The woods and mountains of the PNW are a major reason I fell in love with the area. I have a goal to get out more, explore more trails, and get comfortable enough to eventually start trekking off of trailed hikes. Rattlesnake Ledge is as well-known hike that’s typically listed as a good hike for beginners. The ledge that the trail leads to has breathtaking, sweeping views of neighboring hills, lakes, roads, and buildings. I originally came to know the spot for its popularity as an engagement or wedding photo destination.
The weekend I planned to go, I carefully scrutinized the weather and tried to pick the best option for the least amount of cloud cover. The upcoming Saturday showed cloudy mornings with a sunny afternoon and Sunday with the reversed forecast. The plan was an early morning hike on Sunday.
Saturday morning I woke to bright blue skies that lasted all day. The day also brought the tragic news that early in the morning, a high school student lost his life after falling from the trail’s ledge while trying to take photos of his friends. It takes the air from my lungs to think of his friends and family.
I feel the need to make mention of it for a few reasons.
Even with an easier trail, there will always be danger when making hikes like this. We see floods of incredible images of hikers on the edges of cliffs, waterfalls, and ledges. I find them constantly while scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest. Put simply: there are real dangers and you should always be aware and cautious when in such locations. Your safety should always be first. It’s utterly heartbreaking, but small acts such as losing your footing can cost you dearly.
We (myself, Matthew, and a friend of mine) pushed back the time of our hike a few hours with the idea that after sunrise, the ice and snow will have a chance to melt and reveal more earth for us to hike on.
Sunday morning came, and with a somber mood, we made our way out to the Rattlesnake Ledge Trailhead.
Weather: Cloudy/ Rainy/ Snowy/ Hail | Trail Condition: Mud/ Ice/ Snow
Distance: 4 miles | Full Hike Time: 4 hours
The first 1/3 of the hike was over a very rocky path. We encounter a few brief periods of hail that were the size of water drops and rice grains. The trail looked as though sea salt has been poured along its edges; it turned to the likes of powdered sugar once it started melting.
We only encountered a handful of people on the way up. For the most part, the forest was still, quiet, and not quite woken up yet. The solitude allowed my thoughts to wander and I began fancying myself in the world of Dragon Age, following Solas’s lead through the elements – Skyhold somewhere up ahead.
After about an hour, the trail turned into muddy spots and ice. We started to see more people, all slowed down in the same slippery sections, and received cautionary advice from those who passed us on their way back down. Stepping to the side of the paths helped, trying to keep our feet in the snowbanks and off the iced-over dirt of the worn path. Having free, gloved hands allowed me to catch trees, roots, and branches when I needed the extra stability.
We stepped off the path to snap a few photos here and there, but it wasn’t until we got to one location in particular that we started taking into account of how long we’d been hiking.
“Wait, this isn’t it. Right?”
What we found is named the Middle Ledge, a gorgeous lookout that was obscured by heavy snow and fog. It’s located a little ways past a sign we turned left at. Rattlesnake Ledge we were looking for was just off to the right of the sign.
In our defense, this sign is not marked with any sort of directional indication. We didn’t realize this was meant to signify our arrival to the ledge and we continued to where the arrows were pointing.
After finding both the Middle Ledge and Upper Ledge, we began questioning what mile we were at. From the Middle Ledge, we snapped a few photos – one of them looking directly at what I later realized was the ledge, listed at around 1.9 miles from the trailhead. We wandered a little while further up the mountain until we found a mile sign.
2.25 miles – this is when we confirmed that we had indeed gone too far. We backtracked and began following the sounds of squeals, shouts, and laughter. We poked our heads out again at the Middle Ledge (it was too gorgeous not to) and could just make out figures across the way, moving between the trees. Backtracking along the icy trails, we made it to our destination to be greeted with the wonderful site of…
This is why you don’t follow Solas, friends. You’ll think something great is happening and then you’ll be left with a foggy, unclear greyness that leaves you a heap on the ground.
(I’m kidding. But not really. In honesty, I’m Solavellan hell forever, but at least I can marry Cullen on my alt.)
We wandered around the ledge for a little while (staying well away from the edges), watching the fog move and lift. There were a handful of people who came and went before we began our way back down the trail.
The weather definitely requires a more leisurely pace and care. The view from the ledge won’t be what you’ll see in summer, but the hazy, misty element to the entire day gave this trail a winter life all to its own.
Hiking to Rattlesnake Ledge during the winter is gorgeous. You need to be very careful of the narrow trail and amount of ice that accumulates – which means keeping a close eye on the weather before you plan to go. I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been for this hike and highly suggest bringing something to aid with traction (ie, traction systems you add to your shoes that have metal points to pierce the ice) and poles. We watched a number of people slip and struggle along the path in their sneakers and everyday shoes – please wear hiking boots while hiking, especially in winter. Matthew and I ended up stopping for a short period to help a family along an icy slope. Their teenagers couldn’t figure out how to get down since their every step caused their feet to slide out from under them. So again. Please wear hiking boots while hiking, especially on icy paths.
Even with its hazards, this is a fun trail for beginners. The trail at times gets steep and the hike does take a good amount of time. I do not recommend bringing small children to this hike. The snow covered the vegetation and ground, leaving us at times unsure as to where exactly the edge was.
If you’re in the mood for a day-dreamy, moody hike that’ll conjure up adventure game/novel/movie imagery, this is a great option. I’d set aside at least half a day to do this winter hike.