Phantom Lake and Weona Park
Another Walk on Bellevue's Wild Side
Hike Length: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 400’
Hike Difficulty: easy
Map: Bellevue Park Guide (available at Lake Hills Ranger Station and Botanical Garden Gift Shop), Bellevue street map
The city of Bellevue has created a pleasant 2.5 mile paved walkway around Phantom Lake. One sees little of the namesake lake from the trail--perhaps they call it “Phantom Lake” because it is so hard to see among the line of homes ringing its shores. Actually, the high point of this loop hike is not the elusive lake, but beautiful Weona Park with its 90 acres of old-growth forest situated on a slope high above Lake Sammamish. Weona Park's name sounds like some indian word but actually it simply is a pun--"We own a park". At the encouragement of the residents of nearby "Weona Beach", Bellevue acquired the land to save it from development.
Creekside picnic area, Weona Park
From Downtown Seattle, ride the Sound Transit 554 bus to Eastgate Transit Center, a major facility with a huge parking garage. Walk to the Bellevue Community College Campus using a paved trail next to the King County Public Health center, just north of the bus stop.
For less walking, transfer to Metro 221 at Eastgate Transit Center. This bus will take you to the edge of Weona Park.
From Bellevue Community College, work your way east via roads, walking trails, and/or parking lots to 148th ave SE, by the main entrance to the college. The tall steeple of the Bellevue Mormon Temple makes a good landmark to head for. Cross at a light and continue east on 28th St, located just to the left of a fire station and the Mormon Temple complex. Shortly, the street ends near a wall of trees marking the edge of Robinswood Park.
At the street end begins a paved trail, an official Bellevue walking path, marked by distinctive blue placards mounted to wood posts. Walk east on the trail for a short half mile, cross 156th Ave SE, and head onto the Spirit Ridge Trail which begins on the far side of the avenue. This trail take a winding course through a privately-owned greenbelt, part of the office park built on the old Bellevue airfield. Trails fan out in the greenbelt park, which features pleasant walking amidst a mix of forest and meadow; follow any signs pointing to Phantom Lake. Along the way, the Spirit Ridge trail passes a pretty pond and climbs over a low forested ridge.
Eventually the trail comes out onto 24th St. (1.5 miles from hike’s start). Phantom Lake can be seen glinting to the north, but here houses block access. Go right (east) onto a wide sidewalk which is part of the Phantom Lake Loop Trail.
Though in reality just a glorified sidewalk, the Phantom Lake Loop Trail is actually quite nice to hike along. The adjacent road has light traffic and the City of Bellevue has poured a lot of money into landscaping along the trail. Walking east along the shady and peaceful trail, you soon pass a branch of the Spirit Ridge Trail heading south into forest. Later, the Phantom Lake trail tops a rise, giving a peak-a-boo look at Tiger Mountain. At length, SE 24th St, and the trail you’ve been following, makes a long curve to the north; somewhere along the way, the street transforms itself into 168th Ave. Ah, the mysteries of King County street names! At the end of the curve, look for and follow an unofficial but prominent trail heading right into the woods below, which is part of Weona Park.
After a short descent, the unofficial trail joins a wider official trail surfaced with shredded bark. This is the Weona Park’s South Loop Trail. Go right (south) and follow the twists and turns of the trail as it wanders through the huge unlogged douglas firs. Lake Sammamish is occasionally visible through the trees. The trail bends north and eventually arrives at a junction.
Unless you’re feeling energetic, avoid the lower trail, which drops to a dead end trailhead along West Lake Sammamish Boulevard. Instead, take the upper branch of the trail,which climbs steeply along the side of a steep-walled gully cut into the soft glacially deposited clays and gravel. A small creek cascades down the gully, a torrent during the rainy season but just a trickle in summer. This lovely spot is a scenic highlight of the hike; you’ll be tempted to rest awhile at conveniently placed benches. The creek forms the outlet of Phantom Lake, and is of recent origin (geologically speaking); the water comes from a drainage channel that farmers dug from Phantom Lake in an effort to lower its level and increase the size of their fields. The gully is the result of a century or so of erosion from the new creek.
The trail soon arrives at a four way junction near the creek and 168th Ave. The south branching spur is part of the South Loop trail that you were just hiking on; the west branch heads to 168th. To continue exploring Weona Park, head north, crossing the creek by a picnic table which would make a good lunch spot. Beyond here the trail rambles through more forest for a shy half mile before arriving at another junction. If you have time you can follow the right branch of the trail to its end at Lake Sammamish Boulevard; otherwise go left (west) and follow the trail as it leads you back to 168th Ave.
Once at 168th Ave, you’re back on the Phantom Lake Loop Trail. Go right and follow the trail as it curves west; 168th Ave becomes SE 14th St after the turn. This westbound stretch of the trail takes advantage of Lake Hills Park and the grounds of Phantom Lake Elementary School to get away from the vicinity of the street for a bit. After a pleasant half mile, you reach a major intersection where SE 16th meets 156th Ave. Total mileage from the start of the hike to this point is 3.5 miles.
The Phantom Lake Loop turns south here to follow 156th Ave. Before heading that way, be sure to explore the pretty grounds around the Bellevue Parks Ranger Station, just west of the intersection. It’s also worth following the gravel surfaced Lake to Lake trail through the Lake Hills Greenbelt to Larsen Lake. This greenbelt is a fine example of in-city wilderness.
Continuing on the Phantom Lake Loop, follow the trail as it heads south alongside 156th Ave, shortly reaching a park at the edge of Phantom Lake. Here’s your only chance to really see the elusive body of water; a side trail leads to a wooden pier on the lake shore. Phantom Lake is sizable in area but quite shallow, judging by the sea of lily pads occupying much of the lake’s surface. Beyond the park, the Phantom Lake Loop Trail climbs a short hill to the intersection of 156th and SE 24th St. In the spirit of loop hiking (where the goal is to avoid retracing your steps as much as possible) I suggest heading west on SE 24th, a quiet suburban street which takes you directly to Robinswood Park. Wander into the park, which features woodlands, lawns, the historic Robinswood House, and a pretty pond at the park’s center. From the pond you can head south onto forest trails which lead eventually to 28th St near the entrance to the Mormon Temple.
Retrace your steps to Eastgate Park and Ride, and ride Metro 554 back to Seattle
Ravine trail, Weona Park