There’s a town not far outside Seattle, Washington that was swallowed whole by Rattlesnake Lake where you can walk the shores and kayak its still waters.


I can hear the alarm from my iPhone across the room, and my first thought is that I can sleep through it. Still, I flew to Seattle from Phoenix because I love the hiking trails here. I desperately want to be out in the wild, surrounded by lush green vegetation—the kind I remember from a childhood of exploring the forests in Minnesota.

Immobile, I can't decide what hurts more—the muscles in my thighs or the kink in my neck after sleeping in an unfamiliar hotel bed. The answer is both, which I admit is pathetic. And yet the cool weather and hope of rainfall await, so what am I doing wasting time in bed?  

Hiking Little Si

Yesterday we hiked Little Si. Not Mount Si, mind you. I thought 3,900 feet would be a bit too daunting for our (well, my) first hike of the long weekend. So we stuck with the comfortable 1,550-foot elevation of Little Si. As far as I'm concerned it was the right decision, though Tyler (who is much younger, as well as far more spry and nimble) would have easily handled the increased elevation of Mount Si.

 
Dave and Tyler walking the trail up Little Si in WashingtonLittle Si is the perfect entry point for anyone who wants to hike in Seattle. Sure, it's a popular trail that draws locals and tourists alike, but its beauty is unquestioned. As waning sunlight streams through the canopy of trees above us it casts the landscape in an emerald glow that gives the illusion that you've been transported to another world.

Every time I'm on the trail I linger and savor every step, wondering if faeries, gnomes, and sprites are darting in and out of the foliage around me.

Unfortunately, work-life balance isn't something I'm good at. I'm embarrassed to admit that thanks to succumbing to a life where most of my exercise is walking from my office to a meeting room, I'm woefully out of shape. But I manage to make it up Little Si and back thanks to the assist from my Black Diamond Trail Back trekking poles

The Way to Rachel Lake

I didn't think about the ramifications that hiking would have on my body. The next morning, stiff and sore, I force my eyes open and look at my phone. I’m supposed to meet Dave and Tyler in the lobby in 20 minutes. We’re going to head out for a hike around Rachel Lake. I haven't been before but the pictures are incredible and I can't wait to reach the water. It'll be the longest hike of the weekend, and even though I'm not sure that my aching muscles are up for it I know it'll be an amazing experience.

We drive for over an hour, but due to fallen trees that are thicker around than our van, we only make it to within 3 miles of the trailhead. Still, we decide to give it a go and park next to a gnarled behemoth that is blocking our way.

Then a strange twist. It doesn’t take us long to discover that the road ahead is buried beneath two feet of compact snow. In May. Look, May snowfall in Minnesota wasn't all that unusual. But in Seattle?

As the sun rises, the snow quickly morphs into slush, making it hard (as in close to impossible) to walk. We want to push through but how much worse will it be in an hour? Still, Rachel Lake was on our itinerary and abandoning the trail—even for another hike—would be admitting failure.

I hate failure. We don't want to turn back, but we do. 
The road leading to the Rachel Lake trailhead covered in snow and sluchThere are two options as we see them. We can either throw in the towel and hang out at a pub for the rest of the day. Or we can find a new trail to hike—preferably one near water since that was part of the draw to Rachel Lake.

A cold beer sounds great, even after the snowy slushy mess we’ve been tromping through, but that's not why we're in Seattle. We want to be outside in the elements, not on a patio with our feet kicked up.

Finding a Different Path: Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area

Inspiration strikes. I remember a friend posting something on Facebook about a lake that had swallowed an entire town. And it was supposed to be somewhere near Seattle.

Tyler looks it up on his phone as I drive along the narrow, winding road that leads back out of the forest, hoping we don’t slide into a ditch. Our new destination is called Rattlesnake Lake, and we agree that it sounds ripe for adventure (or at least the title of a “Hardy Boys” or “Goosebumps” book).

According to our GPS, Rattlesnake Lake is 48.7 miles back toward Seattle, just south of North Bend, Washington.

Tyler continues to research online and finds pictures of rooftops that eerily crest the waterline of the lake. We can’t wait to get there. But when we finally do, it’s not what we expected.
Rattlesnake Lake floodedFor all the promised intrigue and mystery of a graveyard town, we’re a bit shocked when we end up at what amounts to an urban park.

From the endless kayaks that dot the water like a spilled box of oversized Crayola crayons, to the massive line of people streaming toward Rattlesnake Ledge Trail, there doesn’t appear to be anyplace to get away from the crowd.

I'm not going to lie, this isn't what we had hoped for. After all, for me, hiking isn’t just about nature. It’s about getting away from the crowds and this is the wrong place to be if you want peace and tranquility. Still, it's beautiful and we're just happy to be outside. Especially since temperatures back home in Arizona are already approaching 11o degrees.

Cars lucky enough to find parking spots either line the streets or are jammed into nearby lots, but despite the overflow of people we’re too stubborn to leave. Even if it won’t be a true adventure—and even if there isn’t any place to escape from the throng—we’re determined to get some photos of those sunken houses. Who knows, maybe the experience will inspire my next novel.

How to Get to Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area

To get to the Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area, all you need to do is take exit 32 off of Interstate 90. It’s about 35 miles east of Seattle and 3 miles southeast of North Bend. Inside the recreation area, there’s a 111-acre lake lined with a meandering walkway for people looking for a nice stroll, some picnic areas, and Rattlesnake Ledge Trail, which offers a 4-mile round trip hike that reaches 2,078 feet.

We decide to skip Rattlesnake Ledge Trail and head southwest along the paved path toward a spot in the lake where a forest of strange tree stumps (I later learn they are Western red cedar) rise out from the water. We hope it’s the spot where we’ll be able to at least see the rooflines of the houses that had been swallowed by Rattlesnake Lake, but unfortunately, we’re a few months too late.
Rattlesnake Lake, WashingtonA drought had caused the lake to recede late last year, offering views of what was left of a once thriving community. But spring had provided enough rainfall to raise the elevation of Rattlesnake Lake and all that was left when we arrived was the view of the tree stumps. 

The History of Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area

Before it was called the Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area, locals actually knew the area as the town of Moncton. It sprouted along the shores of Rattlesnake Lake in 1906 to support growth around the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, just north of Cedar Falls.

The community attracted logging, rail, and Seattle Water Department workers who wanted to own their own property, as opposed to those who lived in homes owned by the water department in Cedar Falls.

The population grew to over 200 people by 1915, and amenities for the locals included a hotel, saloon, and of all things, an indoor swimming pool. But in May that same year, seepage from an upstream dam caused Rattlesnake Lake to rise up to a foot a day. In time it flooded the entire town, and Moncton was condemned. Residents were given a settlement to start their lives over somewhere else, and now the once thriving community is little but a memory.

Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area Is Great For Families

If you’re looking for a secluded place to get away, the Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area isn’t your spot. Still, it has an interesting history and the views are spectacular. It’s a great place for families with young ones who want to stretch their legs and it's going to be a great spot to bring my family next time they join me on a trip to Washington.

Just be patient when it comes to parking, which is at a premium. If you’re going out on a weekend, you might want to get there early. And bring a camera. It may be an urban park, but it's absolutely beautiful.

Gear List for Hiking near Seattle
  1. The North Face Men’s Dryzzle Jacket with GORE-TEX PACLITE® Shell
  2. Salewa Alp Flow Mid GORE-TEX SURROUND® Boot
  3. The North Face Mudder Trucker Hat
  4. SmartWool Merino Wool Liner Socks
  5. Nikon D7100
  6. Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM Lens
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