path that eventually connects to the Issaquah-Preston Trail – this is where I first learned I shouldn’t brake so hard on a rocky downhill, but only after splitting my lip during a face-first crash. The trail to the left heads up towards Harrison Drive (aka my midpoint) through gradient inclines along the ridge over a rocky culvert crossing, winding around thick tree roots and continuing up past natural wildlife habitat for chipmunks, owls, cougars and bears. After a few switchbacks through minor uphill pushes, the trail finally begins to level off as it reaches a wooden bridge. From there, it’s just another few hundred feet of trail before intersecting Harrison Drive, whereupon one can either ride down the road itself to make a return loop or turnaround for the fun descent back. I love going downhill on the trail, since it’s the reward after an honest effort to the top.