Elevation Gain: Plateau Loop-- 300’, West Tiger-- 2000’
Hike Difficulty: Plateau Loop--Easy, West Tiger-- Moderate
Map: Green Trails Tiger Mountain Map 204S
The Tradition Plateau is one of the most popular hiking areas near Seattle. On any given day, rain or shine, a line of cars parked near the trailhead can be seen from I-90, a virtual advertisement for the natural wonders awaiting on the plateau. Fortunately, reasonably good bus service to Issaquah and High Point allow non-drivers to join in the hiking fun, too.
A dense network of easy, level trails covers the plateau and its rich assortment of lakes, streams, and forests. If you’re up for some real exercise, you can follow the popular trail up to West Tiger Mountain, whose 2500’ summit offers a sweeping vista encompassing the entire Puget Sound region. This is the premier big mountain hike close to Seattle. Of course, if you don’t like the crowds, you can try hiking some other of Tiger Mountains 80-odd miles of trails, most of which see little use.
If you do venture out into the remoter parts of Tiger Mountain, be sure to take a good map and well-equipped pack; this is a real wilderness, despite its proximity to the Seattle megapolis.
There, transfer to the Metro 208 minibus (former 209), departing every hour. The Metro 208 bus goes through downtown Issaquah, then onto I-90 heading east. Get off at the High Point stop, on the first freeway interchange beyond Issaquah.
There is no Metro 208 service on Sunday.
Next to the gate, find and follow a new trail that takes you through the woods a half mile to the Tradition Lake trailhead parking lot. This well- equipped trailhead features a reader board with posted maps, high-tech composting toilets, and picnic shelters.
Wander #1: Plateau Loop, 4 miles
If you want an easy hike, just wander about on the plateau. A nice loop trip is described as follows, but feel free to diverge from the route at any time.
The Tradition Trail begins just west of the reader board and parking lot, elevation 520’. Follow the trail into dense woods. A junction is reached in a few steps; go right on the Round-The -Lake trail, gravel-surfaced to be wheelchair accessible. The trail winds through woods and crosses creeks feeding nearby Tradition Lake. Stay on the gravel trail as it diverges away from the Round-The -Lake trail at the next junction [0.4 miles, 520’]. Another junction is reached shortly beyond [0.5 miles, 540’], where the gravel trail curves east and becomes the eastbound Bus Trail; go right onto a dirt trail, which is the western extension of the Bus Trail. If you see the wreckage of the former Greyhound Scenicruiser, you’ve missed the turn by a few steps.
The Bus Trail heads west through a thick coniferous forest, passes a grassy strip of a gas line right of way, then ends at a junction with the Bonneville Trail, located underneath power lines [1.1 miles, 500’]. Turn left (south) onto the Bonneville Trail. Surrounded by a wide clearing, this trail feels pleasantly open and sunny; there’s even a bit of view up toward Tiger Mountain. Eventually, the Bonneville trail Turns west and leaves the power line right-of-way, passing a poorly signed junction with the Section Line Trail. Soon after crossing a small creek and often some mucky mud holes, the trail reaches a signed junction with the Adventure Trail on the right [1.6 miles,500’].
The Bonneville Trail at this point becomes the High School trail, an important connecting trail to downtown Issaquah.
For the loop hike, go right onto the Adventure Trail, which makes a brief climb to a saddle(660’), then descends into a quiet, deeply wooded little valley. It’s an extremely peaceful and pretty area. At length the Adventure trail breaks out of the forest into another power line clearing [2.4 miles,440’], passing an unsigned trail branching right (the Wetlands Trail). Underneath the power lines, the Puget Power trail branches right and left; continue straight ahead into the forest beyond, then turn right onto the signed Big Tree Trail.
The Big Tree trail passes a lot of sizable trees, but you won’t mistake the Big Tree , a simply huge douglas fir, for anything else. Farther along, the trail crosses the clearing of a gas line right-of-way [2.9 miles, 500’], then reaches a junction with the Swamp Trail. Go right (E) here.
The Swamp Trail passes through forest and marsh, crossing the latter on long boardwalks. After a final climb, the trail arrives at the Tradition Plateau trailhead parking lot and the end of the loop [3.6 miles, 520’].
Wander #2: West Tiger III Mountain, 5 miles
With 2000 feet of elevation gain, this hike requires a fair amount of stamina, but the stunning vista awaiting you on top of the bald, windswept summit of West Tiger III amply rewards your effort. In winter, snow frequently covers the mountain, providing a wintery alpine beauty for those ready for icy hiking conditions. Be warned that if the view on top of Tiger Mountain doesn’t overwhelm you, the crowds might; this is probably the most popular hike in King County. Weekdays are, of course, much more peaceful.
The West Tiger hike starts on the same trail as used by the previously described Plateau Loop. Stay on the main trail, ignoring the many side trails branching off. Soon the trail reaches the base of the mountain slope, and starts climbing at a good clip. The trail makes one switchback, then continues to climbs even more steeply in thick, viewless forest. Just past a creek crossing, the trail reaches a junction with the Talus Cave trail [1.0 miles, 1140’]; go left to continue to Tiger Mountain.
The trail climbs to a ridge top (1320’), where it levels out and briefly merges with the infamous Cable Line trail, a fall-line rut that only hard-core fitness junkies enjoy. Beyond the cable line, the climb resumes, the trail climbing the hillside in several more switchbacks. At last, the grade relents as the trail crests a wooded ridgetop, and soon reaches a junction with the West Tiger Railroad Grade trail [2.0 miles, 2000’].
The climb resumes with a vengeance beyond the junction, with the trail gaining altitude in many short switchbacks. After crossing the Cable Line rut once again, the trail reaches the crest of a ridge where openings provide spectacular views east toward the Cascades. Now you realize just how much elevation you’ve gained. High up on the ridge,groves of wind-twisted firs and rocky balds lend an alpine touch to the scenery. At last, the grade eases off and the trail attains the treeless summit of West Tiger [2.7 miles, 2500’].
Sit back, break out the well-earned peanut butter sandwiches, and enjoy the view (if the wind is not too cold or ferocious, all too often the case). When ready, return the way you came.
Hiking to Tiger Mountain from downtown Issaquah
If you want to do more hiking and less bus riding, you can skip the ride on the Metro 208 and walk up to Tiger Mountain from Issaquah. It's more of a hike, but you don't have to wait for the infrequent 208 bus. Instead, ride Sound Transit 554 beyond the Issaquah Transit Center to downtown Issaquah at E Sunset Way and Front Street. From there you have two options to reach the Tradition Plateau trails. Walk east on Sunset Way almost to I-90, where you will find a signed trailhead for the Tradition Plateau. The other option is to hike the paved Rainier Trail starting at Sunset Way and First Avenue. This trail, which follows an old railroute route, leads south then east. After crossing 2nd Ave, it curves behind the high school athletic field, where you will find the start of the High School Trail, an old road bed that leads up to the Tradition Plateau and its extensive trail network.
A better option is to walk to downtown Issaquah where bus service is more frequent. You can catch the Metro 200 shuttle which will take you to Issaquah Transit Center. The Sound Transit 554 bus also heads right through downtown, and you can ride directly to Seattle on it.
Two trails lead off the Tradition Plateau down to Issaquah: the Puget Power Trail and the Bonneville Trail (which becomes the High School trail past the Adventure Trail junction). Refer to the recommended Green Trail map for the trail connections to Issaquah.