Columbia Plateau Trail State Park


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Columbia Plateau Trail State Park Facts

States: Washington
Counties: Adams, Franklin, Lincoln, Spokane, Whitman
Length: 130 miles
Trail end points: Fish Lake (Cheney) and Ice Harbor Dam (nr. Pasco)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt, Ballast, Crushed Stone, Dirt, Grass, Gravel
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6031588

Columbia Plateau Trail State Park Description

As of late 2011 the Columbia Plateau Trail State Park has developed 38 miles in two segments between Fish Lake near Cheney and Martin Road near Sprague, and between Ice Harbor Dam near the Tri-Cities and Snake River Junction. It passes through the scenic uplands of eastern Washington and along the Snake River. The middle 92 miles are undeveloped and difficult going.

The trail follows part of the former right-of-way of the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railroad, and you'll see mile markers with numbers referencing the distance from Portland, Oregon. The 23-mile northern segment (Fish Lake to Martin Road) is paved for the first 3.75 miles, from Fish Lake to Cheney, with parking and bathrooms at both locations. The trail then turns to gravel and passes through Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge on its way to the Amber Lake and Martin Road trailheads.

The 15-mile southern segment runs between Ice Harbor Dam and Snake River Junction. You'll likely see much wildlife among the scenic landscape, and interpretive signs tell about key features along the trail. The trail connects to the unpaved Fish Lake Trail on the north, which will eventually reach Spokane. Please note that the portion of this section running north and south of Levey Park is not paved and the trail surface is gravel, which may be better suited to mountain bikes. Levey Park itself is neglected and in need of some upkeep. For more information, call Columbia Plateau Trail State Park at 509-646-9218. An access fee is required.


Parking and Trail Access

Fish Lake Trailhead (milepost 365) with parking, a picnic shelter and tables, restrooms and an informational kiosk.

Cheney Trailhead (milepost 361.25) with parking (including equestrian units), restroom, picnic shelters and tables, and an informational kiosk.

Amber Lake Trailhead (milepost 349.25) with parking (including equestrian units), equestrian highline, restrooms and an informational kiosk.

Martin Road Trailhead (milepost 342) with parking (including equestrian units), equestrian highline, restrooms and an informational kiosk.

Columbia Plateau Trail State Park Reviews

Not bike-friendly

Scenery is gorgeous, trailheads have facilities well maintained, useful signage along but... the trail surface is a coarse loose gravel that rattles the bicycle and makes the tires sink. The only usage of the trail is for fat tire bikes perhaps.

Great ride on a mountain bike

I rode from The Fish Lake Trailhead on the Cheney end. Because of the reviews, I rode my mountain bike with 2.8 tires. I would struggle with my road bike even with my 700cx40 tires, I think. On my mountain bike the trail was great. Beautiful scenery and wildlife (birds, turtles, marmots, chipmunks). Due to time constraints, I could only ride about 15 miles out. I will be riding the trail again, this time starting at Amber Lake to explore the conditions, probably make it a day and see how far I get. But I do recommend a mountain bike for this terrain from the Cheney Trailhead on.

Great scenery, rough trail for biking (commenting on the "southern segment")

The description led me to believe there was a 15-mile paved "southern segment" between Ice Harbor Dam and Snake River Junction. Consulting, Google Maps, it appeared that the trail north of Levey Park would be paved (as I assumed was indicated by an unbroken, green line). Unfortunately, these assumptions led to a disappointing biking outing. Levey Park is terribly dilapidated and neglected and the trail heading both north and south of Levey Park is fairly intense gravel and not really accessible unless you have a fat tire bike and enjoy motoring through gravel. The scenery is great but it is not a biking trail.

The trail is great, the loose substrate is unrideable

This loose gravel used as a trail substrate makes these trails unpassable by bicycle. The loose gravel is tantamount to attempting to ride a bicycle across a sand dune. The gravel is soft and loose and creates too much friction for a bicycle ride longer than a quarter mile. This is a real shame and potential waste of resources. Trails must be hard packed for decent travel by bicycle. This isn't the only trail with this issue here in Washington. Many sections of the Palouse to the Cascades trail also suffer the same poor choice in trail substrate.


A gem in the making

I am very sad to see that there is very little work being done on this trail. It will be ENORMOUSLY popular if it is ever finished! Right now the surface is horrible to ride, except on the very ends. With the popularity of rails to trails, I guarantee that this would be a much-loved and used trail if it was improved. The paved sections are great, and the trailheads are, too. There has been work on this trail, with the restrooms and paving. Let's hope the improvements continue! I would love to ride it end to end someday.

Gravel can be loose

We started at Fish Lake Trailhead on a beautiful day. The trail was scenic and started out more sheltered from wind and shaded than I expected, both good. After about 4 miles, the asphalt ended and the gravel surface began. My fellow rider and I both had hybrid bicycles, and are used to road riding. After about 4 miles of riding the gravel road, we turned around early as the gravel was deep enough that we were worried about spills constantly. Perhaps this works for people who are used to riding on gravel or have more aggressive mountain bicycles.

