New trails, new crag access—We’re celebrating National Public Lands Day right

We’re celebrating National Public Lands Day with even more opportunities to get out and discover recreation opportunities with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

On Sept. 22, the Dirty Harry’s Peak Trail and Far Side Climbing Area open, offering increased recreation access in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA) east of North Bend and just 45 minutes from Seattle.

The new trail received the majority of its funding from the Natural Areas and Sustainable Recreation capital budgets and are part of an ongoing project to enhance access in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA.

DNR got started on the project in 2015. DNR spent weeks designing and permitting the trail before looking for stakeholders interested in collaborating to make it happen. A mix of non-profit groups, volunteers, government-led trail crews, and community members rallied behind the project. Then, they got to work.

“Through the collaboration process and working with multiple groups to help complete this project, it was great to see everyone step up and bring their organization’s skillset to the table with enthusiasm,” Sam Jarrett, DNR statewide trails specialist, said.  “The vital role these groups played in seeing this project come to fruition is really a testament to how strong and effective our state’s outdoor recreation organizations, volunteers, and agency trail crews can be when working together.”

Dirty Harry's Peak Trail WTA volunteers construct new trail

Three years of collaboration

The first phase of the project was to decommission a significant segment of the old informal Dirty Harry’s Peak hiking route. The route was located on an old forest road where the agency was acting to remove old culverts and other barriers to enhance fish passage and habitat along a South Fork Snoqualmie River tributary.

With the loss of a segment of the old forest road route and an unsanctioned path to the Dirty Harry’s Peak area, DNR decided to repurpose an undesignated hiking and rock climbing access route and collaborated with Washington State Parks to provide developed access from the trailhead it manages at Far Side.

This route, known informally as Birdhouse Trail, was redesigned into a more sustainable location limiting new impacts to the conservation area. This strategy also eliminated the need to create a new trailhead.

DNR worked with the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust (MTSG) to convert 1.7 miles of upper elevation forest road to trail and decommission remaining forest roads. MTSG developed an additional 0.7 miles of new machine built trail that connects down to the project area boundary tackled by the Washington Trails Association (WTA).

WTA helped lead dozens of volunteer work parties and focused their efforts on a particularly difficult one-mile segment of hand-built trail over steep and rocky terrain.  This trail segment required technical trail construction skills to build carefully constructed rock steps and rock retaining walls on an approximately 1-mile segment of challenging trail. WTA contributed more than 12,000 volunteer labor hours to complete this part of the project.

A local DNR trail crew, with support from a Washington Conservation Corps crew, renovated the lower 0.4 miles of trail by repurposing an old forest road grade-to-trail and developing a new trail segment adjacent to the trailhead. These crews also focused their efforts on sign and kiosk installations.

Dirty Harry's Peak Trail new hand-built trail segment in rocky terrain

Discover Dirty Harry’s Peak Trail

The years of collaboration and sweat poured into the trail up Dirty Harry’s Peak paid off. DNR is proud to present the new trail with formal access to the Far Side climbing area—though the hike is not to be underestimated.

Dirty Harry’s Peak Trail is a challenging 3.8 mile trail that provides a much-needed hiking addition to the very popular and often overcrowded recreation areas within the Mountains to Sound Greenway corridor, west of Snoqualmie Pass. It begins near the South Fork River valley bottom north of I-90 and ascends to approximately 4,200 feet on elevation.

Dirty Harry’s Peak Trail uses re-routed and renovated segments of a former unsustainable and non-designated trail and is rocky and steep in many sections. It’s perfect for visitors with technical hiking skills and a good level of fitness. It’s not recommended for children or pets because some segments have off-trail exposure to cliff bands and the hike is considered challenging. Hikers are rewarded for their effort with treks through older forest stands that have intermittent views of both the South Fork River valley and surrounding mountains.

To download or print a trail map, click here.

Head out to the Far Side Climbing Area

DNR staff are excited to increase access to more outdoor climbing opportunities near Seattle.

The Far Side Climbing Area has informally existed for years, but this project provided access signs for the trail junctions and maps of the area.

Far Side offers predominately bolted crags ranging in difficulty from 5.6 to 5.12a. There are a handful of trad lines and six multi-pitch options.

The Access Fund and Washington Climbers Coalition were instrumental in providing climbing expertise and helping to bring DNR together with local climbers from the community to provide feedback and to help evaluate an existing network of undesignated trails that served as an informal access to various climbing routes.

“Our partners in the climbing community were really receptive to DNR’s project design goals of developing the minimal trail mileage necessary to provide both the main hiking route to Dirty Harry’s Peak and access to popular climbing area spur trail junctions,” Jarrett said. “We’re reducing the overall associated impacts to the natural area landscape in an effort to provide low-impact recreation.”

The Access Fund and Washington Climber’s Coalition also teamed up to bring trail building resources to the project.  The Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team contributed a mobile pair of professional trail builders that travel across the nation. They oversaw several large volunteer work parties throughout the three-year project development period.

The partnership has resulted in fewer unsanctioned trails and associated impacts, with improved visitor information.

“We worked together to help visitors navigate between hiking and rock climbing pursuits through an improved signage system,” Jarrett said. “We also tried to retain the natural aesthetic of the surrounding environment as much as possible while still providing enough wayfinding information for visitors.”

For a map of the climbing area, click here.

To visit the Far Side Climbing Area’s Mountain Project page, click here.

Dirty Harry's Peak Trail view of South Fork Snoqualmie River Valley and Interstate 90

The public planning process

The DNR Snoqualmie Corridor Recreation Plan was released in March 2015 and included high-priority plans to identify and establish new hiking trail opportunities from the Far Side Trailhead to access the Dirty Harry’s Peak area. It also called for DNR to work with the climbing community to improve rock-climbing access and management in the Interstate 90, Exit 38 area.

The new trail system is a result of the local input and community support that went into that planning effort.  Visitors will continue to see improvements identified in the plan on the ground for the next decade.

Conservation efforts in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley 
Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Resources Conservation Area, managed by DNR, was established in 2011 and stretches across the forestland east of North Bend to the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. It protects wildlife habitat, scenic views, and the upper reaches of the rivers. In addition, it provides an approximate 20-mile trail system for low-impact day-use recreation opportunities.

Getting there
Traveling east on Interstate 90, take Exit 38. Follow SE Homestead Valley Road staying briefly on Grouse Ridge Road before tuning into the Far Side Trailhead, which closes each day at dusk.  Traveling west on Interstate 90, take Exit 38. Take an immediate right turn on Grouse Ridge Road, after a short drive park at the Far Side Trailhead.

To download or print a trail map, click here.

The Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission owns, manages, and maintains the Far Side Trailhead.  DNR collaborated with state parks to improve visitor information at the trailhead kiosk, including new trail system maps to improve the user experience.

A Discover Pass is required to park at the trailhead, get yours here.