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.
The northwest corner of Island Center Forest borders the Vashon Recycling & Transfer Station. Formerly the grounds of a landfill, the site is now home to a collaborative project to test soil restoration efforts, with the intent of bringing back native vegetation. Borrow Pit is the center of this activity, a depression similar in appearance to a retention pond but actually used to experiment with composting techniques.
Borrow Pit Loop circles this area. Starting from the southwest corner at a brief connector to the Westside Trailhead, the loop's dirt singletrack passes through dense old-growth forest, headed north. The path here is one of the most varied in the trail network, with fallen pine needles and cones obscuring scattered rocks and roots. Step carefully as the loop wanders north; this half of the trail requires a lot of eyes-down time.
Even though the trail is close to the Transfer Station and highway, it doesn't take long to feel miles from civilization. Lush vegetation surrounds the path and blocks outside sounds. As the loop turns east, a few muddy sections follow. Ignore a couple singletracks branching off to the north, which connect to private property, and weave through the trees, eventually turning south.
The loop exits the tree cover as it emerges on the eastern side of its namesake pit. Signs for North Trail
and Middle Fork
follow before making a turn west near the Transfer Station. Just ahead, a large map sign features an explanation of Borrow Pit's restoration efforts. Paper maps are available here as well. Head back into the old growth forest to finish out the trail, about a hundred feet after leaving the Pit's clearing.
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.