West Hylebos Wetlands. Credit: Susan Elderkin
West Hylebos Wetlands
Overview: The West Hylebos Wetlands trail in Federal Way is a 1.4-mile loop with 25 feet of elevation gain, and a year-round hiking option. This gem tucked away in the heart of Federal Way showcases wildlife, boardwalks and two historic cabins.
The West Hylebos Wetlands is one of those surprising places — a thriving oasis of green tucked away in a busy suburban area. Here, birds sing and frogs croak. Moss, lichen and ferns attach to nearly every surface. Water oozes from the ground, flows& and pools. Very old trees, plus two historic cabins, give visitors a sense that they are entering a world of yesteryear. And a level boardwalk sweeps through it all, making it an ideal destination for feet and strollers (sorry, bikes and dogs are not allowed).
This is one of the last, and largest, remaining peat bogs in South King County. The spongy soil is 30 feet deep in places and supports a diverse array of plants and animals — from tiny fungi and shy garter snakes to a Sitka spruce more than four hundred years old. Begin your walk at the two historic cabins adjacent to the parking lot. These buildings date to the 1880s, but they didn’t originate here. The distinctive Denny Cabin once housed a real estate office on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, and the Barker Cabin sat a few miles away from this spot. Take time to peer inside and read the signs.
The Details: A wide crushed gravel pathway curves gently downhill, past a picnic area, about 0.2 mile to the beginning of the boardwalk. Shortly thereafter, reach a junction. The trail runs in a loop, and the interpretive signs tell a more logical story if you take it clockwise. Make sure to stop and read the first sign on the loop, which depicts the different kinds of wetlands you’ll encounter — the younger scrub shrub and the older forested wetlands — then look for the transitions during your walk.
The trail visits a few interesting nooks and crannies. The first is called the “deep sink,” a hole that used to be 20 feet deep, but is now filling in with mud and vegetation. Follow the boardwalk above the squishy wetlands, and at 0.5 mile reach an ancient Sitka spruce that’s 175 tall, but leaning rather precariously. A curious, large, carved wooden mushroom sits to the side of the trail.
At 0.7 mile, take the short detour to Brook Lake. It’s just 500 feet, and worth the effort to walk over the swampiest part of the trail and to gaze at the lovely reflections on the lake. Take a seat on a bench and soak up the peacefulness of this place. Return to the junction, going straight, and then meander 0.2 mile back to where you first began your circuit. Turn left, and return up the gravel pathway to the parking area. Make sure to return in a different season to see how the wetlands change.
Next trail: Gold Creek Pond