Hike a series of short, nearly level trails that offer views of two lakes and of some swampy areas, and pass one of the largest trees in the Tigers. Appreciate the forest vegetation and wildflowers. Along the way, hear and perhaps see a variety of song birds and waterfowl. If you're living car-free, try accessing this trail from East Sunset Way using Trailhead Direct.
A glance at the Green Trails Map (204S) reveals a network of trails on Tiger Mountain's Tradition Plateau, and there are several options for a loop hike that has Tradition Lake as its center. Here, we describe a particular loop that many hikers will find the most rewarding. Your favorite guide book(s) might suggest minor variants that you also can explore.
From the main parking lot, start out on the big wide trail that heads south then, almost immediately, turn right onto the signed Around the Lake Trail. The sign announces "Tradition Lake 1.5 M," but the lake is much closer than that, only about 0.5 miles. Perhaps the sign makers were thinking of the shortest distance to hike all the way around the lake.
A flyer is sometimes available at the trailhead, and if so it will offer comments on numbered sites you will pass along the way. In any event, the trail offers a nice forest walk, with a lot of ferns, moss, small stream crossings and occasional wildflowers. There are a few signs along the way that comment on the ecology, while some ground-level displays illustrate tracks of wild critters you might see (or might rather not see...)
Soon enough, hints of Tradition Lake will begin to appear through the trees. Parts of the lake are covered with lily pads, and the surface often shows wind-generated ripples. A bit farther along you will come to a viewing platform that offers marginally better lake views, although even there trees restrict much of the view. You may see, or at least hear, waterfowl on the lake.
As you continue a short way past the viewing platform you will come to a signed trail fork where the Around the Lake Trail heads off to the right That's an optional side trip you can take if you like. In about a quarter mile it would get you down close to water level at the west end of the lake, with a nice view looking east up the lake. But continuing beyond that point would take you well out of your way from today's route. So, if you elect to do that side trip, return here once you have enjoyed the lake view.
Your ongoing main graveled trail bends around toward the south and soon meets up with the Bus Trail. The namesake bus, such as it is, lies on its side just a few feet to your left. There's not much to see, but you might as well take a quick look. Old buses, suitably altered, sometimes were used by loggers as kitchens and bunkhouses, and that may be what brought this one here to end its days—and contribute a trail name—in the Tigers.
Once you have looked at the remains of the bus (or not) turn back west and continue on the Bus Trail. In 0.3 miles, cross over the route of a buried gas line, then reach a power line. At the power line, head right 200 feet to find the southeast end of the Wetlands Trail. There's a big signboard there with a Green Trails Tiger Mountain map posted, so if your own map is buried deep in your daypack you can check your route here.
The ongoing Wetlands Trail passes tiny Round Lake where the water level varies seasonally, and from year to year. You may hear the deep tones of a bullfrog and see occasional waterfowl. A number of signs along the way caution about staying on the main trail, and indicate some faint side trails that are closed. Continue on and, at a trail junction in about a quarter mile stay left, avoiding the right fork "Wetlands Connector" that leads to a power substation.
In another 0.2 mile, as you approach yet another power line, come to an unsigned T-junction. Go left there and hike slightly downhill, parallel to the power line. In about 0.1 mile pass the signed northern end of the Adventure Trail whose other end, 0.8 miles to the south, you may have noted if you have ever hiked the High School Trail.
Cross under the power line and find the sign for the beginning of the Brink Trail. It follows the edge of a steep slope with I-90 hidden behind dense vegetation down at the bottom—out of sight but definitely not out of hearing. Soon you will come to a sign for the Ruth Kees Big Tree Trail. Ruth was a local environmental activist who passed on in 2009. While you have the option of continuing on the Brink Trail, you might find the Big Tree Trail a more interesting prospect, and one with less intrusive traffic noise.
The aptly-named Big Tree Trail offers the opportunity to see one of the largest trees still standing in the Tigers. Also, later in your hike you'll be following the Swamp Trail and, while the Swamp Trail does have a lot of ferns and moss, it actually does not have a lot of real swamp. To see real swamp, some of the best in the Tigers, you have to hike the Big Tree Trail!
As you continue along the Big Tree Trail you will see a number of large trees, and soon the namesake "Big Tree" itself will begin to loom up ahead. But, just a few feet before you reach the tree, take the short side trail a few feet to the left for a look at some genuine swamp, with hanging moss, grotesque shrubs, and a lot of small green botanicals floating densely on the surface of the water. An alligator would not seem out of place here (there aren't any, of course.)
And then there is the tree. It is impressive. Take a seat on the bench and contemplate it. A sign offers an estimate that the tree is between 200 and 400 years old. (Apparently it hasn't been cored to count tree rings.) While you are there, reflect that not so long ago trees like it were common throughout the Tigers and elsewhere in the western Cascades.
Continue on, crossing under yet another power line. You'll be led directly onto the Swamp Trail. As noted, it does not offer the kind of swamp you found near the Big Tree. But a neat set of signs along the trail describe, for young hikers, the adventures of Zoe and her critter friends (in fact, Zoe might herself be a critter) and their concern about a possibly-mythical Swamp Monster. Actually, the story told by the signs reads better when coming the other way, so if your hiking party includes a very young hiker you might prefer to do this loop hike in the opposite direction.
Part way along, the Swamp Trail is joined by a trail arriving from the north side, a possible connecting route for any hikers who elected to stay on the Brink Trail (consult your map if you opt for that route.)
Soon, you will be back where you began your hike, on the Main Trail near the parking lot. For hikers going the other way, there is a sign here for the Swamp Trail just before the sign for the Around The Lake Trail. So it's easy to find the route either way.
About the first 1/2 mile of the Around the Lake trail is designated wheelchair accessible and features a boardwalk overlook of the lake