THE COLUMBIA PLATEAU TRAIL – NORTHERN SECTION, CHENEY, WA
The Columbia Plateau Trail – a Washington state park – comes in two sections with a long stretch of undeveloped trail in the middle. There is a fifteen mile stretch along the Snake River on the south end and a twenty three mile stretch below Spokane on the north end.
I checked out all the northern section trail heads and rode the paved portion on my way to the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. You can overfly it in Google Earth. Find Fish Lake and follow the rail bed that goes past Amber Lake. The other bed is still active.
The northern section has four trail heads (Fish Lake, Cheney, Amber Lake, Martin Rd.), one water point, and two types of surface. From the northern trail head/trail end at Fish Lake, the trail is blacktopped down to the next trail head at Cheney (3.75 miles). The only water on the trail is at a water point about 0.25 miles N. of Cheney, but it has a bench and overhead shelter. Take a water break.
The paved portion has a 5 star surface, 5 star scenery and 4 for facilities (flush toilets and water gets you a 5). Way too short, but a great ride. A portion of the trail runs through a long cutting in the basalt. Springs gushing out of the wall turn the ditches on both sides of the trail into rushing brooks which drain down to Fish Lake. The old poles and insulators for the rock fall alarms are still there – with some new boulders that have fallen off the walls. Rocks, meadows, pines, lakes – it’s a delightful ride.
From Cheney south to Martin Rd. the trail is set up for horses, hikers and bikers so the surface is gravel - in fact, a variety of gravels. Their signs warn of varying surfaces. I saw ¾” minus and 3/8” minus at Martin Rd., 3/8” mixed with a bit of drain rock at Amber and 3/8s at Cheney. The surface is not hardpacked. The upper inch is a bit loose. Road bikes might not like this. My mountain bike did OK. You can ride it and report back. The section from Cheney to Amber Lake runs through the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. Might be interesting.
Below Martin Road down to the Snake River, the trail is unimproved and gated shut. It’s rough ballast and closed trestles and the Back of the Beyond. A chap did it with a touring bike with 4” tires and we admire his efforts. However, a five star blacktop surface does appeal more.
ATTABOYS FOR THE TRAIL MANGERS…
The CPT North is a nicely done project. It has good trail heads and facilities. One very nice feature – which is so rare – is their highway signage. Excellent. Never seen better. They picked me up on I-90 west of Sprague, got me off the freeway, through Sprague (a descending loop) and off on the right county road to Martin Road TH. Then they worked me up the various back woods roads to Amber, then to Cheney and up to Fish Lake. Where ever I needed a directional sign, they had one. While I travel with two GPS units and a suite of topo maps and can sort it out, the average traveler can appreciate their excellent signage.
WHERE TO EAT IN CHENEY…
Cheney is a pleasant community and home to Eastern Washington U. We found that Zip’s Drive In on the main drag had excellent fast food at reasonable prices. It is sooo Not McDonalds. The food had flavor and was cooked to order.
TRAIL HEAD COORDINATES
FISH LAKE N47.52207 W117.51613 BIKE FACILITIES, PAVED TRAIL, TRAIL END
CHENEY N47.47956 W117.56064 HORSE AND BIKE FACILITIES, GRAVEL TRAIL
AMBER LAKE N47.34881 W117.71488 HORSE, BIKE AND FISHERMAN, GRAVEL TRAIL
MARTIN RD. N47.28358 W117.82913 HORSE AND BIKE. GRAVEL TRAIL. TRAIL END