The Palouse to Cascades Trail (previously the Iron Horse/John Wayne Pioneer Trail) is a 285 mile rail trail spanning the state of Washington, from the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains to the Idaho border. Designated a National Recreational Trail, it is enjoyed by hikers, horse riders, bikers, Boy Scouts, rail historians, scientists, and trail enthusiasts of all sorts. The trail highlights Washington’s diverse and scenic landscape, traveling through evergreen forests and dark tunnels, over high trestles and spectacular rivers, and across open farmland and high desert.
Cedar Falls to Snoqualmie Tunnel on the Iron Horse Trail
Palouse to Cascades Trail Route
The trail is not yet passable end to end. The section from Rattlesnake Lake over Snoqualmie summit to the Columbia River at Vantage is complete. This contains more than 100 miles of trail from Cedar Falls to the Columbia River, all of it with a grade of 2.2% or less. An Eastern section from Lind, WA to the Idaho border is also complete.
Heading east on this historic rail trail (part of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad from 1909 to 1980), travelers pass lush, vast Olallie State Park, with its waterfalls and seasonal colors. Explorers continue through the mountain pass into dark tunnels and over high trestles, until the landscape gives way to the amber-hued farmlands of eastern Washington. And, railroad buffs, don’t miss the historic train depots at South Cle Elum and Kittitas along the way.
You can take this trail in one-day sections or as a long-distance hiking or biking trip through diverse environments. Trailheads and access points are located every few miles along the trail. Camping can be found at Lake Easton State Park, just off the trail near Easton, and Wanapum Recreation Area, a few miles south of Vantage. Primitive campsites are available west of Thorp along the trail.
Bicycle RIde from Cle Elum to Ellensburg, Washington
The Snoqualmie Tunnel is an abandoned railroad tunnel in Snoqualmie and is approximately 2 miles long. Its east portal is at Hyak which is close to exit 54 of Interstate 90 and is at an approximate elevation of 2,600 ft (790 m) above sea level. The east portal is just north of Keechelus Lake and the tunnel now serves as part of the Palouse to Cascades Trail.
Palouse to Cascades Trail Section Details (West to East)
Rattlesnake Lake Parking to Homestead Trailhead Junction, Olallie State Park (5 mile section)
Approach from Rattlesnake Lake Parking
As you enter the Rattlesnake Lake parking lot, either by auto on the road or by bike from the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, you will see the sign pictured below for Rattlesnake Lake and Ledge Trail. Access to the lake and ledge is off to the right as pictured. Rattlesnake Lake is a elevation 910 feet. Proceed on the gravel path to the left of the road to the Cedar River Watershed Educational Center.
Stay to the left side of the road and proceed up the hill. You will pass near two informational signposts. Shortly up the hill behind them you will cross a wide gravel roadway which is NOT the Palouse to Cascades Trail/ Iron Horse Trail. It is 0.1 miles from the Rattlesnake Lake sign to this “false” trail. Continue straight across this road and wind up a gradual hill another 0.2 miles until you hit the real trail. When you see the Iron Horse State Park sign with distances you will know you are there. Also, there will immediately be a sign for the Cedar Falls “Station”.
Mile 0 (Cedar Falls) to Mile 0.5 (Boxley Creek)
Turn left (East) and head towards Twin Falls/ Hyak. The trail continues up the entire way to Snoqualmie Tunnel at a gentle grade. Immediately you will notice a sign for the Cedar Falls “Station”. At approximately 0.5 miles from Cedar Falls, you cross Boxley Creek. This is a fairly large creek cascading under the trail towards the Snoqualmie River South Fork.
Mile 0.5 (Boxley Creek) to Mile 1.5 (Milepost 2134)
Continue up the trail 0.6 miles to the Olallie Trail Junction. The Olallie Trail is a new trail made for mountain bikers. It extends several miles into the mountains and provides about 2500 feet elevation gain for bikers. From the top of the trail, it is a short hike to the summit of Mt. Washington, elevation 4400 feet. One third mile past the Olallie Trail Junction is an old track milemarker showing “2134” miles to Chicago.
