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Closure Notice: As of April 2023, the trail is effectively closed between Texas Lake Road (east of Revere) and Rosalia due to the damage caused by the Babb Fire, construction, and gaps in the route where it encounters private property. Additionally, there are two closed bridges along the route between Beverly and Symma. For detours and updates, please check the Palouse to Cascades Coalition website.
Notice: Before you head out, it's important to note that to experience the trail east of the Columbia River, travelers are required to register online with Washington State Parks. 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.
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 250-mile trail passes through remote and sparsely populated areas of Washington state that are rich in wildlife and natural beauty. The rail-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 a few gaps in the trail, they can be connected via on-road detours. However, travelers should note that these on-road connections do not currently have trail signage marking the way. Due to long distances between some of the towns, visitors are encouraged to carry water and snacks.
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 111 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, five trailside primitive campsites are also available: two between Cedar Falls and Hyak, two between Hyak and Easton and one between South Cle Elum and Thorp.
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 on the eastern outskirts of Seattle.
As the trail continues, it crosses a half dozen canyons on three 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. (Note that the Snoqualmie Tunnel is closed every year from November 1st to May 2st due to ice potentially falling from the ceiling.)
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 can 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. The PTCT Coalition has a suggested route through Ellensburg to bridge the short gap.
Past Kittitas, the Renslow Trestle, a refurbished railroad bridge, takes users across Interstate 90. (The bridge was decommissioned in the 1970s and was reopened for trail use in 2021). The trail leaves the irrigated agricultural land and enters the drier landscape of the Yakima Training Center, where the trail then drops into the narrow Sentinel Gap, carved by the Pacific Northwest's largest river, the Columbia. The Yakima Training Center is operated by the US Army and visitors are required to sign in and out when passing through.
The 3000-foot-long Beverly Bridge was recently rehabilitated, with new decking and railings allowing for safe bike-ped crossing over the Columbia River and eliminating the need for a long detour. The former railroad bridge had been significantly damaged in a fire in 2014. A ceremony for the highly anticipated bridge opening was held on April 8, 2022.
Washington State Parks has oversight of the entire Palouse to Cascades Trail. The eastern segment of the trail between the Columbia River and Lind, is referred to as the Milwaukee Corridor. To experience the trail east of the Columbia River, travelers are required to register online with Washington State Parks. 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 sand or track ballast and fat-tire bikes or mountain bikes are recommended. Beginning in Beverly, trail users return to wildlife refuges, with irrigated farmlands forming the setting for the ride in Othello. In this section of the trail, trailheads are planned for Warden, Lind, Malden, Rosalia, and Tekoa. As of February 2023, the 9-mile section between Ralston and Marengo is complete, including the Cow Creek Crossing trestle. With this gap filled, there is now a continuous stretch of trail from Warden east to Ewan.
Heading northeast into Tekoa, the trail crosses the Tekoa Trestle, a steel railroad trestle that has been refurbished to serve hikers and bikers on the Palouse to Cascades Trail. It is nearly a thousand feet long and passes 115 feet over Hangman Creek and Highway 27. Built in 1909 by the Milwaukee Railroad Co., the trestle became an icon of the town. The rail corridor, including the trestle, was acquired by the state when the railroad company went bankrupt in the late 1970s. The creation of the rail-trail, whose route included the trestle, necessitated a detour to avoid the deteriorating structure. Community involvement led the efforts that resulted in the trestle's revitalization and the Tekoa Trestle re-opened on June 2, 2022.
Although travelers will encounter some interruptions in the corridor, improvements to the trail experience are actively being worked on by trail advocates. The longest gaps, which can be circumnavigated via roads, are between Royal City Junction and Warden, Revere and Ewan, and between Ewan and Malden. Due to these gaps and additional factors, the trail is effectively closed between Texas Lake Road (east of Revere) and Rosalia. There is also a short gap in the route as it runs through Lind, as well as two closed bridges between Beverly and Symma that necessitate a detour.
This trail is a gateway to the Great American Rail-Trail, a nearly 4,000 mile developing trail that will connect the country from Washington, D.C. to Washington state. Gateway trails represent those iconic trails that make possible the Great American Rail-Trail in each of the states it connects.
Parking is available at numerous locations along the trail. Visit the TrailLink map for all options and detailed directions.
A Discover Pass is required for vehicle access to state parks for day use. Refer to the Palouse to Cascades Trail page on the Washington State Trails website.
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