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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.
[Update: As of early 2018, the gap between South Prairie to Buckley via Cascade Junction had been completed, for a continuous ride between Puyallup to Buckley.
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 15-mile 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.
The paved section of the Foothills Trail starts at the Shaw Road Bridge near East Puyallup and ends at South Prairie. We started out at the Shaw Road Bridge and cycled about one mile pass “Bernie’s Place” before turning around. The flat trail meandered at times adjacent to Hwy 162 and at other times out of sight from the road. At Orting, the trail runs adjacent to a number of shopping centers and crosses a couple of streets so you need to watch out for traffic. The City of Orting offers all services – food, water, bike store, rest rooms, etc. We continued a short way along the Carbon River before turning around and heading back home. There are a number of benches along the Carbon River which makes a good place for lunch.
The trail was in excellent condition. There are a couple of restrooms along the route. Overall, a nice ride which I would highly recommend.
Trail and parking areas are clean and well maintained. Its a long trail, with a long gradual elevation changes. The trail goes through the city of Orting which has a charming downtown area.
Having rode from the Meeker trailhead all the way to South Prairie, I can highly suggest this trail to anyone looking for a good ride. From Meeker to Orting it is relatively flat and the scenery differs from suburbs to farms, and a lot more wilderness in the stretch from Orting to Soith Prairie
This trail rocks... great parking, store along the route, quaint little town at the end... perfect..
I have been riding the Foothills Trail since 2008 when I bought my first road bike. The trail winds through beautiful country, farmlands, riverfronts, small towns. The communities along this trail are very bike savvy as far as watching for cyclists and giving them the right of way near the roads. I have ridden a few trails nearby and this trail is the most maintained! The trail is smooth, the vegetation is kept off the trail, the small wooden bridges are kept clean and clear. The Foothills Trail also has numerous benches alongside it if you just want to stop and take in nature. I ride from McMillan to South Prairie at least 4 times a week and my "reward" for making it to South Prairie is a Latte at the Trailside Espresso where there are bike racks, tables and chairs under gazebos and lot's of cyclists to talk to. (20 mile roundtrip!) Just try this trail and I promise it will become a favorite.
I live in the area and have driven the route many a time always wondering what it would be as a cycle trip. Well today I crashed through the wonder and hit the trail. I only did 12 miles the trail was relatively even without difficulty. Next trip out I'm shooting for 20 maybe more.
Agree with sgreenbeck & mcauliffer....is indeed one of the most beautiful rides, level, safe, in the western Puget Sound area. odd theres not been a review in 2013 between theirs. ..haven't been there in yrs (mainly due to the distance from Seattle area to get there)...but well worth the trip. My only complaint is it's too short, less than 5 miles. One July summer, rode out past the trailend south, off the trail, hooked up to a back road (with no regular local traffic) and came upon a quiet RV park, with local military Veterans there for the summer...who were holding their annual July 4th barBQ! for a small donation had a wonderful barBQ lunch, visited with folks there, and rode back thru Orting to where I'd parked. Highly recommend this bike ride...by now, it's probably more well known & busier...only caution, slow down along river, farms, town, for families with young toddler riders, & kids stopping to wade by the river under bridge. Carbon River area very scenic, view of Mt Rainier is bigger than life, stunning, among my favorite (secret) scenic rides in WA (just not long enough)... plan to spend the day, lunch/dine in Orting, or stop in Sumner & pick some berries to can when it's in season. Will try to go again this spring/summer & give an update.
I wish that the elevations were given on the trails.
One of the most beautiful trail I have had the pleasure of riding.
Picturesque rail trail in excellent condition for smooth riding. Begin in Sumner and pass through the quaint town of Orting. Portion between Sumner and Orting includes passing pumpkin patches, Xmas Tree farms, berry patches, and farmer roadside produce stands/shops. Continue through Orting valley riding parallel to the Carbon river. End in South Praire with a Latte and return to Orting with a fun fast cycling experience smelling the fresh air of the valley. The pristine country charm with views of Mt. Rainier make this trail one of the best.
One reviewer suggests this part of the trail is too urban or too close to the highway. It actually runs behind farmland much of the way. If it is a sunny day, you'll smell the berries. It is a much nicer trail than the portion between McMillan and Orting because it is not so close to the highway. All in all, the whole trail to South Prairie is a lovely ride.
My wife and I rode most of the Foothills trail yesterday. The northern starting point is at Meeker near Puyallup but we thought that first stretch looked too urban and too close to busy Highway 162 so skipped that part. We started biking at the McMillin trail head, 4 miles to the south. Plentiful parking and a restroom. It looks very secure because of the nearby traffic and a lot of bikers coming and going all day. The 3 mile ride to Orting is level and went fast. It's "so so" because it's in residential areas and near Highway 162, but still worthwhile. Entering Orting we were pleased to find an espresso stand where we used their picnic table. Next door is a McDonalds. In town there is a bike shop on the right. After passing the long city park (rest rooms) there is another trail head. As you leave Orting the view of Mt. Rainier ahead is outstanding. Soon you leave the highway noise and the trail is a delight all the way to South Prairie (about 7 miles). At times it is along the Carbon River, often in nice woods, through nice farmlands and later along South Prairie Creek. There are several benches and a couple of picnic tables along the way. As you enter South Prairie there is an espresso stand. The trail ends at a park in South Prairie with picnic tables and restrooms. It is gentle uphill from Orting to South Prairie so it's best to do it in this direction and enjoy the easier riding back to Orting going downhill. There were a lot of other bikers out, also many locals walking and skating.
