Bunkering Down at Tolt-MacDonald Park (Carnation, WA)

It doesn’t rain all the time in Seattle, not even in the winter; that’s a myth. But if the skies do cloud over and dump pelting rain or snow on you while you’re riding, wouldn’t it be nice to take cover in a full-on survivor bunker made from tree branches, ferns, mosses and Boy Scout-like resourcefulness?

There are more than a few fun surprises built by bikers to encounter at the Tolt-MacDonald Park and Ames Lake Forest trail systems. Log piles, log rides and a ladder or two help change up the scenery, and a couple of fern-mantled bunkers blend into the landscape, awaiting discovery. Just traverse the spectacular 500-foot suspension foot bridge across the Snoqualmie River to start your ride through 574 acres of King County Park land and 428 acres of private tree farm property.

Distance: 20+ miles

Altitude change: 500’

The Ride: Tolt’s defining character is spidery, technical singletrack broken up by sharp turns and frequent, navigable roots—perfect terrain for maintaining speed while firing the reflexes. Another distinguishing feature is the relative evenness of terrain; there’s no serious climbing beyond the initial 500-foot ascent up the IAB (“It’s A Bitch”) trail to the low plateau where most of the riding trails are. On the whole, the trails on the plateau (especially in the SW corner) dry out well, although a few sections exhibit that mud-bog-like quality afflicting most other western Washington riding locations this time of year. But if you’re looking for a good training spot to hunker down in for the winter, this is it.

Running into riders at trail intersections is common.

The tight trails offer individual riders a quiet privacy, but they also prove a serendipitous meeting place. You will no doubt encounter other riders at the numerous trail crossings or along the main fire road that cuts across the plateau. If you happen upon a rider who calls this area his or her own backyard, jump on that train; these trails are exponentially more fun if you’re not stopping every second to figure out where you are. And if you don’t meet anyone, it’s still fun to ride yourself in circles while you’re finding your bearings.

The good thing is you can’t really get lost; you’re on a plateau.

After climbing the IAB trail up to the east flank of the plateau, you’ll encounter a 5-way intersection that you’ll want to remember for the return trip. Then get lost for an hour and just ride east when you want to head home.

Daniel outside a hut. Bike paraphernalia, including a chain ring mobile, decorate the inside.

The scenery may look the same to you at first, but keep an eye out for things that the forest camouflages, like the natural bunkers that riders have erected out of fallen tree branches, ferns, moss and dirt.

Directions: From Seattle, drive east on SR-520 for 12 miles and turn right onto WA-202/Redmond Way. After about 7 miles, turn left onto Tolt Hill Road and drive for 3 miles to SR-203. Take a left on SR-203 and drive for just a half mile before turning left onto NE 40th ST. You will see a sign for the tree farm. Drive down the road and park by the river. Walk your bike over the bridge and head up the gravel road until it becomes singletrack. Then get lost.

See you on the trail.

Angela Sucich, Freelance Writer


About angelarides

I have many practical skills. I have a PhD in Medieval Literature. I can solder an LED hula hoop. Oh, and I ride and write about bikes.
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1 Response to Bunkering Down at Tolt-MacDonald Park (Carnation, WA)

  1. Jon Brengan says:

    You bursted my bubble, I thought forest nomes built these cottages for some secret biking parties in the forest at the solstice. Now I’ve got to wonder if these nomes actually exist. Thanks alot for ruining another myth.

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