Licorice Fern Trail

With many miles of official, “unofficial” and abandoned trails, Cougar Mountain has surprises even for veteran hikers. Consider exploring the often-overlooked Licorice Fern Trail, which offers a quiet alternative approach to Far Country Falls.
Total Distance: 3.8 miles
Total Ascent: 200ft
Highest Point: 700ft
Difficulty: Easy
Our Hiking Time: 2h
Required Permit: None

To get there, take I-90 out to Exit 10A, merging onto I-405 South. Stay to the right to take Exit 10 onto Coal Creek Parkway. Follow Coal Creek Parkway four miles to May Valley Road. Take a left onto May Valley Road and continue 2.2 miles to a sharp bend in the road and veer left, continuing to stay on May Valley Road. In .1 miles keep left as the road splits, merging onto SE 112th Street. Continue another .4 miles to the first big curve in the road. As you turn left up the hill the road becomes 169th Ave and the trailhead is here. Find parking along the roadside. View Google Directions >>
The trail begins directly from 169th Street and is largely unmarked. Only a small sign picturing a hiker gives any indication of a trailhead. Once you find roadside parking, be sure to avoid the paved driveway leading uphill to the left and the grassy yard to the right as you begin the hike. Instead stay on the wide gravel path leading into the trees. From here the trail angles uphill, winding beneath mossy alders and through a thick understory of vine maple and fern. After a mile of hiking, the trail crosses SE Licorice Way before continuing to climb another third of a mile to the junction with the Indian Trail (W7).

Head left at the junction, following the Indian Trail for a half-mile to the Far Country Trail (S1). Continue straight ahead to reach the Far Country Falls overlook. The seasonal multi-tiered cascade drops about 20 feet through a field of moss-covered boulders. While not necessarily spectacular, the falls are interesting enough to make a good destination for those looking for a short hike. You can add some mileage by hiking another third of a mile down the Far Country Trail, to the Far Country Lookout, though this somewhat overgrown peek-a-boo view of the surrounding suburban landscape is unlikely to hold your attention for long.

This trail is a great alternative to the more popular Cougar Mountain trailheads, offering the same outdoor experience with a little less foot traffic. Easy and approachable for any hiker, this easily accessible trail is also a good option during the off-season or just a rainy day as Far Country Falls is fueled entirely by rain or snow melt. Next time you head out for jaunt up Cougar Mountain, consider trying something a little different and exploring the Licorice Fern Trail.

History

We’ve covered much of Cougar Mountain’s past on this website. From the early coal mining days to the area’s more recent military history, the nearly 30-year-old park contains and preserves a rich cultural legacy. Envisioned by Harvey Manning and first proposed in 1979, the Cougar Mountain Regional Park concept eventually managed to block planned residential development in the park and gain enough voter support to pass a bond measure. Today the park is the largest “urban wildland” in the United States with over 3,000 acres of forest riddled with 38 miles of hiking trails.
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