I would rate the ride from McMillin to Orting as a 5 and from Orting to South Prairie as a 9. I consider the Puyallup to McMillan stretch as optional if you want the exercise--it looked like a 4 to me, because I like nature not civilization.
TRAILBEAR GOES DOWNHILL: Foothills Trail – S. Prairie to Orting
TrailBear got it backwards – which is not uncommon. He should have parked at the Orting City Park trailhead and headed up to South Prairie, then descended on the second leg of the ride. Do your uphill leg first.
But, no: He came in from Buckley, parked at the South Prairie trailhead and headed to Orting. A few minutes and he suspected this was becoming a downhill grade. Check the GPS altimeter. Yes, it was slowly unwinding. Given the speed, he figured it at a 3% grade.
Whatever; it was a scenic ride. Probably the best part of the Foothills Trail, which is why he was doing it. From Orting up to Puyallup you get to ride along the highway, past sub divisions, through fields, etc. Rather a yawn, but flat. You get miles but the ambiance is lacking.
The Orting – S. Prairie leg is much more scenic. The first section is Leaving S.P. – backyards, front yards, fields. Then you get into the woods and leave the highway over yonder. Some farms and pastures, but mostly shady woods with some memorial benches. There is civilization on both sides, but you are in a band of forest along the right of way.
At 3 miles out you reach the REI Wayside. Here is a bench, a table, an info sign and (wonders!) a BBQ. We learn this is a mitigation wetland – a purpose-built swamp to atone for the sins of trail building. That’s nice. It does look wet. TB can figure everything but the BBQ. He is trying to visualize bikies or hikers toting the charcoal, steaks and ice chest down to have a cookout at the swamp. GE: N47.11474 W122.13448.
Keep descending the drainage of South Prairie Creek. There are sloughs and backwaters to the right and bits of active creek. At 4.3 miles down you cross the Carbon River. A bit further you cross the highway on a bridge and find a nice wayside. Again: table, bench, BBQ. It’s rather nice. GE: N47.09576 W122.15496.
At 5.7 miles you leave the woods and run along the bank of the Carbon River. Think of this stretch as Memorial Reach. There are numerous memorial benches along the river. That seems a better idea than paying for some plot in a graveyard. Get cremated and invest in a bench that does some public good. Wonder what they cost. You don’t have to be dead. One was a gift from wife to hubbie on the occasion of his 60th. GE: N47.08699 W122.17544.
At 7 miles you are in Orting and at the skate park, which is alongside the trail with a full view of Mt. Rainer. Those kids are doing amazing things on their Razors. TrailBear pauses to admire their agility. Look for them in the X Games in ten years. As there is parking here, you can use the skate park as trailhead. GE: N47.09025 W122.19279.
At 7.4 miles you have arrived. You are in the middle of the Orting City Park, formerly the Orting Depot in the RR Days. The info sign laments the passing of the three transcontinental trains a day, plus one to Spokane which once came through Orting – and, of course, the more numerous log trains.
The park runs for over two blocks along the main drag and has parking, restrooms, water, info kiosk, tot lot, shade, basketball court, a large covered BBQ facility and more. The newest addition – Orting Station – is a large hall for the farmers’ markets and such. GE: N47.09663 W122.20325.
From here you can go onward to the McMillian Trailhead and up to the Puyallup Trailhead. The TrailBear is turning around for the climb to S. Prairie. The total descent was 220’ – sez the GPS. The climb starts beyond the Carbon River and seems to be 3% with a few bits of 4% grade. Healthy outdoor exercise.
Getting healthy uphill exercise.
Wonderful trail linking communities and making it a truly viable commuters option. Now if the whole nation could be connected...
"The trail now begins in East Puyallup, continuing through Orting to South Prairie. It's currently paved for 15 miles. Trail extensions are planned to be constructed by 2008. These will connect to existing trails at either end of the Foothills trail and bring the total mileage to about 22.
The ultimate goal is for a 50 mile trail from Mount Rainier to Commencement Bay in Tacoma, with connections to other trails.
It's a great walk, bike ride, or horseback ride alongside several rivers and creeks - at railroad grade!
"This is a great bike trail from right outside of Orting straight through to South Prairie. Paved the entire distance and a gentle grade make it an easy and enjoyable trip for all ages. If you start at the head of the trail, prepare to do some stop and go for about the first four miles. Once you pass Orting Park the stops end accept for a few farm access roads. The trail meanders next to the river for about four miles and then branches off to farmland. A rolling stream meets you to your left on many occasions and REI has created a nice picnic area next to a recreated wetland. When you reach South Prairie you will find a service station and a great park next to the stream with a playground, stop and have some lunch.
One of the nice aspects of this trail is that the trail volunteers bike up and down the trail on weekends, so, if you have any problems, within an hour someone will be by to give you a hand. We thought this was fantastic. "
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