This hidden gem of a hike winds through enchanting forests, around serene lakes, and up a mini mountain with an impressive view. What makes it fascinating are the historic floods that shaped this area. Some wiped out whole towns, and others filled the Snoqualmie Valley with water hundreds of feet deep! You can see it all in 2-3 hours.
To get to the trail head, take exit 32 off of I-90 and turn south (right if coming from Seattle) on 436th Ave. SE. Drive up the curvy road for about 2.5 miles Until you see a big, teal, “Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area” sign on the right near a gravel pullout. Park on the left side of the road. If you reach the big Rattlesnake Lake parking lot, you’ve gone about 300 yards too far (that’s also were you will find the nearest porta potty bathrooms).
Once you’re out of the car, walk past the vehicle gate and cement barriers, and follow the old, grass-covered road. Very quickly you will see a foot path on the left. Follow the foot path a short distance until it crosses over a chortling stream. This is where the enchantment begins.
Ten feet beyond the stream on the right are two paths. Have your kids pick which one to follow (don’t worry, they reconnect a short distance ahead). The trail weaves through a wonderous forest filled with moss covered branches that form tunnels over the trail.
Soon the trail opens on Christmas Lake. This lake was formed by a flash flood 100 years ago on the night before Christmas Eve (more on that later). The trail skirts left around the lake. Once the view opens, point out the obvious, round-top mountain just beyond the lake and tell the kids that it is this hike’s destination. Their reactions may surprise you.
Follow the trail around the lake. On the other side, look back across for views of Rattlesnake Ledge, the tall rocky mountain seen above the trees. As the trail leads up and away from the lake, tell the kids to look out on the left for a mysterious old stump. It’s fun to climb around inside of it.
The trail passes a beautiful swamp and climbs a small hill. Stay to the right at the trail intersections. Eventually, you will come out on a wide gravel bike path, The Iron Horse Trail. Turn right towards the bridge over Boxley Creek. This was the site of the infamous Boxley Burst flood. Late at night on December 23, 1918, a wall of water as wide as the creek valley came suddenly rushing down. It washed away the logging town of Edgewick in an instant. Everyone was saved by the mill night watchman who ran from door to door warning everyone minutes before the water hit!
A few hundred yards beyond the bridge, look for a trail on the right and sign nailed to a tree that reads, “Cedar Butte.” Follow it up the hill. You will come to a place where the trail splits. Ask the kids to pick, left for short and steep, or right for long and easy. Both trails meet in a clearing. Look for a sign nailed to a tree the reads, “Saddle Junction.” Follow the arrow that points to the summit.
After a few switch backs you will come to a cliff edge where you can see Rattlesnake Ledge again and Rattlesnake Lake below. Tell your kids that there used to be a town called Moncton where the lake is today. In 1915, that town was slowly submerged by rising water. Ask them what they think might have caused two of the local towns here to be destroyed by water. Hint: the reservoir that supplies most of Seattle’s water today is nearby and there were problems building it one-hundred years ago.
A short way up, you will reach the tree-clad summit. Look through the branches down to the wide spread of the Snoqualmie Valley below. During the Ice Age, 17,000 years ago, the whole valley to the left was filled with a giant glacier that had pushed down from Canada. Ask your kids to imagine an ice field almost as tall as Mt. Si (at the 10 o’clock position from where you are). As the ice melted, the Snoqualmie Valley became a lake hundreds of feet deep. It often drained through the valley between Rattlesnake Ridge and Cedar Butte.
The metal geologic marker is the turnaround point. Before you leave, see if your kids can spot the snicker-worthy spelling error on the marker.
If you want to extend the adventure and learn more about the reservoir, visit the Cedar River Watershed Education Center. It’s about a half mile past the Rattlesnake Lake parking area. Just follow the signs. It’s free and there are great interactive displays there that kids love. Pro Tip: they have really nice bathrooms there.
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