Snoqualmie Valley Trail

Washington

At a Glance

Name: Snoqualmie Valley Trail
Length: 31.5 Miles
Trail activities: Fishing, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Walking, Cross Country Skiing
Counties: King
Surfaces: Ballast, Gravel
State: Washington

A Brief History

Today’s Snoqualmie Valley Trail uses more than half of what was once the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific’s Everett Branch (CMStP&P), once an important source of timber and related freight on the railroad. The CMStP&P was better known as simply the Milwaukee Road, and even before the company had completed its fabled Pacific Coast Extension to Seattle, it was planning secondary and spur lines to aid in funneling additional freight traffic over the new route. Ultimately, not many branches were built from its Puget Sound main line; but one, completed just after it opened, is now home to the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. Over time, freight on this corridor slowly dried up, and the Milwaukee Road abandoned much of the branch during the early 1970s. It accessed remaining shippers via trackage rights over other railroads.

The Milwaukee Road grew into one of the largest railroads in the country. At its peak the railroad stretched more than 10,000 miles from Louisville, Kentucky, to Puget Sound, serving most of the important Midwestern cities such as Chicago, the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Omaha, Kansas City, and others. It began as the tiny Milwaukee & Waukesha of 1847, which was soon renamed the Milwaukee & Mississippi. By the 20th century, the road was known as the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul and had opened routes throughout much of the Midwest. (In 1927, the company emerged from bankruptcy as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific, at which point it adopted the moniker Milwaukee Road.)

The railroad embarked on plans to open a new route all of the way to the Pacific Coast, but construction of the extension didn’t start until 1906—at a cost of more than $60 million—and involved building some 1,400 miles of new railroad. With crews working from both the east and west, on May 19, 1909, a Golden Spike was driven at Garrison, Montana, commemorating the opening of the new line. Less than a decade later, much of the corridor between Harlowton, Montana, and Seattle (except for a gap between Avery, Idaho, and Othello, Washington) was upgraded for electrified operations by 1917. Interestingly, even before the extension was completed, the Milwaukee was scouting out potential branch lines that could generate profitable volumes of freight for its new transcontinental route. One of these became known as the Everett Branch. According to company records, the first engineering teams began surveying potential routes through the region as early as 1906 to reach Everett, Washington, located along the Port Gardner Bay. The town was home to a deep-water port and had already been dubbed as “Milltown” for the numerous sawmills located there and owned by Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, Simpson Timber Company, and Walton Lumber Company.

The Milwaukee Road constructed two small spurs from Everett known as the Ebey Island Line and Riverside Line, which served other sawmills. In all, workers were said to have completed about 125 miles of location surveys for what ultimately turned out to be only about 55 miles of actual railroad built. The branch began construction during April 1910 and was contracted out to W.C. Henry, which oversaw all of the clearing, grading, and bridge work; it was completed by early 1911. The actual ties and rails were laid by the railroad itself beginning on January 29, 1911, and completed by August 4, with a few additional months required to finish ballasting the line and readying it for rail traffic. By late October the new branch was open for service. As it left the main line at Cedar Falls, it slowly descended for a few miles before encountering a stiff 2.2% grade with sharp curves near the small village of Tanner along the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River. Through this river valley, grades were relatively light; the route passed through more small communities, including North Bend and Snoqualmie Falls. The only other notable grade of roughly 1% was near Tokul where the line passed through the Tokul River valley.

Several bridges formed the branch but most were small; however, one notable structure was a beautiful 450-foot covered wooden bridge that crossed the Skykomish River at Buck Island. It was completed in 1939 when the Milwaukee Road slightly realigned their route 200 feet upstream from the original bridge. The new structure’s location allowed for an easier connection with the Great Northern (at what became known as Monroe Junction), which it used to continue reaching Everett. This resulted in the Milwaukee abandoning its own line between Monroe and Everett, which by then saw little remaining freight traffic and was becoming expensive to maintain from damage by flooding and washouts. Until the Great Depression, this section provided a respectable amount of agricultural-based traffic. Once abandoned, the branch shrank from 55 to only 41 miles. The covered bridge was the longest of its type in the West when completed but survived only until 1969 when a steel span replaced it.

As the years passed, most sawmills and other forms of traffic along the branch dried up or closed. By the early 1970s, little freight remained between Cedar Falls and Monroe; the last through-train operated the line on February 9, 1973. A few years later, the rails were removed. The Milwaukee Road did have customers remaining in Everett, which were reached via the then-Burlington Northern from Renton to Snohomish after it abandoned the Everett Branch. Surprisingly, today many of the depots located along the line still exist, including at Carnation, Cedar Falls, Duvall, Everett, and Monroe.

Railroad attractions include the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad in Elbe, Chehalis-Centralia Railroad & Museum in Chehalis, Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie, and the Tacoma Railroad Heritage Center in Tacoma.

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