This is a rough surface trail through some beautiful country. I rode through on 38 mm but wish I had 2 plus inch tires.

This is a rough surface trail through some beautiful country. I rode through on 38 mm but wish I had 2 plus inch tires.

I rode to Spokane from the John Wayne Trail juncture in August 2015

5 stars for the scenery, 2 for the rail ballast. It was rough going, even on a fatbike. I ran out of water mid morning and bailed off the horrid bone rattling ballast about 5 miles south of Lamont onto a gravel road that connected to Lamont Road and then into Lamont. Found water from a pump handle spigot in the little park behind the small community center. Filled up all 5 bottles and proceeded on pavement to the rough but fun dirt jeep road called Swift Roa that runs paralell to the CPT. I stayed on this when it became Cree Rd, then rejoined the CPT at Martin Trailhead. The rest of the ride was great, but hot, 106 degrees.Too hot for rattlesnakes so I got lucky and saw none in 5 day ride from North Bend) A refreshing jump in Amber Lake helped cool me down, and a second plunge into Fish Lake too, helped me arrive in Spokane feeling somewhat refreshed.
As others have noted, if they ever pave the CPT (and John Wayne Pioneer Trail) we will have an incrediblly scenic route through some remarkeable desert lanscapes and channeled scab lands. But for now, this is a ride that while I would say is doable for anyone, but just be ready with lots of water, energy bars, and thick mountain bike tires and maybe even a fat bike. The rail ballast rocks slid around like dinner plates even under the fat bike, which made it impossible to ever fully relax like you can on the packed gravel or paved trails.


Well, the developed sections were excellent (Spokane to Martin Rd. in the North and Snake River Rd to Ice Harbor Dam in the South) but just about everything in the middle of that is ruthless and underdeveloped. My fiance and I just attempted to bike-pack it -aboard fatbikes- and were rattled to the bone on the ballast. We've ridden a whole lot of trail throughout the west and this was some of the most brutal we've experienced (unrelenting loose 2-4" basalt rocks).

Also, not having developed the old-unmaintained bridges for crossing was certainly a negative, being that there is no decent way around them (unless you're a fan of trespassing on private property!)... Thankfully, by the time we arrived at those gaps in the map, we were doing a little road-detour until we could rejoin on more developed trail.

On the plus side, it covers beautiful and under-appreciated countryside and is filled with glorious cheerful birds filling your world with song at every break.

Overall, I don't think this "trail" is developed enough for public "enjoyment" or "recreation" but, with a little work, could be a hidden gem of Eastern Washington. If it ever gets paved, it would be a road-cyclists heaven and would certainly help boost the small-town economies along the route!

Great possibilities

Fantastic views riding north from Ice Harbor to Snake River Junction. Trail conditions make for slow going (12mph or so) over thick gravel giving way coarse basalt. I'd really like to see trail improvements. We turned away from the trail at Snake River Junction and rode gravel roads back to Ice Harbor up and down through the orchards during apple harvest. We enjoyed the gravel road surface much more. Glad I did it but not super anxious to go back. Those gravel roads; however, need further exploration.

Beautiful Area in the Fall but...

This is a great trail to travel on a sunny fall day. The first section near Ice Harbor Dam has been covered with a gravel until you get upstream to the Big Flat Park. From that point upstream it is essentially the railroad ballast and isn't really meant for the tires of a bike unless you have the great big fat ones for riding in sand.

For hiking and horse riding - it's no big deal except some of the rock is sharp enough I wonder about the hooves of a horse.

If you are riding a bike the ballast makes you unsteady enough that you have to watch where you are riding all the time instead of looking around at the scenery.

Moral of the story: bring the big wide tires and enjoy a beautiful ride.

Ice Harbor Dam to Snake River Jct. 10-04-2013

I am looking forward to the day when all 130 miles of this trail is open, but for now the most southern 15 miles is “Open” and will have to do. It was a beautiful October day, so I decided to go for a ride, the trail can get quite hot in the Tri-Cities summers, and the park is available for use year round. The concept of open is interesting and was explained to me this way, the section which is not open you can go on but it offers no facilities (92 miles). The section not open contains gated Trestles creating difficulty in passage of the trail.
I have rode this 15 mile section twice and both times it has taken me 2:40 to travel one way and 3:00 to travel back. I find this funny because you are traveling upstream toward Snake River Jct. so you would think the return trip would go faster, it just doesn’t seem to.
The surface of the trail is the largest drawback, again my mind dreams of a time when the trail has a paved surface. However this is not in the development plans for the State Park. From Ice Harbor the surface is almost acceptable and continues to deteriorate the farther up the trail one rides. By the time you reach Big Flat (Dalton Lake) the trail is rough, but finer gravel has been placed on the trail over the entire 15 miles. The surface of the 92 miles which are not open are extremely rough, there are no fine gravel and it has not been smoothed out or compacted if you ride these sections you will appreciate the work done on the southern 15. In summary the surface could use improvement but I rode it on my Mt. bike which has no suspension.
The encounters I have had on the trail are very limited with Human Beings, and relatively frequent with wildlife, which on 10-04 included, Blue Herron, Canadian Geese, and many other birds, White tail deer, Snake, and fish jumping.

