I can’t say this was my first hike, like many western Washington hikers can, because I spent some time in my youth trekking around Yosemite, Sequoia, Hawaii, and the Angeles Crest Forest, and when I moved to Washington from California, I was taken to the usual Rattlesnake Ledge and Snow Lake sorts of places as an intro to how pretty the PNW is. But, when I moved out to the suburbs to a little house in the shadow of Tiger Mountain, I began really hitting the trails on the regular, and it was then that the Chirico route up to Poo Poo Point became the first trail that I started to feel a real connection to, the first one I started to memorize landmarks of, the first one I timed myself on, run doubles on, the first one I went to alone and not part of a social or kid outing. So in many ways I think of it as my first hike and it will always hold a special place in my little mountain heart.
The Chirico Trail
Just a short drive out of downtown Issaquah, you’ll find a field and a parking lot, a couple of picnic tables, and the multicolored ballooning chutes of paragliders landing. This is where your hike on the Chirico Trail begins. Cross the field to the trailhead, which is clearly and artistically signed with an arch, a couple of benches, some flags, a wooden carving of a winged bear, and some beautiful metalwork featuring a crest and the words Chirico Trail. Crossing a small wooden bridge and walking a hundred yards or so will land you at what used to be the old trailhead before the slight reroute that steered hikers out of the way of the paragliders’ landing strip. Duck into the shade of the lush mossy woods, surrounding yourself with ancient Douglas firs, moss-covered logs and rocks, and an amazing amount of ferns. The green is so vivid it looks like an edited photograph with the saturation cranked all the way up.
The trail here is uneven and rocky, but safe as long as you pay attention to your steps. Recent rain adds slickness to the rocks, and there’s no shame in bringing poles on what some consider an easy hike if you’re new to trails or just not very confident in your footwork. Less than a quarter mile in, the rocky trail turns into what is basically a stone staircase comprised of wide flat slabs taking you up a few hundred feet in elevation, where after a switchback, the trail returns to more of a dirt-gravel-rock mix.
The Chirico Trail is not short on benches and rest stops; the first bench is about a mile in and many folks use it for a quick shoe-tie, snack, or rest for the kids or dogs. Pushing on ahead, the forest gets airier and more open, continuing to exude that impossibly vibrant green. A couple of nice flat stretches break up the second mile, then a nice gradual final push to the first viewpoint, which is a large field home to dogs and frisbees, senior pictures, picnics, school trips, the occasional yoga class, and another bench. Rainier is front and center as the foothills roll away to the south, and if the wind patterns allow paragliders to launch from this side, it’s worth staying to watch and capture some action photos.
The Scene At The Top
The Chirico keeps going across that field before ducking into the woods for a final (and often a bit muddy) few minutes of hiking, at which time you pop out of the woods to the main launchpad, yet one more bench, and a picnic table, which is the highest point of the Chirico Trail. The panorama stretches from Lake Sammamish to Bellevue to downtown Seattle and the Sound. On a weekend day you could easily pass over a hundred other folks on the trail, and both viewpoints often host dozens of people relaxing and taking in the views, which on a clear day are nothing short of stunning. Whether you are a runner looking to train on hills or a family with small children just wanting to see some birds and plants, if you like forests and views and don’t mind crowds, the Chirico might become part of your routine the way it has for so many northwesterners.
This trail is also home to several events, one of which is the annual Chirico Tenpeat, where the goal is ten laps in twelve hours, and barring that, just do as many as you want, or can. It’s free, you don’t have to register, and there are no real prizes given (other than the furry tiger hat that gets passed on to the winner from the previous year’s winner). I was going through a rough patch emotionally and decided that I needed something mentally and physically brutal to help push me through it, and boy did it do the trick. At 7 am we all sprinted out of the gate and fell into place, spreading out into a single file of a hundred or so hikers. By my fourth lap I was so far deep in the zone I was losing chunks of time. People were starting to lap each other and everyone looked familiar and I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. I wound up only doing eight laps; it was 6pm and my paced had slowed, making a one hour round trip impossible. So I stretched barefoot in the grass and watched people finish, doing the math in my head: 11 hours, 30 miles, just over 14,000 feet gained and lost over and over and over. I played with a blister and knew my left second toenail would turn black and come off, and felt like I became a part of the mountain that day.
I’ve also been there when there’s a day camp of five year olds wandering all over the place, a senior group out for a day of companionship and fresh air, or teenagers in Halloween costumes. I’ve watched my dad paraglide off the north launchpad, witnessed a proposal, and taken both of my kids at all ages of their lives. I’ve been at night, on sweltering hot days, and knee deep in snow. I’ve trained with a heavy pack and broken in new boots there. It’s like having your own hill, like a second home.
Poo Poo Point Gray’s Anatomy Tie-In
Trivia for you Gray’s Anatomy fans: Derek’s house is on PooPoo Point. Not in real life. There’s nothing up there in real life except a bench. But in the show, by some sort of green screen CGI miracle, Dr. Shepherd builds his dream home on state forest land, and, even more exciting, takes the ferry to work on Lower Queen Anne (I guess the writers didn’t think anyone from Seattle would watch the show).
Why Is It Called Poo Poo Point?
If you’ve wondered where this normal spot got such a strange name, look no further than the traintracks that run diagonally across town. You can see them clearly from PooPoo Point, and the old story is that back in the day (early 1900s), hikers could hear the trains that used to run through the area from up there, and of course we all know trains make a “poo poo” sound, right? No? It’s “choo choo?” Have you ever heard anyone refer to a “poo poo train?” Nope me either. So I personally don’t buy it and really enjoy making immature jokes about it like the rest of the twelve year olds in town, but that is the alleged origin of the name.
How To Get There
if you haven’t been up it yet, it’s a staple item and best on weekday mornings when the crowds are less, even better in bad weather. If you’re ever in the Puget Sound area, come on out and be one of the millions of footprints on this old faithful Washington hike. Super easy to get to, just exit i-90 at Front Street and make a right, driving through Old Town Issaquah about three miles or until you see the shadows of paragliders circling lazily in the sky, and then make a left into the parking lot on your left.
Washington State Department of Natural Resources: Government Website
Wendy Harrington is a California native who has lived in a small town at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state since 2001. Her love of trail running and peakbagging has led her to summit all five Washington volcanoes, climb to the high points of three states, and put nearly a thousand miles a year on her boots. Her loves include ridgelines, saddles, granite, one-day pushes on big mountains, anything volcanic, long solo days, and objectives that push limits and test endurance.