Another winter’s day, another trip out to the Issaquah Alps for some snow-free miles. But this one was at least interesting!Mama Boots and I set off. I had heard parking was easier at the May Valley trailhead than our prior hike, Margaret’s Way, and thankfully, it was. I find this very surprising, given how much we ended up enjoying the hike–it must be a bit of a hidden gem.
From the lot, you have one quick road crossing before you hit the woods and start your ascent. While this is a loop, you have to hike about a mile-long ‘tail’ at the beginning. While WTA directions implied to go left, we went right. It depends on if you’d rather have a steep uphill or a steep down, my preference is always steep up. There are tons of intersecting trails here, and while WTA had directions, I am super glad that I had mapped out the loop on my Gaia app. There is a bit of roadwalking and crossing, but what’s nice is if you do need to bail early for whatever reason, it’s a quick route back to the car. While the signs were more weathered than other parts of the area, the area also felt more wild. Our third mile was stunning, cutting through May Valley and hearing Phil’s Creek to our right. We even saw some elk scat on a log! We had seen an ‘elk crossing’ sign near the trailhead, but it’s hard to imagine seeing elk so close to the city.
While we were in Squak Mountain State Park, the signs as you climb don’t say ‘Squak Mountain’ or “Summit,’ they say ‘Central Peak.’ Regardless, it’s a big climb to get to the top. 2000 feet might not seem like much, but when starting at 300, you feel it, especially in the off-season!
Unlike other mountaintops, this one is a little unnatural at the top–it’s a big electrical station. While this could be a big let-down, they’ve added some magic to keep you entertained–a microwave. Like Mailbox Peak, the top of this hike has a box–in this case, a microwave–covered in stickers at the top where hikers can leave goodies for the next hiker. I took a Capri Sun from the inside happily. Don’t forget to leave something else for a future hiker! I thought this would be really fun for kids, minus the agony and punishment of Mailbox. There wasn’t much of an area to take a break here though, and Mama Boots didn’t love being under crackling power lines, so we pushed onward for our break spot, with me hoping to get the picnic table at Bullitt Fireplace.
Yes, in the middle of this trail there is not only a huge fireplace, but a picnic table! The Bullitt family, owners and managers of Seattle’s KING tv station, built a cabin out here in 1952, but it was rarely used and fell into disrepair. Now, only the fireplace and foundation remain after the family donated this land to become Squak Mountain State Park. Unfortunately, we arrived here literally 30 seconds after another group did, so they got the picnic table, and we got a quick photo and continued on our way. Them’s the breaks, but if you have this area to yourself, it’s a great place for a break. It’s definitely the largest fireplace I’ve seen in North America, and I can only assume it would be capable of keeping you pretty warm on a winter’s night!
From here, it’s about three miles back to the trailhead. Unfortunately, my dog chose here to start being a total stinker. He’s dying to be let off leash, but even if a trail like this allowed so, I do NOT trust his recall, so he just pulled me in frustration, wanting to run down the mountain the whole way back. We zipped past a few intersections, including the ones that connect you to Margaret’s Way, and started to hear the sounds of McDonald Creek. While this area was pretty, I preferred the first portion of the loop just a little more. Mama Boots and I kept raving about this trail, wondering why Margaret’s Way was so crowded when this trail was so vastly superior. Like I said, maybe it’s a hidden gem, but I highly recommend this trail, especially in the off-season. Just don’t forget something for the microwave!
Distance: The area has tons of interconnected trails for both Squak Mountain State Park and King County Parks. I planned my route in advance using information from WTA.org and Gaia to not get overwhelmed. We did 6.8 miles.
Elevation: Elevation on these trails can greatly vary, but the peak of Squak Mountain (the Central Peak) is 2024 feet.
Parking: Discover Pass, the parking lot does have a kiosk to purchase one.
Bathrooms: In winter, it was Honey Buckets at the trailhead, with more substantial options in peak season. My map implied there can be Honey Buckets near the summit, but we did not see any.