There are so many classic Seattle-area hikes, but few are as popular as Rattlesnake Ledge. In fact, it can be too popular on nice days. But regardless of crowds, the four-mile round trip hike is definitely worth doing —and to make it extra special, we suggest doing it as a sunrise hike—a bucket-list item for many Seattle hikers given the summit’s perfect eastern exposure. It’s a fun and doable hike for all abilities; with a little preparation and planning, you can have a unique experience. Even at this hour, you probably won’t be alone. Sunrise hikers are usually there on any clear day, any day of the week.
As with all sunrise hikes, you’ll start in the dark. Plan on being at the trailhead about 50 minutes before you want to get to the top, assuming a moderate pace. Most people like to be AT the summit at least 10 minutes before published sunrise time, since the pre-sunrise colors can be the best. Yes, this means an earlier and earlier start as the solstice approaches. (We started up the trailhead at 4:45 a.m. on a late April day). We suggest going as a group - it’s a fun experience to share with friends, and large groups are safer from the rare critter that might be a threat. You’ll all need headlamps (and always bring extra batteries!). The toughest part of the hike might be navigating from the parking lot to the actual trailhead. The signs are very clear in the daylight; go to the north end of Rattlesnake Lake; the trailhead is in the northwest corner. A prominent sign points the way.
Once you’ve found the trail, it’s easy to follow. There are even reflectors in the trees every quarter mile or so to help guide you, but you won’t need them. Hiking in the dark gives you new appreciation for the forest sounds. The birds will just be waking up, and the light will slowly grow as you approach the top. At 1.3 miles in, there is a switchback that takes you on the final push. (It can be easy to miss in the dark; you’ll know you missed it if you deadend at a stream in about 20 feet). By the time you’re close to the summit, you’ll be able to turn off your headlamp as there will be enough light in the sky to see by.
The summit views, at any time of the day, are what keep people coming back Rattlesnake Ledge and the reason this hike is so popular. It give you one of the best “bang for your buck” view-to-effort ratios that’s close to Seattle. Grab a spot on the wide rock ledge but don’t get close to the edge. (There is a huge drop off the ledge, and a fall will be fatal. Don’t leave kids or dogs unattended). Now that you’ve reached the top, it’s time to pop open a container of hot coffee or tea, pull out some snacks and wait for the show. The sun will soon peek out over the mountains, and flood the valley with sunlight, illuminating everything with the early morning rays. It’s a showy theatrical performance by Mother Nature, and one worth getting up early to see.