I woke to darkness outside my window in the early morning, my body accustomed to waking before dawn. This morning, however, I rolled over and continued to sleep. We would be hiking today, but given some tricky time constraints, I had a lazy morning ahead of me before we set off for the Rattlesnake Ledge trailhead at ten am.
I have talked about my love for sub-24 backpacking trips before, but there is something exciting about sneaking in a hike when it feels like there isn’t enough time in the day to get out there. Don’t get me wrong, I love long, epic trips in the wilderness. I love finding secluded trails where it takes work to get there and the plan for the day is to be in the woods as long as possible. But when the option is a 5-hour window to hike with a dear friend or to not hike at all, I will be on that trail every time!
Knowing that we only had 5 hours before we needed to be back in Seattle, I tried to find a hike with minimal driving from Ballard that would allow for maximum time on the trail. Rattlesnake Ledge, at about an hour away, seemed to fit the parameters nicely. With only 4 miles and 1100′ of elevation gain, I was confident we could make it to the trailhead and back within 3 hours, with a leisurely lunch at the top to boot.
Rattlesnake Ledge Trail
We arrived at the trailhead around 11 am, to a huge and almost full parking lot. The trip reports I read the previous week indicated the trail was covered in snow and we would need microspikes. Both Meg and I had packed for a full winter adventure, with gaiters, multiple layers, microspikes and heavy winter hats. Once we saw the bare green trees and felt the warm temperature, we stripped down to our lightest layers, threw an extra warm jacket in our packs and started towards the trail.
The trail was well compacted and well traveled. It is an extremely popular trail, enough so that it is notorious among hiking groups in Washington. It is regularly mocked on Reddit, causes contentious discussion on NWhikers, and is the spot all of your semi-outdoorsy friends took their engagement photos. Can’t blame the people though, the views are incredible for a pretty short hike and the rolling emerald peaks make for a quintessential PNW snapshot.
We had willingly come to Rattlesnake Ledge on a holiday, in the middle of the day, when it was sunny, so we knew what we were getting into. Crowds in November aren’t nearly as crazy as the ones in July, but it was still more crowded than most hikes that I do.
The trail started climbing on a gentle incline. There aren’t many features on the trail before reaching the first ledge, so we quickly made it to the top. The first ledge was too full of people to find a spot to sit, so we after a few pictures we continued to the middle ledge.
The trail had far fewer people once we continued on to the middle ledge. There were about four other groups at the middle ledge, which was also significantly smaller. We found a lovely boulder to sit on and enjoyed the view.
The rocks soon became too cold on our rears to continue sitting, so we shouldered our packs and headed back down the trail. With the moderate grade, it felt like no time had passed until we reached the lakeshore. I have only visited Rattlesnake Ledge in the summer when the lake is high, however, in the winter, the lake levels are much lower and many stumps are exposed. We enjoyed walking around in the mud and looked at all of the bleached roots. A bunch of kids were playing in the mud and it was pretty cute to watch. It made me wish I brought a shovel to join in.
All in all, it was a great hike to sneak in with only five hours to spare. It is a level above Discovery Park in Seattle for me, but still something that can be completed with a five-hour window. We even got back to Seattle an hour early and enjoyed a delicious meal at Sen Noodle. Share with me any favorite quick hikes for busy days in the comments!