The Foothills Trail is a 30-mile collection of six unconnected segments of the old Burlington Northern Railway that served the farming, coal-mining, and logging economies near the base of Mount Rainier.
The longest section is a paved trail that rolls for 15.1 miles between the outskirts of Puyallup to South Prairie. Other paved, gravel, and dirt segments are located in Enumclaw, Buckley, and Wilkeson, as well as an isolated 1.3-mile asphalt trail with four bridges in an area known as Cascade Junction. Plans call for connecting all these pieces.
The Northern Pacific Railway Company laid its tracks from Tacoma to the coalfields around Wilkeson in 1877. In 1970, the railroad merged into Burlington Northern, which ceased using the lines in 1982. Two years later, residents began working to create the Foothills Trail.
Puyallup to South Prairie
The most popular trail is the Puyallup-South Prairie piece. It boasts four trailheads along the route at East Puyallup, McMillin, Orting, and South Prairie, in addition to other parking.
Here, you'll pass through farmland that once produced 60 million daffodil bulbs annually. All that remains of that era is the annual Daffodil Festival, as well as that bloom's depictions on signs and even a sculpture along the route. About halfway, the town of Orting offers a bike shop, cafés, bakeries, and more.
Later, the trail crosses the Carbon River that runs milky white from a melting glacier on Mount Rainier. The active volcano's white summit is visible most of the way. It's responsible for making this perhaps the only rail-trail posted with lahar warning signs, which direct trail users to head for the hills to escape volcanic mudflow in the event of seismic activity.
A picnic shelter set up by a local roadside coffee stand welcomes trail users to the endpoint in South Prairie. Pierce County acquired a piece of right-of-way here in 2013 that can be used to extend the trail through to Cascade Junction (an old railroad landmark), thus joining the main trail to branches in Buckley and Wilkeson.
Buckley to Cascade Junction
A 2.4-mile paved section of the Foothills Trail starts at the White River at the north end of Buckley. It passes the stadium for the annual logging contests and a historical display of log-industry artifacts. The pavement ends at a use-at-own-risk sign south of town. Those who venture ahead through ankle-deep mud will come to the old railroad S-curve built to reach the elevation of the Enumclaw Plateau in less than 1.5 miles. Despite the four bridges (one 400 feet long) and 1.3 miles of paved surface, this area is rarely visited because of its difficult access. Additionally, as of spring 2015, bridge damage on the trail segment's northern end has made access even more difficult. This segment ends at a gate just short of Cascade Junction. Do not use the private road in this area.
Wilkeson to Carbonado
Wilkeson, with its old-timey Main Street storefronts, is one of the few surviving towns from the coal-mining era. A 1-mile-long paved trail takes a switchback uphill to a well-maintained dirt singletrack that completes the 4.4-mile journey through the woods to historic Carbonado. Future plans call for pushing the dirt trail past at least one ghost town along the former rail line.
North of town, another singletrack starts at an unmarked trailhead on the left side of 156th Street Court E, about 200 feet west of the intersection with Johns Road E. The dirt trail heads through the narrow valley formed by Wilkeson Creek. With the future development of the Cascade Junction gap, trail users can connect to South Prairie or Buckley.
Two more Foothills Trail sections start in Enumclaw, located in southern King County. One heads north into farmland for 1.9 miles. This starts as a 0.2-mile paved trail and then becomes gravel and later a dirt track running between pasture fence lines. The 2.1-mile southern segment starts east of downtown and heads south toward Buckley on asphalt for 1.2 miles. A soft surface follows, but that becomes impassable before SE Mud Mountain Road. A pedestrian bridge across the White River between Enumclaw and Buckley is just one of many projects being considered for the Foothills Trail.
To reach the East Puyallup trailhead, from the intersection of State Route 167 and SR 410 in Sumner, follow SR 410 east for 1.3 miles. Take the SR 162/Valley Avenue exit toward Orting, and follow SR 162 for 0.5 mile south. Turn right onto 80th Street E. The East Puyallup trailhead is about 1 mile ahead on the right.
To reach the South Prairie trailhead, from the intersection of SR 167 and SR 410 near Sumner, follow SR 410 east. After 5.7 miles, turn right onto S. Prairie Road E. In 4.1 miles, turn right onto Pioneer Way E and look for the South Prairie trailhead sign.
For Buckley access, from the intersection of SR 167 and SR 410 near Sumner, follow SR 410 toward Yakima. After 12.5 miles, you'll arrive in Buckley. Turn right onto Park Avenue, and then turn left onto N. River Road. Look for Buckley Log Show parking on the left.
For the closest access to Cascade Junction, from the intersection of SR 167 and SR 410 near Sumner, follow SR 410 toward Yakima. Go 11.8 miles, and bear right onto SR 165/S. River Road. Look for a gravel parking lot on the right in about 1 mile.
For Wilkeson access, from the intersection of SR 167 and SR 410 near Sumner, follow SR 410 toward Yakima. After 10.7 miles, turn right onto Mundy Loss Road. In 1.2 miles, turn left onto SR 162, and then turn right onto SR 165. Follow SR 165 2.8 miles to the Wilkeson welcome arch, and look for the parking lot on the right.
For Carbonado access, from the intersection of SR 167 and SR 410 near Sumner, follow SR 410 toward Yakima. After 10.7 miles, turn right onto Mundy Loss Road. In 1.2 miles, turn left onto SR 162, and then turn right onto SR 165. Follow SR 165 for 5.1 miles to Pershing Avenue on the right.
For Enumclaw access from Interstate 405 in Renton, take Exit 4 onto SR 169 toward Maple Valley. Follow SR 169 south for 25.5 miles, and turn left onto SR 164/Griffin Avenue in Enumclaw. In three blocks, turn right onto Railroad Street. Public parking is available on either side of the road.