City of Newcastle Trails
Surprising pockets of green amidst the suburban sprawl
Hike Length: Lake Boren Loop 4 miles
Elevation Gain: 400 feet
Hike Difficulty: Easy
Maps: Green Trails "Cougar Mountain" #203S, or IATC Cougar Mountain. The City of Newcastle has a good trail map that you can download from their website (I've attached a version to this page, see below).
Hikers and horses have created an extensive network of trails around the Newcastle area in past years. The bad news is that rapid suburbanization is destroying much of the old network; the good news is that the Newcastle city government is beginning to take an interest in protecting and enhancing the remaining trails. Newcastle is easy to reach via Metro 240, and there are enough good things to see to fill out a whole day. May Creek Canyon, protected by a King County park, is particularly beautiful. A future trail network will connect Newcastle with the vast Cougar Mountain Park; sturdy hikers can do this now using a rugged existing path.
Lake Boren Park, City of Newcastle
From downtown Seattle, ride Sound Transit 554 to Eastgate Park and Ride. Transfer to the southbound Metro 240 bus. The Metro 240 travels south out of Bellevue, then makes a slow, rambling traverse through suburban Newcastle. Get off at 129th Ave SE and Newcastle Way, near Newcastle’s small low-rise downtown business district which is clustered around the intersection of Coal Creek Parkway and Newcastle Way.
Start by heading south on 129th Ave SE., which offers pleasant walking and little traffic. In a short half mile, just before the road passes the historic Newcastle Cemetery (no public access) go right (west) onto the Waterline Trail. The trail climbs steeply up a wooded ravine, then levels out in a narrow green belt, where the trail crosses a gas line and power line right-of -way. Ignore two side trails that head toward street ends. Eventually the trail reaches a second, larger power line right- of-way, where the official Cross Town Trail goes right (north). To do the recommended loop, go left (south) along a trail following the power lines. Shortly, the trail rounds a fence encroaching onto the right-of-way, and reaches 80th St. Cross the street and continue heading south on the gated power line service road.
The service road climbs over a hill with good views of Mount Rainier, then starts a sustained descent into the valley of May Creek. In a long half mile, just beyond the point where the road starts dropping steeply downhill, go right off the power line right-of-way onto an unmarked but prominent trail, which plunges down the hillside to 89th Place. Go right onto the road, which here makes a sharp curve in the valley of Sylvan Creek and heads south. After a short distance, the road curves west, away from the power lines. Leave the main road here and walk on a paved driveway that ends at a black steel gate. Continue walking on the gravel road beyond the gate. Signposts mark the the start of the May Creek Trail. Stay right.
The May Creek Trail offers fine scenery as it traverses the lushly forested slopes of the canyon on an old railroad grade. In this tranquil setting, the loudest sound is the soft rush of the creek flowing in the valley far below. The trail follows a historic railroad grade, the route that trains used to carry coal from the Cougar Mountain mines to Seattle. The railroad was completed in 1878 and soon provided coal for a booming Seattle as well as the entire west coast of the United States. For many years coal was Seattle’s largest industry, and the population of Newcastle rivaled that of Seattle.
A half mile from the power lines, the trail leaves the railroad grade, climbs steps, and ends on suburban streets. The former railroad crossed May Creek on a huge trestle bridge at this point. Just before the steps, look for a steep, unsigned trail plunging down the slope to May Creek, which can be a difficult wade much of the year. May Creek is the second largest natural tributary of Lake Washington, the first being the Sammamish River (the Cedar River was diverted into the lake and is not a natural tributary). This side trip is recommended for the adventurous only. On the other side of the creek, a trail system continues up the lovely canyon of Honeydew Creek almost to Sunset Avenue in Renton. Actually getting to Sunset is a real problem; unfortunately, there’s no good route. If you do make it to Sunset, you can catch the M 240 bus at Sunset and Union.
If you’re not attempting the Honey Creek side trip, return via the May Creek trail back to the power line right-of-way. The railroad grade trail continues up May Creek--look for a signpost directing you toward Lake Boren Park. The trail crosses Sylvan Creek and heads past a house with a horse barn. Follow the trail a pleasant half mile to the Waterline Trail, a wide grassy strip.
Go left (north) onto the Waterline Trail, and follow it as is crosses two paved streets and passes by the west edge of developed Lake Boren Park, featuring lawns, picnic shelters, and restrooms. Just north of the park, the Waterline Trail ends on 129th Ave, which you can follow back to the hike’s starting point and Metro 240 bus stop
Trails connecting Newcastle to Cougar Mountain
A continuous greenbelt extends from Coal Creek Parkway all the way to Marshalls Hill in Cougar Mountain Regional Park. There used to be a crude trail that traversed the greenbelt, starting on 136th Ave SE across the street from the Beit Tikvah synagogue, but that has faded away. Eventually, a good trail will be constructed on the greenbelt, providing a bus-friendly and scenic way for hikers to get to Cougar Mountain. Until that happens, the best way to get to Cougar Mountain, is to make the pleasant walk along 136th Ave SE, then woodsy 144 Place SE (historic Rouse Road) to the start of the Terrace Trail...see below.
Terrace Trail and Highlands Trails
A new trail, the Terrace Trail, provides a fine link from Newcastle to Cougar Mountain. Starting at the upper edge of "The Highlands" subdivision on 144th Place SE, this trail climbs a steep, forested hillside dotted with large, fern covered boulders. It's a lovely spot. The trail is located on a south facing slope that catches abundant light and warmth on sunny days, perfect for walking on clear winter days. Note the drought-loving madrona trees that take advantage of the warm micro-climate along the top of the ridge.
After a half mile ascent, the Terrace Trail reaches a junction with the future East Cross Town Trail, marked by a sturdy post. As noted, construction of the improved version of the trail has not started yet, although it appears that the local homeowners are maintaining the eastern part of the old Cross Town Trail . You can hike it for some distance without too much difficulty. For now, it's best to turn right and follow the Terrace Trail a short distance to another junction. Here, the Terrace Trail climbs a stairway to the housing subdivision above. The right-hand branch at the junction continues onward toward Cougar Mountain Park and its vast trail network.
The Highlands subdivision has its own trail system that is worth a visit. The main trail forms a lengthy loop around the subdivision. At the upper end of the loop trail, where it crosses a gated entrance drive to the subdivision, you are close to the start of the Terrace Trail- look on the hillside beyond a narrow paved road, 144 Place SE. Bus access is easy; there is a Metro 240 stop on Coal Creek Parkway, near the main entrance drive to The Highlands, SE 91st Street.
May Creek Trail extension to Coal Creek Parkway
Good news! The May Creek Trail is now complete all the way to Coal Creek Parkway. The new trail is a beauty as it traverses the lushly forest canyon of May Creek before coming to an end at Coal Creek Parkway near where it intersects May Valley Road. The Highlands trail system is easy to access from here.
Catch the northbound Metro 240 bus anywhere on Coal Creek Parkway, and ride it to Eastgate Park and Ride. To get to downtown Seattle ,transfer to the Sound Transit 554 bus.