The Beauty of Issaquah as seen through the eyes of a Photographer

Stacy Garfield, Professional Photographer
Outshined Photography, LLC 

Can you imagine only having to drive or bike a few miles to reach a trailhead where you can hike for miles on a long, summer evening after work or on a weekend with your family or even to fit in a quick morning trail run?

At less than 20 miles from downtown Seattle, the Issaquah Alps stand a few thousand feet above sea level and offer that opportunity for you. Rain or shine, you will find friendly, nature-loving people hiking the trails around Issaquah.

When I moved to Washington State, I was inspired by the beautiful mountains that are so close to the Puget Sound. It didn’t take me long to get onto the trails and hike every day. I was in awe of the green, mossy landscape that is unique to the PNW, as well as the fresh smell of the forests.  The beauty motivated me to grab my camera and take it on all my hikes.

The Issaquah Alps is the unofficial name for the highlands near Issaquah, including Cougar Mountain, Squak Mountain, Tiger Mountain, Taylor Mountain, Rattlesnake Ridge, Rattlesnake Mountain, and Grand Ridge. I’m going to touch on many of these areas in this article.

My favorite hike in Issaquah is to Poo Poo Point. This hike is located on the west side of Tiger Mountain, which is the largest mountain in town. Poo Poo Point got its name from the logging signals that used a whistle, which made a “poo poo” sound.  I remember the first time I hiked the Chirico Trail to Poo Poo Point on Tiger Mountain. It took me longer than it should have to hike the short 2 miles to the top because I was captivated by the moss-covered rocks and trees. I stopped around every turn to capture images of the trail and the different lighting conditions. You are immediately in a deep forest when you start the hike, so you are transported into nature and forget that you are so near the city. One of the unique aspects of this hike is the stony trail for the first half of the hike. As a photographer, I love hiking early in the morning because the sunlight streams through the trees and casts beautiful rays on the landscape. You can also capture amazing sun flares through the thick trees.  If it’s rainy, the green of the moss becomes even brighter and makes for such picturesque images.  Another thing I love about the hikes in this area are that you can take your dog hiking with you. My dog is my #1 hiking buddy!

When you reach the South Viewpoint of Poo Poo Point, on clear days you are treated to one of the most amazing views of Mount Rainier. Locals call her The Mountain and when “The Mountain is out”, she is epic! I always bring a snack with me and sit on the grass or wooden bench and soak in the view. If the wind conditions are right, you may be treated to paragliders descending on this side of the Point with great views of The Mountain. 

This isn’t the only view from this hike though. Continue a short distance through a forested area and you’re at the North Viewpoint, facing Issaquah, with panoramic views of the Olympics, Bellevue, Squak Mountain and Lake Sammamish. On a clear day you can see Mount Baker in the far distance.

Poo Poo Point is just one of many trails on Tiger Mountain. There are multiple access points around Tiger Mountain to many trails. These are popular with locals, as well as Seattleites.  There are miles and miles of easy, medium and hard trails, so you have various degrees of difficulty to choose from. Tiger Mountain additionally offers a variety of mountain biking opportunities if that is your Zen instead. The trails provide great diversity for photographing deciduous, coniferous and mixed forests, as well as ferns and shrubs and little rivers that appear when it’s been rainy. Because the tree canopy is so thick, hiking in the rain is not a problem. As long as you have the proper gear, you can hike all year long in Washington. Green will become one of your favorite colors and you’ll understand why there are so many variations of green in the crayon box.

Cougar Mountain Park has over 35 miles of trails that meander through diverse habitats such as forests, streams, wetlands and cliffs. There are sweeping views of Lake Sammamish, the Cascades, and Bellevue, Seattle and beyond. You can also access areas of the park that are more remote from the sights and sounds of the city. 

Squak Mountain is the second most westerly mountain of the Issaquah Alps. It is situated between Cougar Mountain to the west and Tiger Mountain to the east. It is a thick wilderness with glimpses of Issaquah below. There are miles of winding trails alongside bubbling creeks and narrow ravines, which make it another great hiking and trail running destination.

A great resource for finding detailed descriptions of all of the hikes in Washington, to include difficulty ratings and recent conditions, is the Washington Trail Association website.

You don’t need to be a hiker to enjoy the beauty of the area around Issaquah. You can hop on I-90 and enjoy views of the dense forests and majestic mountain ranges as you drive in either direction. There are overlooks within a few miles of Issaquah’s town center. You can also walk out your door and look up at the sky in the early morning or late evening to enjoy the beautiful oranges, pinks and purples. When it’s raining, you will appreciate the thick fog that passes over and through the forests on the mountain sides.

To see a beautiful Washington attraction, drive 15 miles east on I-90 to Snoqualmie Falls. If you’ve seen the show Twin Peaks, then you’re familiar with the 270-foot waterfall. You will find locals there early in the morning as the light comes up and shines on the Snoqualmie river. I love visiting the Falls after we’ve had a few days of heavy rain. This image was taken in January 2020 after we had several days of heavy rainfall and the rivers were flowing at record flood levels.  

There is an overlook at the top where you usually see photographers with their tripods capturing that perfect light and waterflow and rainbows…when you’re lucky.  You can hike down to the bottom to another observation deck or along the river for a different view of the Falls.  Once you’ve finished enjoying the waterfall and getting your share of fresh air, stop by Salish Lodge for a snack and a drink.

Snoqualmie Point Park is one of the most beautiful overlooks in the area. It is just off of Exit 27 on I-90. I enjoy visiting on a sunny morning when I can watch the sun illuminate the sky as it rises over the mountains on Snoqualmie Pass or at sunset when the colors from the west reflect off the clouds and onto the mountain tops.  The mountain most prominent in this view is Mount Si, located in North Bend. That mountain is also a popular hike, especially for people who are training to climb Mount Rainier.

You can access the Rattlesnake Mountain Trail parking lot from Exit 27, which allows you to hike or mountain bike many more trails of the Issaquah Alps.  Rattlesnake Ledge is a very popular hike in the area because of the amazing views from the top. If you access the trail from Rattlesnake Lake, you can also enjoy the Lake. In the summertime, it a great place for kayaking or just cooling off. Many families in the area also love having their family photos taken there.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you can reach a variety of entrances to Mount Rainier National Park within a 2-hour drive from Issaquah. Being so close to one of our country’s National Parks is a real treat.

Visiting Issaquah, Washington will inspire you to spend as much time in nature as possible, whether it is hiking, riding your bike or taking a long walk on the many walking paths. It is also very inspirational for those who enjoy taking photographs because of the vast array of rain forests, waterfalls, lakes and mountain views. The variety of weather conditions are always pushing you to learn new skills and try new techniques.

I encourage you to subscribe to the Visit Issaquah Instagram page, so you can see the current happenings in the area and be inspired by the many outdoor activities and amazing places to visit.

 There are other resources, such as the Washington Hikers and Climbers Facebook page, to get advice about gear, learn about trail conditions and find others to hike with. 

I’m excited for you to begin your adventures in Issaquah and throughout Washington State. I hope that you will find a renewed love for nature, as I did, and appreciate the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. 

Outshined Photography is a PNW-Based professional photography business that specializes in landscape and elopement photography.  Stacy Garfield is the founder and professional photographer. She wrote this article based on her experiences hiking and photographing in the Issaquah area over the past few years. All photographs in this article are taken by Stacy and owned by Outshined Photography, LLC. You can see a large collection of her landscape photography work on her Instagram, @outdoorstacy.