Hike easy, very green trails in the northwest corner of Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. View artifacts from the coal mining era. As optional hike extensions, look in on Far Country Falls, or check out the ongoing downstream Coal Creek Trail.
This part of Cougar Mountain was historically important for both logging and coal mining. Red Town was a small company town - now long gone - where all the homes were painted red. Nearby small towns had homes painted other colors, or sometimes proclaimed the ethnicity of immigrant workers, e.g. "Finn Town."
Several trails leave from the parking area, and there are a number of intersecting trails in the area. Most intersections are well-signed, but you really should have a map of the area for reference. A free park map often is available at the information kiosk at the south end of the parking area, or a copy can be downloaded in advance. Because of hazards from past mining activities, it is essential that hikers remain on official trails.
Begin your hike on the Wildside Trail (W1) that heads south beyond the kiosk. The route is bordered by tall trees, many with trunks adorned with licorice ferns.
Several trail junctions come up quickly. (Refer to your map.) At the Bagley Seam Trail junction, turn right to stay on the Wildside Trail, and cross a rustic bridge over Coal Creek. At the Rainbow Town Trail, zig left about 100 feet then turn right to continue south on the Wildside Trail.
About 0.6 miles from the Red Town Trailhead, reach a junction with the Marshall's Hill Trail (W6.) Unless you are doing the hike extension to Far Country Falls (described below) turn left here and leave the Wildside Trail.
Follow the Marshall's Hill Trail 0.1 mile east and pass a junction with the Indian Trail (the terminology is not contemporary, but the route once was used by members of the Duwamish Tribe and other Native American people.) Hikers doing the hike extension to Far Country Falls will rejoin the ongoing route here.
Soon, come to the "Meadow Restoration Project," a small alluvial fan along Coal Creek. In the mining era, it was the site of an improvised baseball diamond. In the late 1990s, volunteers from the Issaquah Alps Trail Club and others restored the area to native vegetation. Now, in season, you might see a few wildflowers here such as trillium, buttercup, white fawn lily and others.
Cross the creek on the bridge near a large gnarled tree. There, your trail becomes the Red Town Trail and heads back north. If you are pressed for time, you can follow this trail all the way back to the parking area. But, by doing so, you would miss sites important in the mining history of the area.
For the historical exposure, turn left when you reach the Rainbow Town Trail that leads to the "Ford Slope Coal Mining Exhibit." There, you will see a few artifacts, a sealed mine tunnel entrance, and a display board with photos and information about the coal mining era. You may note, 100 yards to the south, an odd sign displaying a large letter "H."
Discover the meaning of this sign by backtracking just a few feet on the Rainbow Town Trail and turning right on the Steam Hoist Trail. Following this short trail, find another display board with historical photos, and a few concrete supports that once were part of the foundation of a mill. A bit farther along, the trail offers a view down on the massive foundation of a former steam-driven (coal fired) hoist that lifted carts loaded with coal from deep underground. (This is the site of that sign with the large letter "H.")
To understand the need for such a hoist, it helps to realize that the coal seams, when formed millions of years ago, were level, but that geological processes in later eras tilted the coal seams about 40 degrees from the horizontal. Thus, miners had to follow these seams as they plunged steeply underground, and hence the need for some powerful lifting to bring carts filled with coal back to the surface.
To complete your hike, follow the ongoing Steam Hoist Trail. It soon rejoins your incoming route on the Wildside Trail, and that will take you back to the parking area.
Extending your hike - Far Country Falls
In spring and early summer, when creeks are high, Far Country Falls is a gem worth viewing. But by late summer the falls might be dry. The falls are reached by trails that add about 1.25 miles to your round trip. If you are so inclined, you can continue on beyond the falls an additional half-mile to the Far Country Viewpoint for distant views out toward the west.
For these options, when you reach the junction of the Wildside Trail and the Marshall's Hill Trail, do NOT turn left. Instead, remain on the Wildside Trail and continue on south. The Wildside Trail ends at a T-junction with the De Leo Wall Trail where you will turn left. In a short distance, you reach a T-junction with the Indian Trail. Turn right onto the Indian Trail and continue south about 0.1 mile, where a signed side trail leads to the base of Far Country Falls.
If you are continuing on to the Far Country Viewpoint, then return to the Indian Trail, continue south an additional 0.15 miles, and turn left on the Far Country Trail. Climb about 200 feet and look for the signed side trail on the left that leads to the Far Country Viewpoint. There is a bench available, and there is a view west through a narrow window between the trees.
From either the falls or the viewpoint, return to the Indian Trail and follow it back north. In about 0.75 mi, pass a junction with the Quarry Trail. As you continue on the Indian Trail, note the massive outcrop of rocks on your right. Stay on the Indian Trail and soon reach the Red Town Trail and the Meadow Restoration Project where you rejoin the route of your original hike.