With over 3000 acres of forests, marshes, and streams – and only 15 miles from downtown Seattle – Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park is like a trail runner’s dream come true. Whether you want to barrel down stretches of technical single-tracks or stay on wider, groomed paths; whether you want to run three miles or 20, the park has something to offer everyone.
What Makes It Great
King County has many appealing parks, but it is for good reason that King County Parks and Recreation considers Cougar Mountain to be the gem of its whole 25,000-acre park system: It is beautiful, accessible, and its 36-miles of trail provide a virtually boundless running grounds. You may get tired from running here, but you will never get tired of running here.
The park is surrounded by the cities of Bellevue, Issaquah, Renton, and Newcastle. But quickly after starting your run, the urban jungle will feel far behind you. Meandering through mosses, ferns, and conifers, you’ll feel as if you’re in the middle of the backcountry. The park also boasts virgin forests of ancient Douglas firs, five waterfalls, and provides habitat for wildlife including black bears, bobcats, and yes, cougars (though they are seldom seen).
Untamed as it may feel within, Cougar Mountain actually has a long history of human use, from Native American settlements to a Nike missile site during the Cold War. In fact its resource, namely, coal deposits, played a large role in sealing Seattle’s fate as the economic hub of the Pacific Northwest. Remnants of the mining industry are still found throughout the park today, including a “cave” (a.k.a. old mining shaft) that plunges down 518 feet below sea level.
There are four major entry-points that provide access to the park’s interconnected trail system: Red Town, which gives the quickest access to the historical mining exhibits; Sky Country, near the former missile site; Anti-Aircraft Peak, the summit of which provides the park’s best views; and Jim Whittaker Wilderness Peak, named after the first American to summit Mt. Everest, in the park’s southeast corner. There are also several smaller entry-points that also connect to the trail system.
The abundance of route options is what makes the park exceptional, but it can also make it hard to know where to go. If you are in need of some further guidance to plan out your run, the Cougar Mountain Trail Run Series has mapped out the courses they use for races, which range from 3.13 to 31.1 miles, available here. The trails are marked within the park, but it can still be easy to get disoriented. It is a good idea to bring a map along with you.
Who is Going to Love It
History buffs, nature nerds, and trail running fanatics who want to just keep on running, running, running.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There are parking lots at each of the four main trailheads, and you can find directions to each trailhead on the park's website.
To enter at one of the other smaller trailheads, park on the street.