The path less traveled leads to the top of beautiful Cedar Butte

July 26, 2011

By Christopher Huber

A sign directs hikers to hang a right and up the hill from the Saddle Junction along the Cedar Butte Trail. Photos by Christopher Huber

If it weren’t for a few persistent hikers or devoted volunteer stewards, the Cedar Butte trail might not get any traffic.

Considered an unofficial trail by the Washington Trails Association, the relatively well-worn path gets just enough use and has just enough signage to provide hikers a clear way to the top. But it’s not nearly as popular as hikes across the Snoqualmie Valley, like Little Si, Rattlesnake Ledge and others, so someone walking the trail in the middle of a weekday might have the place all to themselves.

One seeking to traverse the Cedar River watershed via the Cedar Butte Trail will have to first walk about a mile up the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, a well-kept, recently re-opened walking and biking trail that connects Olallie and Iron Horse state parks with the recently re-opened Snoqualmie Train Tunnel 21 miles east at Hyak.

This trail is family-friendly and makes for a quiet half-day family outing for anyone visiting Rattlesnake Lake.

The Cedar Butte Trail itself stems from the larger, gravel John Wayne trail. From the parking lot, walk past the bathrooms, hang a right, following signage to the John Wayne trail. Hang a left up the gravel access path and at the main trail, take another left, at the Iron Horse State Park sign that lists mileage to other destinations.

You’ll pass the Cedar Falls sign on your left and stroll down the trail for about 3/4 mile past foxglove, ferns and tall salmonberry bushes. After crossing the bridge over Boxley Creek, the Cedar Butte Trail comes up on the right. About 400 feet past the bridge, look right for the small sign on the tree.

If you go

  • Roundtrip: 3 miles (Cedar Butte Trail only)
  • Highest point: 1,880 feet
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Maps and guidebooks: Green Trails Rattlesnake Mountain/Upper Snoqualmie Valley No. 2055; Day Hiking: Snoqualmie Pass (Nelson and Bauer – Mountaineers Books).

Source: Washington Trails Association, Mountaineers Books

Getting there

From Issaquah, drive east on Interstate-90 to Exit 32 (436th Avenue Southeast). From the exit, turn right onto 436th Avenue Southeast (Cedar Falls Road Southeast) and drive about three miles until you reach the Rattlesnake Lake parking area. Continue through until you reach the Iron Horse State Park parking area and John Wayne Pioneer Trail on the left.

The narrow trail starts moderately steep and pushes through intensely thick underbrush and dense, lush second-growth forest. Although wildlife encounters are relatively rare, hikers should tie bells to their shoes or pack a whistle or pepper spray, just in case.

After about a half-mile, the trail flattens out and the pristine forest opens up, offering a pleasant setting for traversing the hillside. Steller’s jays curiously hop along the path and various birds call through the moist forest.

Stay right at the Y in the trail and soon you’ll approach the Boxley Blowout Overlook. The trail gently meanders past sprawling vine maples and evergreen trees that create an almost impenetrable canopy. If it rains, you might not get that wet.

At the Saddle Junction sign, veer to the right — not a full right — to continue on to the steep switchbacks that will take you to the summit.

At a brisk pace, the switchbacks will get you to the top in 15 to 20 minutes.

The Cedar Butte summit is not as spectacular as some of the treks across the Upper Snoqualmie Valley, or the nearby Rattlesnake Ledge, but it offers a tree-framed view of Mount Si, Mount Teneriffe and Mailbox Peak. The secluded summit is a small clearing in the trees where someone placed a log bench. Check out the “Triangulation Station” marker the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey embedded in the rock in 1937.

Christopher Huber: 392-6434, ext. 242, or chuber@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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