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Spanning just shy of 224 miles, the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail, formerly known as the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, is one of the longest rail-trail conversions in the United States. The trail passes through remote and sparsely populated areas of Washington state that are rich in wildlife and natural beauty. The trail is also part of the Mountains to Sound Greenway, a 1.5 million-acre landscape surrounding I-90 between Seattle and Ellensburg.
Although there are some gaps on the eastern side of the trail, they can be connected via on-road riding for a route totaling 285 miles. However, travelers should note that these on-road connections do not currently have trail signage marking the way.
Anyone traveling the entire length of the trail will experience many landscapes: mountains, dense forests, irrigated farmland, arid scrubland, and the rolling hills of the Palouse region. The route crosses the Cascade Mountains in a 2.3-mile-long, unlit tunnel and traverses numerous canyons and rivers via bridges and trestles that offer spectacular views.
The trail follows the corridor of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, also known as the Milwaukee Road. Workers completed the railroad's rugged western mainline that connected Chicago with Seattle and Tacoma in 1909. By 1980, the railroad had ceased operations on the right-of-way. The state acquired most of the corridor and originally named it for John Wayne after a lobbying campaign by outdoorsman Chic Hollenbeck, a big fan of the cowboy actor. Hollenbeck also founded the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association, whose members make an annual trek along the trail by wagon and horseback.
The western segment of the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail runs 110 miles between Cedar Falls and the Columbia River. In this section (formerly known as Iron Horse State Park), most of surface comprises well-packed crushed rock, except for the 20 miles of loose sand in the U.S. Army Yakima Training Center. State trailheads are located at Cedar Falls, Twin Falls, Hyak, Easton, South Cle Elum, Thorp, Ellensburg West, Ellensburg East, Kittitas, Army West, and Army East. In this segment, four trailside primitive campsites are also available: two between Cedar Falls and Hyak and two between Hyak and Easton.
The westernmost trailhead is nestled in the Cascade foothills, just 35 miles from downtown Seattle. Beginning near the old Cedar Falls train stop, this 22-mile uphill railroad grade gets the most visitors. From this end of the trail, you can also pick up the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, which follows a northwesterly course for 31.5 miles through several communities that ring the eastern outskirts of Seattle.
As the trail continues, it crosses a half dozen canyons on trestles with sweeping mountain vistas and bores through the 100-year-old tunnel at Snoqualmie Pass to Hyak. Some bicyclists shuttle between Cedar Falls and Hyak to take advantage of a downhill run.
The eastern slope of the Cascades contains sparser vegetation—a product of the dryer climate on this side of the mountains. The trail skirts two lakes—Keechelus and Easton—that store irrigation water for the region. Later, the trail descends the secluded Upper Yakima Canyon, where pedestrians must sign a waiver to enter two tunnels.
The old railroad yard in South Cle Elum, a National Historic Landmark, preserves the history of the Milwaukee Road corridor through a surviving depot and electric substation, as well as through descriptions of the foundations of other buildings.
The trail breaks briefly at historic Ellensburg, which is the largest town on the corridor and home to Central Washington University. Past Kittitas, you'll find another detour for an impassable bridge over Interstate 90. The trail leaves the irrigated agricultural land and enters the drier landscape of the Yakima Training Center, where the trail then drops into the basin carved by the Pacific Northwest's largest river, the Columbia. The 2,200-foot-long Beverly Bridge across the river is closed, however, and travelers need to detour upriver to the crossing at Vantage.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages the eastern segment of the trail between the Columbia River and Lind, and refers to this section as the Milwaukee Corridor. The remainder of the trail from Lind to the Idaho border falls once again to the oversight of Washington State Parks. To experience the trail east of the Columbia River, travelers are required to obtain permits from both the DNR's Southeast Regional Office and Washington State Parks. Follow the links in the Related Content section to find the contact information for these organizations. When the permits are obtained, trail users will receive the combination for the locked gates on the trail route and a map showing on-road detours.
East of the Columbia River, the trail is mostly track ballast and fat-tire bikes are recommended. Beginning in Beverly, trail users return to irrigated farmland and wildlife refuges. In this section of the trail, trailheads are planned for Malden, Rosalia, Pandora, and Tekoa.
Although travelers will encounter some interruptions in the corridor between here and the Idaho border, improvements to the trail experience are actively being worked on by trail advocates. Currently, the longest gaps, which can be circumnavigated via roads, are between Smyrna and Warden, Ralston and Marengo, and Ewan and Kenova.
Due to long distances between some of the towns, visitors are encouraged to carry water and snacks.
Please use this form to notify us of any changes or updates that we need to make to the trail information on TrailLink for this trail. RTC staff will review your submission and contact you if there is any need for further clarification.