Cedar River Watershed Overview
The City of Seattle owns the Cedar River Watershed, which covers 90,638 acres. The watershed supplies clean drinking water to 1.4 million people in the Seattle area. The Cedar River starts in the Cascades near the Kittitas King County Line and flows into Lake Washington at Renton. Chester Morse Lake is the main storage reservoir for the Cedar River Watershed System. The watershed is not open to the general public.
However, the Cedar River Watershed Education Center allows visitors to learn about the complexity and interactions among drinking water, forests, and wildlife. At the Education Center, visitors have a chance to experience the watershed through exhibits, information, watershed tours, field trips, and special events. The staff have focused special events on Seattle’s drinking water, history, wildlife, and more. Inside the main building you can follow the path of our drinking water as is flows from the sky to our faucet. With maps and visual aids detailing the path Seattle’s drinking water takes it is a fascinating lesson in our eco system and is VERY kid friendly. This place is a great place to visit and you cannot beat the price of admission. (Free)
The Milwaukee Railway Company was first granted right of way through the Cedar River Watershed in 1907 to build their rail line (which is now the Palouse to Cascades Trail). The railroad workers lived in a town called Moncton along a lake called Rainy Season Lake. In 1914 the City of Seattle began building a masonry dam on the Cedar River between Rattlesnake Lake and Chester Morse Lake. This was to generate electric power for the City.
Due to unforeseen engineering issues, the following spring, the water started rising at Rattlesnake Lake below the dam at a rate of 1 foot per day and the lake above was dropping an inch per hour. The added water in Rattlesnake Lake flooded most of the town of Moncton. The City of Seattle condemned the rest. When the water level of Rattlesnake Lake drops enough, you can see some of the old foundations from the short lived town of Moncton.
Watershed tours include dam tours, old growth guided walks, wetlands tour, fungi tours and many more. There are also guided hikes in winter. The signature tours are a 1-hour family watershed tour and a 2.5 hour watershed tour. The 1-hour tour includes a drive to the historic townsite of Cedar Falls and a visit to Cedar Falls (the waterfall). The 2.5 hour trip also includes walking across Masonry Dam and seeing Chester Morse Lake. There are also special all day tours which are held on an infrequent basis and involve more walking.
Check Cedar River Watershed website for details and reservations.
Inquire at the Center about room rentals along with special events requests such as weddings, parties, etc.
Inquire at the Center about permits for sporting events, races, community gatherings of 30 or more, and film productions.
The Center will give information about trail conditions, watershed tours, and recreation area for special events when you contact them.
Phone numbers: (206) 733-9421 or (425) 831-6780
The Cedar River Watershed Education center is situated on Rattlesnake Lake. Just behind it is the western terminus of the Palouse to Cascades Trail (Cedar Falls). The Cedar Falls station for the old Milwaukee railroad was renamed from Moncton in 1915 when the city was flooded out. Rattlesnake Lake also is the main trailhead for the Rattlesnake Ledge Trail with access to Rattlesnake Mountain. It’s also the eastern terminus for the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.