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Coal Creek Trail - Red Town Trailhead

Our Hiking Time: 1h 45m
Total Ascent: 500ft Out
Highest Point: 650ft
Total Distance: 5.6 miles
Location: N 47° 32.694, W 122° 09.098
Required Permit: None
Difficulty: Easy

Nathan's Photo
With winter now in full swing and the snow beginning to creep down from the mountaintops, our hiking destinations are largely confined to lower elevations. Not long ago we found time to explore Coal Creek Park, an urban greenway that connects Cougar Mountain to Lake Washington. Accessible year-round and steeped in the mining history of the area, this rail-to-trail hike makes for excellent winter hiking.

Coal Creek Park’s friendly greenery gives little indication that nearly all the landscape along the trail has been altered and reshaped by mining activity. Back in 1863, coal was discovered along Coal Creek and over the next 100 years, miners would pull 11 million tons of coal from the slopes of Cougar Mountain before the mines were sealed in 1963. All that coal prompted folks to dub the area "Newcastle Hills," after England's coal-rich city of Newcastle. In 1870, Newcastle Hills coal drove the creation of Seattle's first railroad, the Seattle & Walla Walla, which hauled coal from Cougar Mountain out to Elliot Bay. At that time, horses pulled coal cars along the track down to Lake Washington and a series of barges shuttled to coal out to Elliot Bay to be shipped down to San Francisco. Over time, waste rock from the mining process built up, and much of it was used for fill or piled up near the rail line. Today, most of Coal Creek Park travels through the forests that grew over these piles of waste rock.

The trail begins from the Red Town Trailhead, named for the mining settlement of Red Town that was built in this area. The name was a reference to the red paint that was used on most of the buildings. From the trailhead, cross Lakemont Boulevard to a grassy meadow, following a wide trail toward the sound of a splashing creek. Note the concrete foundation here, which is all that remains of the former Coal Creek Hotel (later known as the Newcastle Hotel). The trail quickly descends past a mine shaft and down to Coal Creek and the old railroad grade. After .25 miles you’ll reach North Creek Falls, a small but pleasant waterfall that flows year-round. As you leave the waterfall, keep an eye on the creek as you will soon see the water flowing over wooden boards. These boards are all that remain of the wooden box that miners built to enclose the creek and build tracks over it.

As you push onward through a forest of alder and Douglas fir, watch for other remnants of the mining past peeking out from beneath a sea of sword fern. At around the .5 mile pass a concrete platform on your left that is the remains of a locomotive turntable. Soon find yourself climbing an elaborate series of wooden bridges and steps before reaching a mining road at the .7 mile mark. Head right and downhill, following the road for another half-mile to a junction with the Primrose Trail, named for the former Primrose Mine. We recommend taking a right and following this trail as it descends deeper into the valley and passes Sandstone Falls in a few tenths of a mile. Continue following the Primrose Trail until it reconnects with the Coal Creek Trail. From here you can head back to the Red Town Trailhead via the Coal Creek Trail to make something of a loop, or continue almost another mile out to the Coal Creek Trailhead where a fish ladder can be found complete with a viewing area. Either way, enjoy this unexpectedly quiet walk through a young forest.

To get there, take I-90 to Exit 13. Head right up the hill on Lakemont Boulevard just over three miles. Look for the entrance to the Red Town Trailhead on the left side of the road. - Nathan

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Coal Creek Trail


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