Washington State’s history of trail development has resulted in some of the country’s most iconic and well-used trails, making it the ideal western terminus for the Great American Rail-Trail. The preferred route will begin at the Idaho–Washington border on the developing Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail, an epic rail-trail that travels in segments across most of the state, ending in Cedar Falls. From here, a variety of trails in King County carry the Great American Rail-Trail into the Seattle area, where the trail will ultimately continue west to the Pacific Ocean along the burgeoning Olympic Discovery Trail.
From Rails to Trails Magazine’s Spring/Summer 2019 issue
Preserving Our Railroad Past: The Milwaukee Road
The Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail spans more than 200 miles of Washington state terrain along the historic “Milwaukee Road” connecting Chicago and the Puget Sound. Searching for a way to tackle the steep mountain ranges of the west, the line, which came into being in the mid-1850s, began to electrify in 1914 and had electrified about a quarter of its route by 1927. The end result was a scenic ride through the Pacific Northwest, free of obtrusive steam engine smoke.
Though the power cut off in the 1970s, the rail-trail runs alongside a collection of preserved structures in the Washington town of South Cle Elum, home of one of those 22 substations, which is now a restaurant ironically named Smokey’s Bar-B-Que. Read about more historical connections along the Great American Rail-Trail here.
The “Great American” Route Through Washington
RTC’s route analysis defines the preferred route of the Great American Rail-Trail through Washington as 517.5 miles and 71% complete—comprising 367.8 existing trail miles and 149.7 gap miles. Click the links below to view full trail descriptions of Washington’s host trails on TrailLink.com.
Trails Along the Route
Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail
Spanning more than 200 miles across Washington, this pathway is one of the longest rail-trail conversions in the United States. Its eastern end begins at the Idaho border, about an hour south of Spokane, and from there the trail traverses rugged and pristine countryside as it makes its way to the Columbia River. West of the river, travelers will find dense forests, bridges with sweeping vistas and passage through a century-old tunnel at Snoqualmie Pass on a journey to trail’s end in the Cascade foothills, just 35 miles from downtown Seattle.
Like you, we can’t wait to see the Great American Rail-Trail vision come to life—but we can’t do it alone.
Support at the state and local levels is critical to the trail’s success. Help us reach 1 million pledges for the Great American, showing the strength and solidarity of the trails community. This is America’s trail. Together, let’s make it a reality.
Completing the Great American Rail-Trail: Catalyst Initiatives in Washington
In every state along the preferred route of the Great American, needs for completing the trail vary. To spur trail completion, RTC has identified initial catalyst initiatives—projects or challenges that would most benefit from RTC’s national breadth of resources. (View the complete list of catalyst initiatives and criteria here.) Through these initiatives, RTC will support local and state partners, investing time, expertise and organizational resources in specific projects that are critical to the ultimate completion of the Great American Rail-Trail.
Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail Funding
RTC will work with partners in Washington State to help secure the balance of funding for Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail projects in the 2019 Washington state budget, including the Beverly Bridge rehabilitation (Columbia River crossing on Old Milwaukee Road corridor), Malden to Rosalia upgrades (grading and resurfacing of 9-mile section plus trailhead creation) and the renovation of the Tekoa Trestle (decking, rail installation and minor structural repairs on 975-foot-long historic trestle).