In Defense of Well-Traveled Trails
Not all hikes require rough roads and long drives to find a dose of solitude. Well-traveled trails offer something different: they offer a community of hikers—many who are first-time users trying their hand at a new sort of adventure.
By Michelle Piñon
Back in 2014, I moved here for the mountains. I had spent my formative years in East Los Angeles, an area where green space in low-income neighborhoods is so sparse that a parking strip qualifies as nature. Once I turned 20, I started straying farther from home in search of places that would rejuvenate me, push my physical boundaries and, perhaps, offer a good view. In the eyes of many seasoned hikers, Rattlesnake doesn’t make the cut. Rattlesnake Ledge is an extremely popular trail—it’s located just under an hour from Seattle, has a sprawling parking lot, a well-maintained grade and it’s one of few trails that doesn’t require a pass or entry fee. Plus—despite only being a 4-mile jaunt—hikers are rewarded with sweeping views of the Snoqualmie Valley and the Cedar River watershed. Pretty incredible, right? Well, not quite. Everything that makes Rattlesnake an incredible hike also prompts it to break one of many hikers’ cardinal virtues—solitude.
When I moved here, all of my outdoorsy friends cautioned me against the perils of Rattlesnake. Any mention of Rattlesnake was accompanied by a visible grimace. Truth is, on any given day, Rattlesnake is packed. If you go, expect to find yourself continuously giving way to uphill or faster hikers. More people also means more trash, noise and habituated wildlife. Rattlesnake is hardly a lonesome walk in the woods.
For a long while, I heeded the advice of others and instead endured rough roads and long drives to get my dose of solitude. Don’t get me wrong—those hikes in far-off places were phenomenal. But there was something missing for me. I grew up in a predominantly Latino community in a rough part of Los Angeles, where community was everything. While we didn’t have expansive green spaces, we did have incredibly strong cultural bonds. Back home, you continuously lean on community for support, guidance and wisdom. I wasn’t getting that on my lonesome jaunts in Washington.
Here’s where Rattlesnake offers something different: It offers a community of hikers—many who are first-time users trying their hand at a new sort of adventure. Once I finally shrugged off the cautions of my friends and ventured onto this incredibly popular trail, I found something magical. I had stumbled on what I craved back in Los Angeles—panoramic views, challenging trails and a welcoming community of diverse users.
In this respect, Rattlesnake is a “gateway trail”—one that allows new hikers to warm up their calves, experience sunlight trickling through the forest canopy and understand just how wild Washington still is. It’s the kind of trail that gets people hooked. Once I discovered this, I had to share it with my Latino community in Washington.
This past spring, I led a Latino Outdoors trip to Rattlesnake Ledge with the King County Department of Noxious Weeds. Our goals were twofold: We aimed to introduce our group of nine predominantly Spanish speakers to hiking and to invasive weeds in the Pacific Northwest. Rattlesnake Ledge proved to be an incredible classroom, as we soon learned about so much more. Our group first considered how resource managers manage lands for a variety of uses (in this case, recreation and drinking water). Then, when we reached the ledge, the insistent chipmunks and gray jays prompted a conversation about the dangers of habituated wildlife and the importance of Leave No Trace principles. As some hikers say, “The trail provides.” In this case, the trail provided important lessons.
Unlike on many other trails, Rattlesnake’s users are incredibly diverse. At the ledge, we shared snacks with other Spanish speakers, including a young Latino family hiking up with their newborn. It was incredible. For communities not traditionally represented in the outdoors, Rattlesnake was uniquely welcoming. In fact, the very crowds that dissuade seasoned hikers were extremely comforting for our group of first-timers. The crowds shattered misconceptions of the outdoors being inherently dangerous. Over the course of the day, we were able to continuously learn within a welcoming community.
So here’s my defense: Rattlesnake offers a unique opportunity for seasoned hikers to interact with new users in a diverse and welcoming community. If you seek solitude, avoid the crowds by venturing out on other less-traveled trails. But if you seek community and some new friends, stick around the ledge and congratulate new hikers as they conquer the 1,160-foot climb.
I firmly believe the beauty of Washington’s trails is the diversity of experiences they offer—none of which are inherently better or worse. Our hiking community stands to learn much by embracing this diversity of users and trails.