Friday, May 8, 2009

The John Wayne Trail / Iron Horse State Park

Mountain Biking/Hiking
Location:
Snoqualmie Pass, Washington

Duration: 1 Day
Season: Spring - Fall
Distance: ~33 miles, round trip or ~16 miles, one way
Difficulty: Easy


Washington State's John Wayne Pioneer Trail follows the former railbed of the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad two-thirds of the way across Washington. The light gravel [{5}pathway] offers hikers, bicyclists, equestrians, wagons and cross-country skiers a chance to travel along the historic Milwaukee Road right-of-way on a gentle, easy-to-negotiate grade. The 100-mile portion from Cedar Falls (near North Bend) to the Columbia River near Vantage is managed as Iron Horse State Park.

The trail was created in the 1980’s when Washington State Parks acquired the abandoned Milwaukee Road corridor. In its heyday, the Milwaukee Road was a vital trade link between Seattle and the Midwest and was the world’s first electric rail line. This trip specifically documents the section of trail between exit 38 East of North bend to exit 54 at Hyak on the Eastside of Snoqualmie Pass.

The railroad tracks have been removed and the area has been turned into a state park, known as Iron Horse State Park. Some people call the trail the John Wayne Trail west of Snoqualmie Pass and the Iron Horse Trail east of Snoqualmie Pass, while others call the entire trail the Iron Horse Trail, yet still others refer to it as the John Wayne Trail in Iron Horse State Park (Oh well). The trail is relatively smooth, but not paved and because of this along with its length, most people use it as a mountain bike trail.

It's an easy ride with spectacular [{10&18}views]. On average, the trail is about half a mile from the highway and about 300 feet higher, so that the noise and exhaust fumes of the trucks on the highway are not bothersome. As you can see from the map, there are two Exits 38: Exit 38 west and Exit 38 east, about two miles apart and connected by a side road. You can access the trail from either exit. At the time this trip was documented, the trestle over Hall Creek, about a mile East of Exit 38 west, was [{3}broken] and could not be crossed, although plans were in the works to fix this trestle in the near future.

The river between the Interstate and the trail is called the Snoqualmie River. The trail itself is approximately 16.5 miles to Hyak and rises steadily from exit 38 to an elevation of approximately 2500 feet. This is high enough so that one can expect snow here in the winter. At its peak elevation, just after Humpback Creek, the trail enters [{15&16}Snoqualmie Tunnel] (a 2-mile long tunnel). The tunnel is indicated by yellow on the map.

Snoqualmie Pass, the lowest point at which it is possible to cross the mountains here, is at 3,000 feet. The amount of snowfall at that altitude in winter is so great that it would have been difficult to keep the railroad open all winter if it ran over the Pass, to say nothing of the climb required. So it made sense to the builders of the railroad to make a tunnel through the mountain at this point.

NOTE: The ride through the tunnel can be extremely DARK. At two miles in length, the far end is just a small pinpoint of light. Be sure to have a good light and where a jacket. The tunnel is very dark, wet and cool inside. As for the trail its self, the gravel path is level and smooth making for an easy ride. Also, the tunnel is usually closed from November 1 to May 1. After you leave the East end of the tunnel at Hyak, it’s time to backtrack to the trailhead. The return to the trailhead is all downhill making for a quick and easy ride (the whole trip is approximately 33 miles, round-trip).

If you want, it's just a short ride on the old railroad grade East to [{19}Lake Keechelus] for a nice lunch spot. Another option is to drop off a shuttle car at exit 38 and the leave from the East end of the Snoqualmie Tunnel and Pass and ride downhill one-way.

Directions: Take Exit 38, 38 miles east of Seattle, Washington, along Interstate I-90. As you can see from the map, there are two Exits 38: Exit 38 west and Exit 38 east, about two miles apart and connected by a side road. You can access the trail from either exit. At the time this trip was documented, the trestle over Hall Creek, about a mile East of Exit 38 west was broken and could not be crossed. Although, plans were in the works to fix this trestle in the near future.

For a map, pictures and more info click on The John Wayne Trail

See you on the trail,

--Greg


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