Rattlesnake Ledge is one of the most popular hikes in the Seattle area, and for good reason. With a little effort, a short slog on a well-graded trail leads to an exposed rocky ledge with excellent views of the Snoqualmie River valley and milky Rattlesnake Lake below.
On a recent rainy Monday morning, more than 100 people tromped the trail and lounged atop Rattlesnake Ledge waiting for the clouds to lift. If you don’t like sharing the trail with crowds, plan to start in the early morning or early evening. Even amid the throng, you’ll appreciate the workout and its rewarding vista. Start by walking .25 mile on a service road across from the parking lot to the trailhead. Glimpse Rattlesnake Ridge across the lake — yes, that’s where you’re headed. Note the restroom just ahead and the dozen or so portapotties installed there. Those are a sign that solitude is probably not in the cards on this hike.
Head up the trail on a wide, well-graded trail through a pretty forest. Pass some enormous boulders on the way, left behind by retreating glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. The Vashon Lobe of the ice sculpted Rattlesnake Ridge, the easternmost peak of the high hills known as the Issaquah Alps. Rattlesnake Ledge forms the eastern end of Rattlesnake Ridge.
Within 0.1 mile, the trail begins a steady climb. Continue to the first switchback at 1160′ elevation. The next section gradually ascends to just over 1500′ in about .75 mile. The trail is well-maintained with few rocks, but drop-offs can be steep so use caution. Starting at 0.5 mile, keep an eye out for trees marked with three red reflectors and a mileage indicator every quarter-mile. Before you know it, you’re halfway there already.
A few more shorter switchbacks will bring you to the top of the ridge and the first big views looking northwest toward the rest of Rattlesnake Ridge and north into the valley. You can stop here, but turning right and hiking a few more steps uphill will deposit you on Rattlesnake Ledge proper.
The starting point on Rattlesnake Lake seems a long way down from here. The ledge is a rocky outcrop with uneven surfaces that are slick in wet, cold weather. Use common sense as you explore this stunning and precipitous perch, and if you’ve brought a dog, be sure to keep it on leash. As you munch a snack and rehydrate, track I-90 as it cuts across the Snoqualmie River Valley and into the Cascades. Note the different colors and sizes of forested areas, some second- or third-growth trees in this lush timbered country. Watch the clouds swirl and dance, and soak in the expansive views.
When you’ve had your fill of scenery or people, head down the trail. On the way, you’ll probably pass dozens of people coming up, and you’ll cross two small bridges covered with graffiti, more evidence of this trail’s deserved popularity. Plan to bring a friend next time, to introduce more people to the abundant recreational opportunities within an hour of Seattle. Perhaps stop at the Cedar River Watershed Education on the south shore of Rattlesnake Lake, where exhibits explain the watershed that supplies drinking water for 70 percent of the population of the greater Seattle area. Seattle Public Utilities, working with King County, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, preserve and maintain this area for recreation, including the Rattlesnake Ledge Trail.