The Outdoors is Open Year-Round in Issaquah

By Nina Milligan, Issaquah Highlands

It has never been more important to be outdoors than it is now. The coronavirus pandemic drives us outdoors for the safety of fresh air and respite from work-from-home cabin-fever. Thankfully, Issaquah’s usually mild weather and great parks provide ample opportunities for walks, hikes, and bike rides.

Try Grand Ridge Park in Issaquah Highlands this winter. Grand Ridge trails are well-maintained and wiggle through conifer, maple and alder forests. Winter is a particularly nice time to explore these trails as you can peek out through the bare trees to the other Issaquah Alps. Bridges provide hospitable portage over the many warbling stormwater creeks and the grades are gentle while traversing the upper ridge. All Grand Ridge Trails are open to mountain biking as well as hiking.

Hiking the Grand Ridge Trails during the winter provides for beautiful views through the seasonally bare trees to the other Issaquah Alps.

You can access Grand Ridge Park through many trailheads in the community and from the valley floor.

Three popular entry points are from Central Park.

The most basic and shortest route is the trail from the soccer fields in Central Park to South Pond. Less than a mile in length, this woodsy trail is an easy stroll. It is also great this time of year when you aren’t sure about the weather. You will be under the cover of trees most of the time and can quickly get back to your car at Central Park from either end if it really starts pouring.

The shortest loop trail from Central Park is only about one mile long and a gentle grade.

For the more adventuresome, and those wishing some elevation gain for cardio-work, begin at Central Park but take one of the trails that snake down to the Issaquah-Preston trail, and back up again. The Issaquah-Preston trail runs east and west along I-90 and provides access to all trails in Grand Ridge. You can make a nice three-mile loop with 400+ feet elevation gains out of this arrangement.

Another great way to hit the trails is to begin in Grand Ridge Plaza, a restaurant-packed shopping area where you can park and pick up provisions for the hike at Safeway. Cold and rainy hike? That’s ok – warm up with a hot toddy or pint of local brew at Grand Ridge Plaza on your return. Begin your hike up hill through the hilly, forested, connector trail between Falls Drive and Central Park.

The Grand Ridge trail system can also be accessed from Issaquah’s Sunset Trailhead. Choose this starting point if you wish to begin with a hearty uphill climb to Central Park. Combine it with a loop down to Grand Ridge Plaza for lunch and refreshment, then saunter down a mile-long paved trail back to the Sunset Trailhead.

No car? No problem! Metro and Sound Transit serve Grand Ridge Plaza and the Issaquah Highlands Park and Ride. Sound Transit’s 554 has a stop not far from the Sunset Trailhead. (And during the months of April through October, Metro serves Sunset trailhead with the Trailhead Direct.)

All Grand Ridge Park trails are open to bikers as well as hikers.

Fun Fact: When the urban village of Issaquah Highlands was formed, it comprised 2,200 acres. 1,300 acres were set aside and donated to King County for Grand Ridge Park.

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Pro Tip #1: Keep your ears open for mountain bikers. Many wear bells on their bikes, but others can be heard by their ratcheting as they coast downhill. Most are quite courteous to hikers and walkers (yielding) but it helps if you share the responsibility by being aware.
Pro Tip #2: While shorter hikes do not require any special equipment, sturdy shoes are best for the longer hikes. The trails can be rocky and firm soles will protect your feet from fatigue and discomfort.