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Washington State Parks — Iron Horse

Mountains to Sound Greenway

America's Byways: National Scenic Byways Program

Trail of the Month Archive


Trail of the Month: February 2002
Iron Horse State Park Trail, Washington

From biking, hiking and horse drawn wagons to dog sledding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing, the Iron Horse State Park Trail in Washington offers a diverse variety of activities to trail users. Beginning 40 miles southeast of Seattle, Washington's first linear park is also an excellent example of how rail-trails can preserve large areas of open space, save important natural landscapes, provide needed links between fragmented habitats and offer tremendous opportunities for protecting plant and animal species.

The Iron Horse State Park Trail, part of the cross-state John Wayne Pioneer Trail, is nearly 110-miles long, giving Washington state residents and visitors the chance to travel from the forests of western Washington at Rattlesnake Lake (near Cedar Falls and North Bend) through rainy passes, swamps and even a military test area of extreme desert until its eastern endpoint at the Columbia River in Vantage.

A fun annual event that incorporates about 70 miles of the Iron Horse State Park Trail, in addition to other connected greenways, is the Mountains to Sound Greenway March, a summer adventure that leads wagon riders from Thorp and travels 130 miles west to Seattle. A highlight of the march is traveling through the Snoqualmie tunnel. Built in 1915, the 2.3-mile tunnel is the nation's longest tunnel open to non-motorized traffic. Those interested in traveling through the tunnel should bring a light and a jacket with a hood, as the tunnel is unlit and water still drips from the ceiling.

At over 1,600 acres, the Iron Horse State Park Trail follows the right-of-way of the Milwaukee Road, a section of the historic Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, once one of the longest electrically powered railroad lines in the world. When the railroad company went into bankruptcy in 1980, Washington State's Department of Natural Resources acquired much of the old railroad corridor before turning the land over to Washington State Parks, who act as the trail manager. Improvements and acquisitions to the trail continue to be made by Washington State Parks; recently the 36-mile Snoqualmie Valley Trail was linked with the Iron Horse State Park Trail at Rattlesnake Lake.

Today, the Iron Horse State Park Trail follows the Interstate-90 corridor known as the Mountains to Sound Greenway. In June 1998, I-90 became the only interstate highway in the U.S. to be designated a National Scenic Byway. According to the local non-profit organization, The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, this designation helps to nationally promote the towns and attractions along the Greenway.

As one of the ten longest rail-trails in the country that provides a safe habitat to such animals as bobcats and herons, it's easy to see why over 1.2 million people per year visit the Iron Horse State Park Trail.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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