Grand Ridge Park

This was s surprise. In a good way. I never would have thought to head up to Issaquah Highlands to hike. I avoid the Highlands at all costs. Except twice a year… the kiddos’ dentist is up there. It’s a super packed residential area up a hill, with some retail and restaurants tossed in there. Mixed use. There’s a term from my past working world. And a hospital with surrounding medical offices. I almost had Baby there by chance. I went to Seattle instead… the Highlands aren’t my thing. Even though we lived there when we first moved to Washington. We rented an apartment sight unseen. It was nice, and we enjoyed our short time there before buying down in regular Issaquah. But now, it’s soooo packed in up there. Houses so close, if not attached. And cars parked along the narrow streets… narrow streets so they can pack in so many freaking homes, and sell them for around a million. It feels claustrophobic. And cluttery. People who live there love it, so good for them.

The surprise: Grand Ridge Park. What an absolutely beautiful gem of an area. When my friend whom I hiked Soaring Eagle Park with told me about Grand Ridge Park up in the Highlands, I was dubious. But she said it was a really great trail. I trust her. And she said there are bridges. I’m a sucker for bridges. Like when we went fossil digging and I was highly interested in an over 100-year-old bridge?!

The following weekend I had plans to hike with another friend, and I suggested we hit up Grand Ridge Park. She was down. We met at 8am in the soccer field parking lot. There were maybe eight other cars when I arrived. It was jam-packed when we left around 11am. Also a fun note, the field was covered with snow when we started… there was no snow when we left. It had lightly snowed the night before. I was worried our hike would be snowy because I had looked out our bathroom window the night before and our street was white. Luckily most of the snow was gone by morning.

We set off from the parking lot and circled the soccer field. I was under the (wrong) impression a trailhead was behind the soccer field. Nope. I probably should have read the map a bit closer. Oh well. It was still fun to be with my friend, chatting as we strolled. We eventually found a map and went the right direction to the trailhead behind a stormwater pond, aptly named South Pond Trailhead. In order for us to get to the trailhead, we crossed a field next to some baseball fields. I imagine there is a walkway that would have gone around but we went for the field. Above us was a row of homes and I am certain we were being watched by a few people, likely thinking, why TF are those two crossing the wet and muddy field when there is a walkway right there? Haha. We made it to the trailhead. Score! It was like stepping into a secluded forest. The packed in homes disappeared and any sounds of the Highlands were muted. I was taken with the trail right away. It was stunning. A well-kept trail, with bridges and small waterfalls mixed in with the standard trees and forest things.

Trail things.

Evidence of snow.

We walked with the goal of going up. It was quiet for a beautiful Saturday morning. Then again, ever since moving up here almost 15 years ago, I quickly realized this is not an early morning area. In pre-Covid times, morning traffic in Redmond is around 10am. I’ve always been a fan of mornings. Even in college, I would happily be up before sunrise to get the day going. Those calm, quiet mornings walking in downtown San Luis Obispo. What memories. It’s the cluttery thing. Mornings aren’t cluttery. And that whole people thing. I’ve been social distancing for years.

After making it to the trailhead, we made our way along the Coal Mine Loop up the East Fork Trail, just past Grand Ridge Drive. I was happy, Bridges! Haha. There was one small footbridge over water, and something caught my friend’s attention. She’s a nature buff and super knowledgeable about everything along hikes. She knows the names of all the vegetation… you name it, she knows it. What caught her attention were these ball-like things in the water. I figured they were rocks. She wanted to explore.

We found a stick and rolled one out, and she was (and still is) perplexed. There were (maybe still are?!) about seven round things, varying in size, clustered together. They are white-ish and sponge-like, but tough. We didn’t touch it with our hands, only with a stick. It looked like someone else was curious because another one was split open. I texted it to one of my friends—a mushroom buff—and she suggested it may be a puffball mushroom. But I’m not sure after looking online. My friend whom I was with on the hike, she posted a picture to one of her foraging groups. They weren’t helpful and not very nice, and she ended up deleting the photo. Apparently those who responded were stuck on it being food—a muffin or rice ball (okay?!). One commenter said something like, “It’s clearly a muffin. Do you think all crumbs on trails are mushrooms?” People who hide behind their keyboards. I’m so NOT knowledgeable about anything nature but what we saw was definitely not food. Rather, not processed food. Maybe a mushroom?! There was no muffin wrapper. And if it were a muffin submerged in water, no way would it be spongy-tough. Plus, I’ve never seen a round muffin. And a rice ball? Seven of them in different sizes, placed together under water? Yeah, nope. The mystery still stands. I think she was going to dig a bit more. I’m tempted to go back and check them out some more, even though I have no idea what that would accomplish.

Not muffins. Or rice balls. It’s super hard to see but the cluster of balls are in the water there.

After the muffins, haha, we continued on East Fork Trail. We crossed Grand Ridge Drive and went about a quarter of a mile before turning around. We went back down on the East Fork Trail and hiked on the other section of the Coal Mine Loop, before making our way back up to the soccer field parking lot. According to my Apple Watch, we hiked 5.49 miles.

Signage. I personally like the look sign with arrows. Maybe I’m in the minority here but whenever I see a stop sign, I look both ways. Haha.

Those 5.49 miles were so beautiful. Standard forest things but in a clean way. Everything felt like it was perfectly placed. As the morning went on, more people hit the trail. Still not as many as I would have expected. A few hikers, more trail runners, mostly mountain bikers. The mountain bikers are fun. It’s not something I’m interested in doing but I enjoy watching them. They all look like they’re thoroughly enjoying themselves. With their bikes that cost more than most cars, haha. This area and bikes. It’s a thing. But I like that they are super courteous and more than willing to share the trail.

Fun trees.

Fungi.

It was overcast and foggy, and then sunny.

The whole park is so freaking amazing. The trails are great, and the option to go up or down in elevation is a nice bonus. Not like a hike up that you have to hike back down… where there’s no option. The trails in Grand Ridge give the option to have a nice, gentle hike without much varying elevation. And there are trail options that go down and then back up. Or up and then back down. If that even makes sense?! It’s late, I’m tired, and this was Saturday. It’s Wednesday. I hiked again this morning, and then hit the trail when I got back home. I should be in bed, asleep… not watching Forensic Files while writing this.

I’m anxious to go back and hike from Grand Ridge Park to Duthie Hill Park. If my calculations are correct, it’s about 8.8 miles roundtrip. Totally doable. Maybe one of these days. And I feel like if I’m ever going to see a cougar while hiking, it’ll be back up in the connector and natural area. And bonus, according to the map, there are two more bridges. Yeah, I’m excited about bridges.

Oh, and after the 5.49 mile hike Saturday morning, I hit the trail with Maive and Mel in the afternoon for 6.01 miles, running about three of those miles. It was a great day and I felt the calories melt away. Tonight, I ate chocolate. I need that melting feeling back.

My post-hike trail hitters. Maive barely opened her eyes for the picture.

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