This popular, kid-friendly hike up to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain provides beautiful views and wildflowers along the way, and the biggest boulders we have ever seen made this trek worth the trip! It’s considered a moderate hike, fit for families who like a challenge. We made it, and we had fun!
Located off of I-90 east in the North Bend area, getting to the park was a cinch. There’s plenty of parking available around the trailhead and lake. Get there early in the day or go on a weekday. The weekends are especially busy with hikers and park visitors.
We packed our backpacks with trekking poles, masks, water bottles, snacks and some special treats, then set off on our adventure. We had trouble finding the path at first, but fellow hikers directed us to the entrance.
Rattlesnake Ridge: a daunting prospect
On the northwest side of the lake, a sign labeled “Rattlesnake Ridge” led us to the beginning of the trail. When we started on the gravel path, Rattlesnake Mountain stood in the distance.
“That’s the mountain we’re going to climb?” asked my older son. I could sense the hesitation in his voice, but we forged on, not feeling totally confident that we’d make it to the top.
A large map of the area and port-a-potties were to the left of the trailhead. There are no handwash stations, so bring hand sanitizer!
Heading up the first hill of Rattlesnake Mountain, we stopped to take a look at huge boulders placed to the side of the path, called greeter rocks. And boy did they welcome us, standing tall and grandiose. We attempted to clasp our arms around the boulder to see if we could reach the other side, but we’d need at least four more arms to cover the distance. After, my kids climbed on nearby stumps, facing the rock, to take in the sheer size of the immense boulder.
We continued on to find another rock, crowned with moss. It had a seat etched into the rock. Pretending it was a throne, my oldest son took a seat. “I’m sitting here to rest. Kings need their rest,” he said.
Rattlesnake Ridge: going up!
After a quick respite, we started the steep climb to the top. The trail snakes its way around the mountain with a few switchbacks, a couple bridges to cross, and then the final ascent over larger rocks and roots right to the ridge.
Keep an eye out for red and white reflectors nailed into trees — as well as mile markers — they were a good motivator to keep moving.
The narrow route makes for a precarious path, especially when other hikers squeezed past us. We faced the mountainside or teetered close to the edge of the path, waiting to safely continue our journey.
Pro tip: Bring trekking poles. They carried us up and over the dirt path, helped move smaller rocks and gravel out of the way, and gave us a little extra support when our legs grew tired.
Staying motivated: Heading into this 2-mile hike, my kids and I knew this would be an uphill (literally) challenge. We hadn’t done many hikes with an elevation gain of 1,174 feet, so we stopped many times to rest. The kids and I played games along the way and counted the rings on fresh-cut tree stumps, while catching our breath.
By the time we got to the top our legs were tired and overworked. I convinced my kids that we were building strong calf muscles, and they actually kept moving!
Rattlesnake Ridge: success!
Proud of ourselves, my boys and I high-fived each other and took in the view from the ridge. It was breathtaking. Surrounded by forests of evergreen trees and views of adjacent mountains, we stood and took a peak down to the forest green-colored Rattlesnake Lake.
“Hey, there’s a chipmunk!” my youngest son observed. We tracked the animal with our eyes then saw it slip quickly into the crevice of the mountain.
We carefully stepped to the top and found large gaps to cross (jump!) over. One side of the ridge leads you closer to the edge, but we didn’t venture that far.
The wind picked up, and we weren’t feeling sure-footed, so we held hands and headed down. Finding rocks to sit on below the ridge, we recharged with water and another snack.
Both boys were thrilled to have accomplished our goal. All too soon, though, they were ready to leave. So we headed down the path, taking the rock steps to the dirt trail.
Coming back down
Heading down the path we were relieved to move at a faster pace. Be aware of the loose gravel and avoid slipping and sliding down the hills and around the tight corners of the trail.
We talked along the way, sang some songs (“She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” seemed appropriate) and stopped halfway to give our knees a break. We sat at a log bench that was placed into the mountain and looked at the lake.
My kids earned a sugary treat and munched on some candy for the rest of the hike down. It definitely kept their spirits high. We revisited the boulders we had admired at the beginning.
Lakes, snakes and more
We ended our time at the park with a short walk around the lake. It’s about a mile around, but we didn’t go the whole way. The lake lay bare with spots of dry cracked mudflats. Doing some research (later, at home), we found out that the lake was in a drought. We also learned its interesting history: In 1906, the town of Moncton was built where the lake sits. The town served railroad construction workers and was slowly flooded by the Masonry Dam in the Cedar River Watershed. The flooding destroyed the town and created Rattlesnake Lake.
What about the rattlesnakes?
There definitely aren’t rattlesnakes in the area, but back when the town existed, there were camas plants. According to the Cedar River Watershed Education Center, after the plant flowered, the seeds dried and the pods would rattle in the wind, sounding very much like the snake’s rattler. The park is considered a historic site and remnants of the town are occasionally found buried in the mud. (Any such finds must be handed over to the Watershed Education Center for their historical collections.)
The Cedar River Watershed Education Center is not currently open, but it is a fantastic place to learn about the North Bend region.
While heading back to the car we mustered up the energy to talk about the highlights of our trek. My older son said, “I liked coming down the best! Going up was hard!” My other son added, “I think I can really feel my muscles growing (pointing to his calves)! I just loved the hike … we should bring Dad to do it again.”
Looks like we’ll be coming back for another chance to make it to the top. Maybe next time the lake will be full and we’ll earn ourselves a dip in the water too.
Rattlesnake Ridge: Know before you go
Location: Rattlesnake Ridge is located off I-90 near North Bend.
Hours: year-round, dawn to dusk.
Trail tips: Wear sturdy shoes and dress in layers. It was cold at the top. Although described as kid-friendly, the trail is not stroller-friendly and is classified by the Washington Trails Association as a moderate hike,
To bring: This is a busy and popular trail – keep masks handy. Bring plenty of water and snacks and take lots of rest stops. We were also glad we had our trekking poles.
Also: The entire trip took us 3.5 hours and the length of the trail is 1.9 miles. Leave time to explore the other trails at the top of the mountain that give two other viewpoints. Explore the 1-mile loop around the lake and stay for swimming, boating and fishing. Beware: the water is cold!
Originally published June 18, 2021