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Through-Hiking the Tiger Mountain Trail in the Issaquah Alps

Last updated Apr 29, 2022 | Published on Jun 26, 2018

15.6 TMT miles
2360 feet elevation gain
(Plus an additional .8 miles and 430 feet climbing the Middle Tiger Summit)

I love hiking long trails. What I don’t love about long-distance hiking, however, is being away from my family for extended periods of time. Luckily for me, there are lots of shorter “long trails” in my area to explore.

Lots of old trail markers like this one line the Tiger Mountain Trail

The Tiger Mountain Trail (TMT) is one of those trails.

Traversing the entire length of the Tiger Mountain State Forest in the Issaquah Alps, the TMT is rugged and wild. It also attracts a fraction of the crowds that flock to more popular trails with big views (I’m looking at you, Poo Poo Point Trail!)

I’ve previously explored portions of the TMT (refer to Winter and Spring Hiking on the Tiger Mountain Trail North for my last adventure) and dreamed of the day when I could through-hike the entire 16-mile trail. That day finally arrived this past weekend.

The southern terminus of the TMT

The southern terminus of the TMT is located just off of the Tiger Mountain Road SE. The entrance is somewhat hard to find unless you know what to look for. Thankfully there is a small turnout off the side of the road with room for a few cars.

Let’s get this party started!!

I hit the trail at 7:30 am and headed north. The first portion of the trail is well-groomed and wends through ferns and moss-laden trees.

I was delighted to find salmonberries lining the trail. After my last blog post about hiking on Cougar Mountain, I’ve learned how to identify them. I found salmonberries to be tasty but with a slightly bitter aftertaste – not my favorite berry but still enjoyable.

Salmonberries.  Now I know how to identify them. Yum!

Near the TMT’s southern terminus

After about a half mile or so the trail starts to get fairly overgrown. Branches and stinging nettles laden with moisture from Friday night’s rainstorm hung over the trail. Within an hour I was soaked and had stinging nettle welts on my legs and hands (thankfully my reaction to stinging nettles is fairly minor and the welts dissipated quickly).

Junction to Carkin’s Cliff

Watch out for stinging nettles

There’s a trail in there… somewhere…

Whelp. Shoulda worn my raingear.

After about a mile, the TMT intersects a horse bypass trail – I stayed to the left since I’m on two legs and enjoyed the views from Carkin’s Cliff. I continued past Hobart Gap and followed the TMT for another mile or so until it crosses the South Tiger Powerline Trail. This intersection proved to be a little tricky as the trail is not well-marked here and tall wet grasses drenched me even further.

Intersection of the TMT with the S. Tiger Powerline Trail

Nom nom nom

Thanks to my map, I did find the northbound TMT again – located a few hundred feet west along the Powerline Trail – and headed back into the woods. The sounds of traffic from nearby Highway 18 faded as the the trail skirts South Tiger Mountain and plunges into the heart of the Tiger Mountain State Forest.

What’s up buttercup?

Intersection of the TMT with West Side Road

I had the trail to myself up to this point and encountered other hikers for the first time at West Side Road. The next 1.5 miles travel through or adjacent to clear cuts which is a little depressing. On the bright side, foxglove and other wild flowers are in full bloom throughout this area.

Foxglove lining the trail

Hiking next to clear cuts

Sigh. This is depressing.

Lots of ugly slash piles left over from previous clear cuts

At Millan’s Crossing, the TMT intersects with the Middle Tiger Trail. My Green Trails Map indicated that the Middle Summit has a view so I decided to take a half mile detour and check it out. Alas, there is no view that I could see, but it is a lovely spot for a break. It finally occurred to me to don my rainskirt so I wouldn’t get any wetter as I continued to hike.

Millan’s Crossing

Middle Tiger Summit

I headed back down to the TMT and continued north. The trail is in pretty good shape but there are a few muddy patches and downed trees in this area. One blowdown at Hal’s Cove, specifically, was awkward to navigate as the trail hugs a cliff and there is no room to go around. So I got on my hands and knees and crawled under.

Blowdown by Hal’s Cove

The unfortunately-named “Denny’s Bulge”

Hiking through clouds

I took my lunch break just past Custer’s Bridge where I met a fellow hiker named John. We were both soaked and had a nice conversation – and then ended up hiking together almost the rest of the day. I was delighted to discover that he is a plant expert. I’ve been struggling to learn the names of native plants and he was happy to teach them to me as we hiked. The afternoon hours flew by as we chatted about plants and hiking.

My new hiking buddy, John

Miner’s lettuce

Thimbleberries – not yet ripe but will be soon!

Goat’s beard

Foam flower

Devil’s club

Red Elderberry

We elected to skip the side trails to West Tiger Summits #1, #2, and #3. So, no big views today except for an occasional glimpse through the trees.

Views of the Puget Sound as glimpsed through the trees

We continued on without incident for the rest of the afternoon – past Larry’s Corner and Manning’s Reach and Tom’s Crossing – until we reached Fred’s Corner. At this point, there *used* to be an intersection here and the TMT turned north. That old trail is now gone as piles of brush are stacked up blocking entrance to the old trail. This section of the TMT – from Fred’s Corner to Lingering Trail – was closed earlier this spring due to an unsafe bridge but pretty much everyone had been ignoring the closure. That is no longer possible due to the piles of brush blocking the trail.

Look – it’s a brand new trail!

Bleeding hearts

Wild rose

There are no signs here and we were pretty confused for a moment and decided to keep heading east on the West Tiger Railroad Grade Trail. A short ways up the trail we found an intersection with a brand new trail that does not yet have a trail sign. Clearly the TMT trail has been rerouted to avoid the unsafe bridge and the wetlands area. We headed north on the new trail, which goes for about a quarter of a mile until it seamlessly intersects with the old TMT Trail. It’s a beautiful trail and we were delighted to be one of the first people to hike it.

Ruth’s Cove

The Tiger Mountain Christmas Tree!

I made it back to the High Point Trailhead around 6:30 pm where Daniel was waiting to shuttle me to my car. The entire hike took me 11 hours, complete with a 30-pound training backpack. What an amazing adventure – I can’t wait to explore the other lesser-known trails on Tiger Mountain.

I’m pooped!

My route through Tiger Mountain

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Hi, I'm Unicorn!

I am an avid hiker, traveler, and adventurer who is on the mission to explore hiking trails around the world.  I’m also obsessed with National Parks, long-distance trails and other outdoorsy things.

I hope to share this knowledge with you and inspire you to explore new hiking trails too!


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