LOVE this trail!

We've hiked some of the graveled section from Cheney-Spangle Road south and have ridden our bikes from Fish Lake to Cheney-Spangle. The latter section was exceptionally scenic and GORGEOUS! The basalt rocks, the vegetation, and the little streams running on either side of the trail, along with a quiet evening, made our ride very peaceful. We even saw a porcupine along the way and heard it communicating with it's babies/baby in a little rock cave.

I love the Channeled Scablands. Maybe it's because I took geography classes at EWU. It's a fascinating and a beautiful area once you learn about it.

Also, my dad worked for the SP&S.

not ideal for hiking/through hiking

Two of my friends and I set out from Sacajawea State Park in Pasco up the road to the CPT, planning to hike to the town of Kahlotus in 3-4 days. Unable to find much info on the trail beforehand, we had no idea what to expect as far as the backpacker's experience.
The trail, sites, and parks along the trail do not allow camping, except for a very few. The one park that did offer camping, Windust Park, was closed when we got there. Because many parts of the trail are so remote, I suppose one could camp in the places furthest from the roads and not get caught, but we chose not to, and ended up having a friend pick us up each day and shuttle us back to Pasco- the closest site with services. I am somewhat appalled that camping is not permitted along this trail.
The trail itself is steady and flat, and has several port-a-potties along the route at the different junctions with roads and the wildlife habitat areas (no camping!). The towns of Kahlotus and Washtucna have very little to offer in terms of stores, even for buying water, so plan on treating the creek or river water, which seems sketchy-most of the creeks are farm runoff.
I can't imagine hiking this trail, or that it was intended whatsoever for hikers. I think it may be fun to go biking, if you enjoy riding a mountain bike down a flat gravel road. Some of the views along this route are great.
We did encounter several rattle snakes- not just hearing the rattles, but having them come across our path, or coil up in a strike position. I am not exaggerating- we saw at least five rattlers in four days.
Finally, if you plan to hike this trail, keep in mind that all of the old train bridges have been very effectively fenced off by the Army Corps of engineers, so you cannot cross them. Obviously, this is a great way to keep drunken teenagers from playing on them, but if you are hiking down the trail expect MAJOR delays if you encounter a bridge, because most of the time you will need to double back to less steep terrain, find an alternate route, and then find another way back up to the trail after the bridge. It would be better to plan an alternate route around each bridge beforehand.

Columbia Plateau State Park - Ice Harbor Dam to Snake River Jct.

5/19/12 Saturday

I give the trail surface a 1 and a half stars and the scenery 4 stars. I will probably never ride this trail again and I live 20 minutes from here. There is no potable water available on this trail. If you got desperate I'm sure a few drinks from the river wouldn't hurt you.

I started the ride at the Ice Harbor Dam Trailhead. Clean restroom. No water. Lots of free parking. Nice boatlaunch facility with nobody using it on this GORGEOUS Saturday in May.
N46degrees 15.201'
W118degrees 52.665'
Elevation = 418'

From here the trail consists of mostly 3/8" crushed rock with medium ballast underneath that's not compacted but my trailbike handled it OK. (I averaged 10 mph until I got to Big Flats which was about 6 miles into the ride.) I didn't see another bike all day and except for a few fishermen, I felt like Lewis and Clark on their expedition. I saw several blue heron, many loons, some HUGE owls with a nest right next to the trail, geese, a school of late run Chinook salmon, hawks, a huge cliff with swallows nesting, signs of badger, a very cool beaver hut, and lots and lots of amazing scenes of the Snake River.

All the parks were closed. The only activity allowed was in Levey Park boat launch on weekends only. Joe, the custodian at Levey, told me this was the first year he could ever remember the parks being closed. Levey is/was a GORGEOUS Park with an amazing beach. Such a waste.

Big Flats had lots of bank fishing happening in the lake created by a land bridge across an inlet in the lake/river. It's called Sacajawea Lake above Ice Harbor Dam. Nice open restrooms and again no water.

From here the trail surface had no crushed rock...just medium sized ballast uncompacted. The going was MUCH slower! Only averaged 6 mph from here to Snake River Jct.

Snake River Jct Trailhead...
Clean restrooms and covered picnic area. It looked like the garbage can was missing and birds had scattered garbage folks had stacked near the recycle can. Because of the difficulty riding the trail I decided to take paved roads back. It was 4 miles further but not nearly the effort.
N46degrees 23.402'
W118degrees 40.830'
Elev = 464'




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.


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.


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.



Ride on!

Great Wildlife

"In mid July we bicycled about 15 miles of this trail. The three to four mile portion north of the Cheney trail head is paved and is quite enjoyable. However, if you enjoy wildlife (particularly song birds and water fowl) the really sensational stretch is the seven or eight mile segment that runs south of the Cheney trail head and through the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. "

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