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Closure Notice: The trestle across Lower Crab Creek was destroyed by a fire. This section is closed indefinitely but a detour is available (see trail map). For 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. Follow the link in the Related Content section. 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 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, 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.
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. 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 sing 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. A ceremony for the highly anticipated bridge opening was held on April 8, 2022. The former railroad bridge had been significantly damaged in a fire in 2014.
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, Ralston, Malden, Rosalia and Tekoa.
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 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 Royal Slope Junction and Warden, Revere and Ewan, and Ewan and Malden.
Due to long distances between some of the towns, visitors are encouraged to carry water and snacks.
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. Learn more at www.greatamericanrailtrail.org
To reach the Cedar Falls trailhead, take I-90 to Exit 32. Head south on 436th Avenue SE/Cedar Falls Road for 4 miles. Pass the Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area entrance, and turn left into the state park.
To reach the trailhead at Tekoa, head south on US 195 from Spokane for 32 miles. Take the State Route 271 S exit, and go 8.5 miles, and then turn left onto SR 27 N/Tekoa Oaksdale Road. In 11.2 miles, the road becomes Ramsey Street in Tekoa. In 0.3 mile, bear left at a T-intersection, and turn right onto Washington Street. The trail is two blocks past Poplar Street.
A Discover Pass, displayed in your motor vehicle, is required at trailheads.
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