Mile 1.5 (Milepost 2134) to Mile 2.3 (Boetzke Creek Trestle Bridge)
About 3/4 mile past the milemarker is the first trestle bridge over Boetzke Creek. There is a waterfall on the uphill side with a large drop into the deep canyon below the bridge. The photos are taken in June and the falls is somewhat hidden. During seasons when the leaves are off the trees, expect a much more direct view. This falls would be very impressive during or just after a hard rainstorm. Looking North from this bridge is a nice open view towards North Bend and Mailbox Peak.
Mile 2.3 (Boetzke Creek Trestle Bridge) to Mile 2.5 (Ragnar)
0.2 miles past Boetzke Creek is the old abandoned train depot at Ragnar. This is now a large clearing with some old railroad artifacts.
Mile 2.5 (Ragnar) to Mile 3.5 (Milepost 2132)
In the Spring and Summer, the Palouse to Cascades Trail showcases many wildflowers. June is foxglove season in the lower elevations. About a mile past Ragnar is the “2132” to Chicago milemarker.
Mile 3.5 (Milepost 2132) to Mile 3.8 (Twin Falls Trail Junction)
0.3 Miles past the 2132 milemarker is the Twin Falls trail junction. To Upper and Lower Twin Falls, proceed steeply down towards the river. Twin Falls trail is 2 miles long. The first 0.75 goes steeply down into the Snoqualmie River South Fork valley. From there it’s a wonderful walk in the woods by two great waterfalls along the river. There is parking access at the lower end of the Twin Falls trail for those looking to focus on the river and falls section of the trail.
Mile 3.8 (Twin Falls Junction) to Mile 4.2 (Homestead Trailhead Junction)
From the Twin Falls Junction, it’s another 0.4 miles to the Homestead Trailhead Junction. The right fork is the Palouse to Cascades Trail continuing on up towards Snoqualmie Tunnel/Hyak while the left fork slopes down to the Homestead Trailhead in Olallie State Park. This is accessible by car from I-90 Exit 38 and requires a Discover Pass to park. It is worth taking a diversion to go see Weeks Falls as well.
Homestead Trailhead Junction, Olallie State Park to Snoqualmie Tunnel (14.5 mile section)
Homestead Trailhead Parking Lot Access to Palouse to Cascades Trail
The Homestead Trailhead in Olallie State Park is a great place to access the Palouse to Cascades Trail. A Discover Pass is required for parking. If you don’t have a pass with you, despite the “pay here” sign, there is no place to purchase the $10 day pass. You’ll either have to go searching for another place in Olallie State Park to get one or take your chances without. Ace Hardware in North Bend is a great place to buy your Discover Pass if you don’t have one.
From the parking lot, there is a gravel road that ascends from the entrance area to the parking lot and a steeper trail which starts from the back end. Bikers will prefer the gravel road and hikers the path, which joins the gravel road just above the parking lot. It’s 1/3 mile and 150 feet elevation gain to the Palouse to Cascades Trail. This will be the steepest part of your trip. At this point, you can choose to head west and down towards the Twin Falls trail and Cedar Falls /Rattlesnake Lake or East and up towards the Snoqualmie Tunnel. We’re going to head East to the Snoqualmie Tunnel and back.
Mile 4.2 (Homestead Trailhead Junction) to Mile 5.3 (Hull Creek Trestle Bridge)
As an old railway, the grade on the Palouse to Cascades Trail never exceeds 2% so even going uphill it never is very difficult. This section of the trail is a wonderful mixture of shady wooded sections and open sections with great views of the Snoqualmie River valley and surrounding peaks. Starting East up the Palouse to Cascades Trail, you will soon cross two large trestle bridges for Chance Creek and Hull Creek. The rock faces next to these trestles are often used for rock climbing lessons and practice.
Mile 5.3 (Hull Creek Trestle Bridge) to Mile 6.4 (Mine Creek Long Trestle Bridge)
The trail continues up, alternating between shady forest and open areas with views north into the valley and mountains on the other side.
