Exploring Tiger Mountain's backcountry
A Strenuous Trek Over the top of Tiger Mountain
With its 13,000 acres and 80 miles of trails, Tiger Mountain offers the best close-to-home hiking in the Seattle area--and bus access is quite easy. This hike tours some of Tiger Mountain’s remote backcountry, taking you from the High Point trailhead, right over the top of West Tiger Mountain, and on down to Issaquah. With 3000 feet of elevation gain, you’ll get quite a workout and see a good sample of Tiger’s diverse terrain.
This hike requires advanced navigation skills. Tiger Mountain is a real wilderness, and getting lost could have serious consequences. Be sure to take all of the “Ten Essentials” when you venture here. Trail signage has gotten better over the years, but you never know when a sign will go missing. You will need a good map to sort out the complex trail network. Also, be prepared for snow up to a foot deep or more on the upper elevations during winter. This can make following the trail system even more difficult.
However, your navigation efforts will be amply rewarded; many of the trails visited on this hike offer more solitude than those in the overcrowded wilderness areas in the high Cascades.
Dieter Spring is in a remote location on Tiger Mountain
In downtown Seattle, catch the Sound Transit 554 bus and ride to the Issaquah Park and Ride.
There, transfer to the Metro 208 minibus, departing every two hours. Obviously, you will want to plan your connection with this bus carefully. The Metro 208 bus goes through downtown Issaquah, then onto I-90 heading east. Get off at the High Point bus stop, at the first freeway interchange past Issaquah.
There is no Metro 208 bus service on Sunday.
The High Point bus stop offers access to three different trailheads, including the popular Tradition Lake trailhead, where a sea of parked cars can be seen from the freeway seemingly at all hours. This hike uses the lesser known High Point trailhead.
Walk south (away from the freeway) to the nearby 4-way intersection, and turn onto the left (eastbound) frontage road, which is blocked to auto access by a big white gate. Continue past the gate to the end of the road in a short quarter mile at a bridge over High point Creek. Continue beyond the bridge onto the trail beyond, the start of the High Point Trail (elevation 500’). Pass a pond on the right; a short distance beyond, turn right onto a trail climbing steeply up the hillside The trail shortly reaches an old road bed, where it levels out to a more moderate grade.
The old road bed, now nicely aged into a trail, makes a climbing traverse along a steep hillside, passing an often-flowing spring along the way. Not far beyond the spring, the trail crosses a power line clearing, then enters a deeper forest on the far side of the clearing [0.3 miles, 720’]. The freeway noise gradually subsides as you climb higher into the thick woods. This stretch of trail can be muddy; don’t bring your dress shoes! The trail passes a junction with the signed Dwight’s Way trail [0.7 miles, 1050’]. Shortly beyond, the trail reaches a junction with the Tiger Mountain Trail or “TMT” for short [0.9 miles, 1220’]. This junction marks the end of the High Point Trail.
Turn left (E) onto the TMT, which soon passes a junction with the Lingering Loop Trail The next stretch of the TMT is one of the nicest on Tiger Mountain. The well-built tread climbs at a moderate pace through a well-aged second growth forest, with large, widely-spaced trees set in a sea of sword ferns. A tumbling brook flows nearby, adding to the pleasant atmosphere. At 1600’, the trail dips a bit and crosses the brook at an pretty spot called Ruth’s Cove, a perfect spot for a rest break.
Beyond Ruth’s Cove, the TMT climbs away from the brook, then traverses a steep hillside above another branch of High point Creek. There’s a bit of a view up to the summit of West Tiger Mountain. Eventually the trail intersects the creek, which is crossed on a picturesque hand-built bridge. A section of the trail here is built on the old log skidway used to transport logs cut high on Tiger’s slopes down to High Point. Not far beyond the creek crossing, the trail enters a swampy cove in the mountains, filled with thorny salmon berry vines and devil’s club. This relatively level area was once the site of a logging camp. Winter hikers will often start encountering snow at this elevation.
Above the cove, the trail soon reaches a junction with the West TIger Railroad Grade Trail [1.8 miles, 1850’]. Turn left (E), leaving the TMT. The path follows a piece of old logging railroad grade, then begins a gradual climbing traverse on a steep hillside. The trail passes over a saddle on a ridge, then continues climbing to a junction with the Preston/West Tiger I trail [2.2 miles, 2100’]. Turn right (uphill) at the junction.
