This article is part of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Trail Moments initiative—to elevate new and tried-and-true trail voices around the country, and how trails impact the lives of Americans. Learn more at trailmoments.org and #TrailMoments on social media. Share your story, or view a collection of trail moments stories.
My love of hiking began when I was 10 years old upon discovering Watchung Reservation near our house in Summit, New Jersey. I was fascinated by the winding paths through the forest, which led from the horse stables to Seeley’s Pond about 2 miles away, and the Watchung Nature Center that displayed many species of insects, spiders, frogs and snakes on metal pins, with posters and guidebooks describing them. My friends and I spent weekends exploring the many intersecting trails, and my parents occasionally joined me.
Later, in my 20s and living in New York City, I joined weekend charter bus trips to Vermont and New Hampshire with American Youth Hostels. We stayed at hostels in small towns and hiked in nearby forests, led by local rangers and volunteers who knew the trails. I met one of my best friends on the long ride home and moved to his house in Brooklyn. We’re still close, after 35 years! Louis and I often hiked together at Harriman and Bear Mountain state parks, about 30 miles north of New York. We finished one hike after dark and couldn’t find his car. When I saw it, I ran over and kissed it! We celebrated by drinking a quart of apple cider from a country store.
I also hiked every Saturday and Sunday with the Sierra Club and Appalachian Mountain Club’s local New York chapter, taking a bus from Port Authority to meet the group. We often had a choice of hikes because so many hikers had arrived that we needed to split up. I had wonderful times and made good friends on those hikes.
In my 30s and 40s, my wife and I hiked at Washington’s Olympic National Park and in Aspen, Colorado, where we hiked Red Mountain and other trails, as well as in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park and the Needles. Trails and hiking have always been a very important part of my life, combining outdoor exercise and scenery with opportunities to make new friends.
I enjoy various types of trails, from easy and fairly level to more challenging—steeper with large tree roots and rocks—depending on how I feel on a given day, or the season and purpose of our outing. I love all kinds of trails, and my favorites range from deep forest and lakes to high mountain passes with spectacular views—such as Mt. Rainier in Washington State. I also love waterfalls, which are common in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve learned about trails from other hikers, from publications by organizations such as Washington Trails Association, The Seattle Mountaineers and the Issaquah Alps Trails Club. Phone apps such as TrailLink are also good sources of info, with hikers’ reviews, and the ability to search for trails by specific location.
Since I moved to Seattle in 1999, I’ve enjoyed many converted rail-trails in the region. My first one was on a day hike with the Sierra Club on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. As we neared a tunnel, I asked how the trail was cut through the mountain and the leader said, “This was a railroad—are you new here?” I was, of course, and didn’t know the trail’s history. “If you keep going far enough,” he continued, “you’ll cross three rail trestles. It’s scary at first, but you get used to it.” My group was hiking only 6 miles that day, so I returned a week later to explore a bit farther and loved seeing the trestles! At the western end, Rattlesnake Ledge—a 2.5-mile hike—offers a spectacular 180-degree view of the mountains and road far below; it’s extremely popular, with huge boulders to climb and sit on.
Cougar Mountain, adjacent to Issaquah—a town on I-90—has been my “go-to” source of moderate hiking trails close (15 miles) to home. It’s an easy drive or 20 minutes by express bus, and the trails range from easy to rocky and steep. My longtime partner and I have often returned when we didn’t want to travel farther—and because, of course, we fell in love with it long ago. And when a friend visited from Canada, our choice for the day was Wallace Falls Railway Trail, a place rich in railroad and mining history.
A Hike with History
Even with all my exploring, I never realized that Coal Creek Trail, itself rich with mining and railroad history, lay across the road from the Cougar parking lot. I regret that I didn’t discover it years sooner—but now, thanks to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, I did this spring! I vaguely recalled long ago visiting the remains of a 19th-century village with houses and a locomotive turntable—but never returned, probably because there were so many other trails to see.
Coal Creek is a wonderful converted rail-trail extending 3.5 miles from end to end, with side trails. It’s replete with hills and ravines, waterfalls and, in spring, the raging creek from which the trail draws its name. On my recent hike, I was delighted by the easy hiker-friendly, winding trails crossing beautifully restored wooden bridges and passing historical sites, such as the base of a former locomotive turntable. Informational signs appear along the trail, and intersections are well-marked with distances to each point of interest.
For me, Coal Creek Trail is a paradise that combines the joys of a pristine forest with a century-old legacy of rail transportation that was vital to the region. Some 89 million tons of coal were dug up and transported through those very woods, all destined for Puget Sound, and miners roamed the same forest before descending 1,000 feet down into the Earth.
There’s a lot to learn and enjoy on a hike, not just in western Washington but everywhere you can go—and I truly look forward to exploring as many rail-trails across America as I can.
Have you recently discovered trails, or are you a long-time trail enthusiast? Either way, we hope you’ll share your “Trail Moments”—and the stories of how trails have impacted your life during COVID-19. Take the survey below, or share using #TrailMoments on social media.