Experience the journey, not the destination on May Valley trail to Central Peak hike

August 7, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

Out-of-place among the trees, this stone fireplace  is all that remains of the Bullitt family homestead. By Lillian Tucker

If it’s a few hours of fresh air free of people and noise pollution you want, but you aren’t willing to chug up the Interstate 90 corridor, then the May Valley Loop could be just the ticket.

“It’s really beautiful. I like that it’s not a crowded hike,” Debbie Simmons said.

She lives nearby in High Valley and often walks her Bernese mountain dog Rogue around the trail system of Squak Mountain, one of the lesser-visited triplets better known as the Issaquah Alps. “Rogue likes that it’s shaded most of the way.”

It doesn’t take long to reach the shade, where even on a hot day in mid-July the air along the trail is cool under the high-reaching big leaf maples. After parking at the Squak Mountain State Park entrance off Southeast May Valley Road, follow the only trailhead, which has a sign for Squak Mountain Trail.

After a short walk through some trees, a dirt road dissects the path. Taking a right, walk up the hill and along the road for about 10 minutes. After passing a yellow gate, a bend in the road reveals a trail entrance on the left bearing a sign for the May Valley Loop. After following the path for one-tenth of a mile, take the right fork for Central Peak.

The 10 minutes of panting up the dry, dirt road are worth it. As you meander along the vast space beneath the canopy it feels like you’re walking through an illustration of the Jurassic period.

Ferns hover like fog over the forest floor and moss drapes the moisture-rich bark of the maples. Instead of plated stegosaurs crossing the path, a centipede shuffles along. Above, the sounds of bird tweets and whistles come from all directions. The only danger appears to be the stinging nettles that occasionally pop up on the side of the path.

If you go

May Valley trail to Central Peak

  • Roundtrip: 6 miles
  • Guidebooks: “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Seattle,” by Andrew Weber and Bryce Stevens (Menasha Ridge Press)

Source: Washington Trails Association

The mile of relatively flat trail is disrupted only once, about halfway in, by a small tree that has fallen. While the occasional rock may keep strollers way, Simmons said she often sees families with small children making the easy trek. It’s also a good spot to bring out-of-town guests for a morning hike.

“I love seeing the moss and the water,” Doug Hacker, of Atlanta, said while visiting his cousin Simmons. “It’s nice and refreshing and rejuvenating.”

After the first mile, a footbridge crosses over a small creek. This is where Simmons suggests those with small children double back. Because the next leg of the journey is all uphill.

“That part is tough for kids to get to and the view isn’t that great,” Simmons said.

She’s right. The view, or lack thereof, does not justify the climb. But for those who enjoy a cardiac workout, the scenery on the way up helps make up for the anticlimactic destination.

To carry on, take the right fork immediately after the footbridge. Veering left leads to a private area reserved for High Valley Country Club members. Picking up altitude, the trail switchbacks for about a mile with the steepest sections requiring a bit of scrambling.

Getting there

From Issaquah, take state Route 900 toward Renton, which turns into Renton-Issaquah Road Southeast. Drive for nearly 4 miles and take a left onto Southeast May Valley Road, which you will follow for 2.5 miles before reaching the entrance to Squak Mountain State Park. The parking area, complete with restrooms, requires a Washington State Discover Pass. A day-use pass can be purchased at the site for $10 cash or check.

Once the trail levels out, it weaves through a landscape that looks different from the preceding scenery. With bare trees, surrounded by even more bare trees strewn across the ground like match sticks, it feels like you’re walking in silence through an old battlefield.

Leaving the devastation behind, standing among the trees, a stone fireplace and chimney is the only thing that remains of the Bullitt family homestead. It stands as a reminder that much of the last two hours is thanks to the Bullitt family, which donated 600 acres of land to be preserved as a natural area.

Nearby, Central Peak juxtaposes the relic of the past with the sterile Squak Mountain microwave tower and building that sit on top of the park’s highest point. After nearly 3 miles and about 1,500 feet of elevation gain, there is nothing to look at but some chain-link fence surrounding an energy facility.

Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson and everyone after him are right — life is a journey, not a destination.

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