Cougar History Hikes
After reading Abby Wolfe's excellent article on Cougar Mountain History in the January/February 2010 issue of Washington Trails magazine, you might be eager to explore one of King County's most interesting places more thoroughly.
The hikes featured in the article - Red Town Loop and Coal Creek Trail - are fairly short hikes quite popular on weekends. But Cougar's history isn't confined to short hikes. There are artifacts scattered across the park. So author Abby Wolfe provides a few highlights below that await your discovery on longer journeys. You can hit most of them starting from Sky Country Trailhead (see below for driving directions to this trailhead and a link to a Very Important printable map of the park).
Cave Hole Trail
The Cave Hole Trail follows an 1880s wagon road that ran through the major mine works and provides views of several large subsidence pits. One fenced hole, sporting a large warning sign, is above a coal seam fire, still smoldering after 50 years. The fire is about 2.5 acres in size and of unknown depth and origin. On cold days, you can sometimes see vapor rising from the pit – steam created by evaporating ground water as it runs over hot spots. For more information, read one of two dozen Trip Reports about Cave Hole.
Fred's Railroad Trail
Fred’s Railroad Trail runs through the old Baima & Rubatino mine works from the early 1900s. As you walk along it, you'll see old bricks, overgrown side roads, and tailing mounds. But the most visible relic is a treehouse-like structure in the woods off the west side of the trail. This is B&R's former transformer roost. Just south past the roost, there's a large trench on the left side of the trail. This is Dutch’s Strip Mine, a 1982 attempt to exploit remaining coal seams. There are 20 Trip Reports filed for Fred's Railroad over the years.
Shy Bear Trail
The Shy Bear Trail, which traverses Cougar's backcountry, would appear to be removed from the mining operations, but that's not entirely so. A bit west of its intersection with the Deceiver Trail, you may encounter a large, odd-looking chunk of iron beside the trail. This is a relic of 1920s railroad logging, part of a spar pole that supported the first skyline in the Pacific Northwest. The spar pole supported a cable that ran to another spar pole a quarter mile north, across the valley in a landing at the end of Fred's Railroad Trail. Powered by a donkey engine, the cable carried logs high over the valley, dangling in the sky. More than 20 Trip Reports feature the Shy Bear Trail.
Mine Shaft Trail
The Mine Shaft Trail features a huge grated air shaft into the old Primrose Mine, along with a post containing an Office of Surface Mining survey marker. There's a January 2009 Trip Report for this trail.
To learn more, get The Authoritative Guide to the Hiking Trails of Cougar Mountain, published by Issaquah Alps Trails Club. Originally co-authored by Harvey Manning, it provides a wealth of information on the history and natural resources of Cougar Mountain.
Driving Directions to the Sky County Trailhead: From I-90: Take Exit 13 and drive south on Lakemont Blvd SE for 2.5 miles. Turn left on SE Cougar Mountain Way and then right on 166th Way SE. Follow 166th to its end (0.7 mi). On the right is the Sky Country Trailhead parking lot (horse trailer space available).
Map of Cougar Mountain Park from King County. It can take awhile to load on your machine, but you'll definitely want this map (or the Green Trails No. 203S Cougar/Squak Mountains) to help navigate all of the many trail possibilities in the park.