Three Great Winter Hikes on Washington's Former Railroads

Posted 02/25/14 by Loren Drummond in America's Trails

Photo of the Klickitat Trail © Kim Brown

Hey, rail-trail fans!  As our month-long focus on all-things walking-biking-trail-related in Washington comes to a close, RTC pleased to bring you this great post by guest blogger Loren Drummond of the Washington Trails Association.  Learn about three great rail-trails where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery, history, diverse vegetation and (snowy) weather of the Evergreen State.  Happy hiking!

The sun may be climbing higher in the sky, but Washington's high country will be buried under ice and snow for months to come. To get outside and watch for the first signs of spring, try one of the many gorgeous rail-trails running across the state; there are many perfect, low-elevation options for hikers.

Trails Ideal for Conditioning, Family Rambles and Hiking Through History

Rail-trails have some features that make them special. They tend to be wide and long and have a gentle grade. Many of them also retain some historical markers of their origins, which make them a great choice for history buffs. 

Those qualities also make them perfect for hikers or trail runners who want to build the distance portion of their spring conditioning without committing to thousands of feet in elevation gain. They're just as good for casual family outings, where off-road strollers and elders' creaky knees can ramble side by side. And while these trails also make popular biking trails, there is usually plenty of room for everyone. 

Below are three railroads-turned-trails worth checking out, along with tips for exploring rail-trails in Washington year-round. 

Klickitat Rail Trail: Spot the First Spring Flowers

The Klickitat Trail is a 31-mile rails-to-trails conversion in southern Washington running from Lyle to Warwick (on the Lyle-Centerville Highway) with several access points along the way. It takes you through some of Washington's drier, sunnier scenery, and portions of it parallel the Wild and Scenic Klickitat River, a favorite among kayakers. Try the section along Swale Canyon in spring, and keep your eyes peeled for stunning Ponderosa Pines and the first wildflowers of the season in early March. 

Hike the Swale Canyon section of the Klickitat Rail Trail.

Cedar River Trail: A Bus-Accessible Trail in Seattle’s Backyard

No amount of drizzle can spoil a winter or spring stroll along this bus-accessible trail just outside of Seattle, which has multiple access points along its 12.3-mile length. This former railroad is great for kids, dogs on a leash or a long run. Easily accessible, it's a great trail to return to throughout the year to watch the seasons change. The start of the salmon run makes the trail extra special in October. 

Hike the Cedar River Trail.

John Wayne Pioneer Trail at Iron Horse State Park © Loren Drummond

John Wayne Pioneer Trail: Crossing the Cascades

The 110-mile John Wayne Pioneer Trail crosses a variety of Washington's diverse ecosystems as it winds from its western trail head outside of North Bend, up through lush, green forests to Snoqualmie Pass, and then back down into the dry, open shrub steppe east of Ellensburg. In summer, hikers can trek and camp along the entire length of the trail (with a few detours around unsafe tunnels), but in winter, the best approach is tackling a few of the lower elevations on either end or snowshoeing the higher sections. 

Start at Cedar Falls outside North Bend, and head east.

Snowshoe a section at Keechelus Lake.

Seek out sunshine with an Ellensburg section.

Learn more about Iron Horse State Park.

More resources

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