“With diverging singletracks and a few climbs, Fir Hill bumps up Island Forest's difficulty a notch.
— Brendan Ross
Birding · Fall Colors · Spring
Deer hunting in the main portion of Island Center Forest is permitted for a short period, typically in the second half of October. During this time, the trails are closed to non-hunters. Signs will be placed at trailheads, but if visiting during this period, it's a good idea to check King County's website at kingcounty.gov/services/par…
. The Natural and Gateway Areas, east of Landtrust Trail
, remain open.
Island Center Forest's routes are mostly flat and smooth. Road or trail shoes work fine on these easy trails. Expect to share them with other hikers, runners, cyclists, and horseback riders. Take note that there are several singletracks branching off the established trail system and leading to local residents' backyards.
Dogs are not permitted in the Mukai or Meadowlake Pond areas but are allowed throughout the rest of the trail. They are required to remain "either leashed or under strict sight and voice control," according to local regulations.
Generally, visitors should elect to use the 188th Street Trailhead, as it has the most parking. Paper maps are available here and at the Mukai and Cemetery Trailheads.
In a trail system filled with flat, well-maintained paths, just about any incline is going to add some challenge. Fir Hill Trail is that route, tossing a few curveballs to keep runners interested. Experienced runners won't find any trouble here, but this is a good spot for beginning trail users to test out their skills.
The beginning of Fir Hill is easy to miss if coming from the 188th Trailhead, as it requires backtracking on the main route after bypassing the marsh crossing. No sign marks the intersection, but the wide singletrack is easy to spot heading off into the trees to the south, splitting around a large tree in the middle of the path. Similar to 188th
in composition, Fir Hill adds more roots to the mix, so step carefully.
Mixing old and new growth, Fir Hill wanders between towering firs and short saplings. A few fallen trees have been cut or pushed back from the trail. Not long after the start, it begins a series of moderately-graded ups and downs. All are fairly short, so they're not particularly difficult, but it's a welcome change from the flat nature of most of Vashon's byways. As it goes, Fir Hill winds back and forth a great deal.
A turnoff for the Valley of the Firs
shortcut is about a quarter mile in. After this point, two or three singletracks branch off from Fir Hill. All lead back into the main route, so take any path. The sun spills through the trees as the trail makes one more climb and turns west.
From here on out, it's a flat and mostly straight trip. Fir Hill ends at the Cemetery Trailhead. Cemetery Run
, directly across the parking area, is an easy dirt singletrack connecting to a few diversionary loops. Alternatively, runners can turn right and continue on Grinder
, a former dirt road connecting to several other paths.
Flora & Fauna
Originally a state-owned area logged to provide revenue for Washington's education system, Island Center Forest was passed to King County Parks in 2002 as a model for sustainable forest management. Owing to its history, the area exhibits a mix of both old growth and restoration areas. Many local tree species grow here, including enormous firs and one of the Island's largest areas of quaking aspens.
Animal life includes smaller woodland creatures and deer, but the biggest draw to Island Forest is the wide variety of birds, more than eighty species in all. The wetland areas around Mukai and Meadowlake Ponds draw bird watchers from around the region.