Mile 6.4 (Mine Creek Long Trestle Bridge) to Mile 7.1 (Garcia Road Crossing)
Shortly after the third (Mine Creek) trestle, you reach Garcia. Just above the old Garcia station the trail crosses Garcia Road. There is room for a few cars to park on Garcia Road which is accessed from Exit 38 westbound off I-90. Note that Exit 38 offramps for eastbound and westbound are separated by a mile or so. Eastbound Exit 38 exits to Homestead Valley Road and westbound Exit 38 exits to Garcia Road.
Mile 7.1 (Garcia Road Crossing) to Mile 8.8 (McClellan Butte (to Butte) Trail Junction
Past Garcia Road, you pass through a nice wooded area and cross a creek with a small falls (no trestle). There will then be one picnic table on your left with a nice view of the valley. Continue on to the junction with the McClellan Butte trail heading uphill towards McClellan Butte.
Mile 8.8 (McClellan Butte Trail UP Junction to Mile 9.5 (McClellan Butte Trail DOWN Junction
From here, the McClellan Butte trail joins us for a short while. Crossing Alice Creek and coming out of the forest, there is a restroom, picnic, and camping area. Then pass the milemarker 2126 shortly before the McClellan Butte trail leaves heading downhill towards I90.
Mile 9.5 (McClellan Butte Trail DOWN Junction to Mile 11.5 (Milepost 2124)
Continue about a mile and a half to a beautiful waterfall right next to the trail. What a great place to take a quick shower on a warm day or just stop for a quick photo. Then pass milemarker 2124 (to Chicago) and begin to enjoy the views towards Snoqualmie Pass.
Mile 11.5 (Milepost 2124) to Mile 11.9 (Carter Creek Camping Area)
At 7.7 miles there will be a very short dip in the trail and you’ll cross a creek and arrive at the Carter Creek camping area. Then pass milepost 2123. At this point, you will have gained 850 feet in elevation from the Homestead Trailhead parking lot (700 of it along the Palouse to Cascades trail). Continue up just a little way and look back for a great view of McClellan Butte.
Mile 11.9 (Carter Creek Camping Area) to Mile 15.4 (Snow Shed)
Once you pass Carter Creek, many wonderful views open up across the South Fork Snoqualmie Valley/ I90 corridor. You can see both across the way to Granite Mountain as well as northwards towards Snoqualmie Pass. Granite Mountain is a very difficult climb and there is an old fire tower on top. Check out the section of I90 where the eastbound and westbound lanes separate. There is a large park in the middle including the famous Franklin Falls.
Cross another trestle bridge at Hansen Creek. There will be more views of the mountains across I90 including some avalanche paths and perhaps a waterfall or two. The next point of interest is an old snow shed. This was built as avalanche protection as the trail is crossing an avalanche prone area.
Mile 15.4 (Snow Shed) to Mile 15.8 (Annette Lake Trail Jct)
Just past the snow shed, look south up avalanche avenue for some really nice views and check out the incredible wildflowers. Then, reach the Annette Trail junction.
Mile 15.8 (Annette Lake Trail Jct) to Mile 17.5 (Snoqualmie Tunnel West Entrance)
Now pass mileposts 2119 and 2118. Get ever better views out towards Snoqualmie Pass. At 13.5 miles from the Homestead Valley Trailhead junction, you will see the Snoqualmie Tunnel. Just to the left of the tunnel entrance and a little below is a nice waterfall. If you choose to enter the tunnel, make sure you have a bright biking light (flashlight is not enough). The tunnel is around two miles long and it gets very dark inside.
Palouse to Cascades Trail Access
State trailheads for the western segment of the Palouse to Cascades Trail 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, four trailside primitive campsites are also available: two between Cedar Falls and Hyak and two between Hyak and Easton. From North Bend, access to the Palouse to Cascades Trail is either from Cedar Falls (Rattlesnake Lake), Twin Falls (Olallie State Park), or Hyak (at Snoqualmie Pass on I90).