The West Tiger I trail climbs briskly through thick cedar and fir forest. This area is one of the highest, snowiest areas on Tiger Mountain. In cold years, such as the winter of 2001-2002, deep snow packs can form in this area, completely obscuring the trail. Don’t hesitate to turn back if you feel you can’t handle the navigation problems. Near the top of the ridge, the trail reaches a signed junction with the Bootleg Trail (2.7 miles, 2700’). Turn right (W) and follow the trail to a signed junction with the Poo Top Trail.
The Poo Top Trail comprises the next section of the hike, but it is worth making the side trip to the hiker’s hut and viewpoint. To get there, continue west past the junction about 0.2 miles, where the trail breaks out of the forest onto an dirt road on an open, breezy ridge top [3.1 miles, 2800’]. The view is awesome on a clear day. Downtown Seattle, the Olympic Mountains, and Mount Rainier are just some of the sights that can be seen from here. This is the best view spot on Tiger Mountain. The hiker’s hut is a small steel dome with benches inside, not too appealing unless the weather is bad.
When you’ve had your fill of the view, return the way you came (on the signed Bypass Trail) back to the Poo Top junction, and take the Poo Top trail up a few switchbacks to the summit of West Tiger Mountain [(3.3 miles, 2940’], where you encounter a gated road. The actual summit of the peak is defaced by a cluster of radio station towers. The unsigned and faint continuation of the Poo Top trail can be found heading into the woods a few steps east of the gate.
The Poo Top Trail follows a ridge line that descends in a roller coaster fashion, with sharp drops alternating with little ascents. A thick growth of scrawny, logged-over forest blocks most views. The trail is very lightly constructed, not much more than a boot-built trail, but is easy enough to follow if you pay attention. After a quick final drop, the trail intersects the Tiger Mountain road [4.0 miles, 2340’]. Cross over to the far side of the road, and hike onto the signed Hidden Forest Trail, which makes a short, sharp descent to a 4-way junction with the Tiger Mountain Trail (TMT) [4.2 miles, 2200’]. Go right (W) onto the TMT.
The TMT contours along a hillside, soon reaching Fifteen Mile Gap and another signed junction with the One View Trail [4.3 miles, 2200’]. Go left (west) onto the One View Trail and follow its rolling course along a gently contoured ridge top. Surrounded by thick firs and ferns, the hiker will find that the “one view” is not obvious. The trail tops a 2267’ rise, then descends steadily to a 4-way junction with the West Tiger Railroad Grade and the Poo Poo Point Trail [5.0 miles, 1900’].
Continue the hike by taking the downhill branch of the Poo Poo Point trail. The trail drops precipitously in steep, often muddy switchbacks. Some of the firs alongside the trail are huge, perhaps unlogged “old growth” trees. At 1200’ the trail abruptly levels out and traverses north into the Many Creek Valley. The main branch of the creek is crossed on a huge bridge, another one of the $20,000 models dropped in by helicopter that dot the Tiger Mountain area. It’s a pretty spot. Beyond the bridge, the road-wide trail continues a moderate descent through a pleasant forest down to the Tradition Lake Plateau, where the trail ends at ta service road on power line right-of-way [7.8 miles, 500’]. Turn left (S) onto the power line service road, which here is called the High School Trail.
The trail/ access road soon turns east into forest and leaves the power lines. After passing a junction with the Adventure Trail [8.0 miles, 500’], the High School Trail begins a moderate descent down a forested slope before reaching the edge of Issaquah High School’s athletic field and an unsigned but obvious junction with the Issaquah-to-High Point trail [8.7 miles, 160’]
Turn left (S) on the Issaquah-to-High Point trail, which utilizes an old railroad grade. The trail swings around the south end of the high school grounds, then reaches a trailhead parking lot, at the side of 2nd ave SE. Cross the street and continue hiking along the trail, which here becomes a wide, paved promenade heading into the bright lights of downtown Issaquah. A stop for Sound Transit 554 may be found at Sunset and Rainer.
At Sunset and Rainier, hop onto ST 554 and ride back to Seattle.