Christmas Lake─Hike along the Iron Horse Trail to a place of Bad Tidings

A calm "Christmas Creek" flows beneath an old trestle near the old townsite of Edgewick.

A calm “Christmas Creek” flows beneath an old trestle near the old townsite of Edgewick.

Quick Facts:

Location: Snoqualmie Valley near North Bend

Land Agency: Washington State Parks

Roundtrip: 4.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 900 feet

Green Trails Map: Green Trails Rattlesnake Mountain Upper Snoqualmie Valley No. 205S

Access: From Seattle take I-90 east to exit 32 in North Bend turning right (south) onto 436th Ave SE which soon becomes Cedar Falls Road. Follow for 3.1 miles to Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area. Look for large parking lot (located on east side of road) for the Iron Horse Trail.

Note: Dogs must be leashed.

Good to know: Kid-friendly, dog-friendly, historic, snow-free winter hike

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The Green Trails Rattlesnake Mountain Map 205S prominently shows Christmas Lake.

Oregon has its Christmas Valley. New Hampshire and Pennsylvania have a Bethlehem. Alaska even has a North Pole. And here in Washington State, are there any places on the map named for that most wondrous time of the year? Well, we have a Christmas Lake. But don’t think its name was inspired by Peanuts characters skating about humming “Christmas time”—nope this lake was actually named for a tragedy. And little Christmas Lake isn’t exactly a holiday extravaganza of a lake either; it’s more of a marsh.

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Start of the hike at the old Cedar Falls Railroad stop.

So how did this little body of water near Rattlesnake Lake come to be named in honor of one of America’s most beloved holidays? Well, it wasn’t exactly for good tidings, comfort and joy. Little Boxley Creek flooded on December 23, 1918 taking an entire town off of the map. The creek drained Rattlesnake Lake and had earlier been dammed by the City of Seattle for a power project. After weeks of heavy rain, the dam burst sending a surge of water 150 feet wide down the valley towards the logging town of Edgewick. The entire town, mill and all, was destroyed. Miraculously the 60 residents of the community survived but didn’t exactly have a wonderful Christmas Eve the next day. Many of the locals began referring to Boxley Creek as Christmas Creek. The name Boxley remained on the maps for the creek, but the small wetland pond it fed took the Christmas moniker.

Begin your hike on the Iron Horse Trail (also known as the John Wayne Pioneer trail). Follow this former rail line east and within 0.3 mile come to views of Christmas Lake off to your left. It’s a pretty peaceful place these days and not much of a hike. Since you’ve hardly broken a sweat, continue up the Iron Horse Trail another 0.6 mile. Shortly after crossing Boxley (Christmas) Creek on a trestle, look for a signed trail taking off right. Follow this well-defined path for a steep 1.1 miles 800 vertical feet grunt to 1,860-foot Cedar Butte. Find the misspelled geodetic marker and enjoy the view here of the Snoqualmie Valley including little Christmas Lake below. Hopefully all will be calm.

Cedar Butte is one of 50 hikes featured in my Winter Hikes of Western Washington Deck (Mountaineers Books). Check it out for some great suggestions to snow-free hiking destinations.Winter Hikes Card Deck

For other things to do and places to eat in the Snoqualmie Valley, consult NW TripFinder

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