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Greeter Rock Cougar Mountain

Rediscovering trails on Cougar Mountain

Kid-friendly hikes in the forest with lots to see along the way

We rediscovered a hidden gem in Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park during a recent family visit. Our criteria: a hike that would challenge adults, entertain my six-year-old, not require advanced gear like micro-spikes or snowshoes… oh, and get us home by dinner time. Does this unicorn of a trail exist?

Why, yes it does! And with shoulder-season hiking upon us: it’s the best and worst of times. Trails are typically less crowded than during our glorious summers, but you also have to contend with unpredictable weather conditions (snow, ice, pouring rain, washed-out pathways) and often a ridiculous amount of gear. But we got through it and had an amazing time exploring the Deceiver Trail and the Shy Bear Loop on our family outing.

Cougar Mountain Trails: Hidden gems

After an embarrassing amount of time spent scouring the AllTrails database, I came across the Deceiver Trail and Shy Bear Loop. Departing from the Jim Whittaker Wilderness Peak trailhead in the southeast corner of the park, the app advertises the trail at 5.1 miles and just over 1,400 feet of elevation gain.

The small parking lot was full when we arrived around lunchtime (parking is free), but we easily found a spot across the street. After layering up, we jogged across the road and started the climb.

Trail features galore

One of the biggest challenges for my kids on hikes is boredom. Sure, there are birds tweeting and leaves rustling, but they want things to climb and bounce on. This loop offers just that with a unique combination of bridges throughout the hike — scenic bridges with Instagrammable railings, wire-covered narrow boardwalks through swamps, and a rickety bridge that bounces just enough to be exciting (if you’re into that, which we definitely are).

Along the trail you’ll find several clusters of boulders that are perfect for hide-and-seek or striking a pose like a modern-day Sisyphus. Don’t forget to look down by your feet, too. You’ll spot clusters of ooey-gooey golden jelly fungus or frilly turkey tail mushrooms.

Feeling ambitious, we opted to take both of the short offshoots from the trail. The Long View Peak trail didn’t actually offer the views we expected, so we’d skip that detour on a return hike. Doughty Falls, on the other hand, was well worth the short climb down for a peek. While not exactly a cascade it made for a relaxing snack spot with the sound of falling water in the background.

A bit more than we bargained for on the Cougar Mountain trails

As with many hikes I find on AllTrails the actual distance exceeded the trail description. I tracked our hike within the app and my dad’s Apple watch confirmed — over the course of four hours, we covered 6.7 miles with 1,600 feet of elevation change. We had considered returning via Wilderness Peak but ran out of time and energy to tack on more miles.

For families who choose to try this hike, I’d recommend bringing more snacks than you think you’ll need and a carrier for any little ones who might need a lift. While considered a loop, the route’s shape is more like a lollipop, so you also have the option to turn around at Shy Bear Pass for a shorter out-and-back trip.

Surprisingly, we saw very few people on our holiday weekend trip — a few trail runners, a couple of leashed pups out for a stroll and a family just out for some nature time close to the trailhead. Perhaps like us, other families have forgotten what gems lie waiting close to home on the slopes of Cougar Mountain. We’ll be back to explore the network of trails again soon!

Before you go

  • Location: This route within Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park starts at the Jim Whittaker Wilderness Peak Trailhead.
  • Facilities: Free parking is available in a small lot and across the street from the trailhead. Watch for speeding cars when crossing the street. A porta-potty is located in the parking area.
  • Distance: AllTrails lists the hike as 5.1 miles, but we hiked 6.7 miles with a couple of offshoots, so be prepared for a moderate hike over a slightly variable distance.
  • Bring: Make sure you bring your ten essentials (particularly navigation, water, and snacks). Trail intersections are generally labeled, but a map is recommended to help navigate the interconnected trail system at Cougar Mountain.

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About the Author

Natasha Dillinger

Natasha Dillinger is a Seattle mom who paused a career in accounting and finance to focus on showing her two young children around the Pacific Northwest. Follow their adventures near and far on Instagram @suitcasesinseattle