Car Free Cougar Mountain Hike

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A trail goes through the forest with green undergrowth and filtered sunlight
The trails around Cougar Mountain pass mainly through green second growth forest

The trailhead direct bus expanded this year to some new trailheads with even better service which I am so excited about! Last year, I wrote about the new service (it was more limited last year) and I’m enjoying checking out the hike options from the new trailheads that are serviced by it! One of those is the Sky Country Trailhead in Cougar Mountain Park (between Bellevue and Issaquah). This car free Cougar mountain hike is a six mile loop with some hills (nothing crazy), piecing together several trails in the park described below. The hike itself goes through a shady second growth forest and past a seasonal waterfall, Coal Creek Falls (often in mid to late summer it’s just a trickle or dried up completely).

A waterfall is flowing heavily over a rock face surrounded by a few trees and a creek below
Coal Creek Falls on a sunny day after a lot of rain in spring

Is the Car free Cougar Mountain Hike for me?

If you want a hike through the forest that’s close to town and in good condition with lots of options for different trails to follow, or you don’t have a car or don’t want to drive and deal with parking, then this hike is for you! It’s also a good year round hiking option if you’re driving but don’t want to drive far.

When is a good time for a car free Cougar Mountain hike?

If you want to do this hike without a car, you’ll need to do it when the Trailhead Direct bus is operating, generally late April through October. The hike itself can be done year round! Be aware that Coal Creek Falls might be dry or mostly dry in mid to late summer (unless it’s been rainy). I have run into some mosquitoes here in summer so be ready for that. This is a good winter hike and is generally snow free (though like all our trails, it gets muddy in winter!).

How do I get there?

By Public Transit-Car free

If you’re taking the bus (do it! it’s awesome), you’ll take the Trailhead Direct bus from Tukwila International Boulevard station (this is a stop on the light rail). The bus leaves approximately every 30 minutes in the morning and early afternoon (make sure to check metro’s website for the exact schedule). You can use your ORCA card to pay the fare, and if you don’t have one, you can pay with cash. The bus stops at the Renton Transit Center and in the Renton Highlands before arriving at the Sky Country Trailhead in about 40 minutes. The bus stop is right at the trailhead, super convenient!

A bus stop next to boulders and a parking lot at a trailhead.
The bus stop for Metro’s Trailhead Direct service is right in the parking lot next to the trailhead

By Car

Make sure you’re at the Sky Country Trailhead to follow this route. Google maps will take you to the right place (from I-90 you’ll take Lakemont Blvd and Cougar Mountain Way to 168th). You don’t need a parking pass here, hooray!

Car free Cougar Mountain Hike Trail Description

A wooden sign next to a trail in the forest. The sign says Cougar Pass and shows different trails and their distance.
An example of the many beautiful wood signs at every intersection in Cougar Mountain (you still need the map to know which of the many trails is the one you want!)

Cougar Mountain has lots of trails and junctions, and while they are well signed, it’s imperative that you have a map so you know which trail you want to take at each of the many junctions! You can also easily make up your own loop from the maps as well, which is what I did here, combining parts of Anti-Aircraft Peak and parts of the Coal Creek Falls Trail. This loop is a figure 8, so you could stop in the middle if you were done and shortcut back to the car.

On with my favorite loop! As described it’s approximately 6 miles and 500 feet of elevation gain (there are some hills and some flat sections). Here are the steps (like I said, there are lots and lots of trails connecting here! Refer to the map, many of these trail segments are short):

  1. From the parking lot, take the Nike Horse Trail. If you are facing the blue sign that says “Sky Country Trailhead” it is NOT the trail there. Turn 90 degrees to the right, or to your 3 o’clock, and you’ll see another trail on that side of the parking lot. This is the Nike Horse Trail. Take it.
  2. The Nike Horse Trail dead ends at the Cave Hole Trail. Turn right. This goes down a fairly steep hill (it seemed like the steepest part of the loop) for a short distance.
  3. Find the Coal Creek Falls Trail on the left. It’s a sharp left turn. This will take you down towards the creek and in less than a mile cross a bridge where you’ll see the beautiful Coal Creek Falls (the falls is most impressive in winter and spring). Continue on back uphill now until the trail ends at the Quarry Trail. Turn left here.
  4. At the next intersection with the Shy Bear Trail and the Fred’s Railroad Trail, go left on the Fred’s Railroad Trail. Stay on it (ignoring the By Pass Trail on the left just before the road unless you want to shorten the loop), crossing Clay Pit Road. At the crossing of Clay Pit Road the trail changes its name to the Klondike Swamp Trail (you’ll see a sign across the road).
  5. Continue on the Klondike Swamp trail until you see the Cougar Pass Trail on the right. Take it. Very shortly you will see a big sign for Cougar Pass, but it really doesn’t feel like a pass!
  6. At the Cougar Pass sign, you’ll go sort of straight and sort of left (not right) and will be on the Harvey Manning Trail. Stick with that. Follow the Harvey Manning Trail almost to the Harvey Manning Trailhead (which you can detour to if you want to see a view or need an outhouse). Just before the trailhead there’s another junction. Here go left on the Lost Beagle Trail.
  7. The Lost Beagle Trail climbs a bit and goes back down to the Klondike Swamp Trail, where you turn left.
  8. When the Klondike Swamp Road cross Clay Pit Road, go right and follow Clay Pit Road back down to the parking lot.
  9. If this seems like a lot of directions and trails to keep track of (too many for me!), print out the map above at home and highlight the route (or a different route, you can make up your own!). I know I already said this but really, truly you need a map here, unless you have a photographic memory or can keep lots of directions in your head, unlike me!
A trail winds between tall, straight alder trees. Text reads: Take the Bus! Cougar Mountain Loop Hike near Seattle
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Jennie Flaming
Jennie Thwing Flaming, Chief Adventure Officer: Jennie's life has been a continual quest for adventure (of the non-adrenalin inducing kind) from birth till now. Professionally, she pursues adventures in teaching, counseling and working to obliterate institutional racism for students in our region's public schools and also works as a tour and hiking guide. Previous professional adventures include working in schools in Seattle and Alaska, leading tours and managing tour guides and presenting traveling science shows and lessons with Pacific Science Center. She believes in sharing her beloved Pacific Northwest home with visitors. She likes to be outdoors and spend time with the people she loves. Jennie is born and raised in Seattle and has also lived in Alaska and the Netherlands.