The Klickitat Trail is a 31-mile non-motorized, multiple use rail trail in southern Washington state, in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge. The Klickitat Trail follows an old railroad corridor that once linked the towns of Lyle and Goldendale. It is unique among rail trails. Nowhere else is there a rail trail that starts in one of the nation’s only National Scenic Areas, winds along a nationally designed Wild and Scenic river, and finishes by going through a remote, beautiful tributary canyon.
The gently-graded trail starts at a trailhead in Lyle, Washington, at the confluence of the Klickitat and Columbia Rivers, follows the Wild and Scenic Klickitat River 13 miles through oaks and pines to the old mill town of Klickitat, and then turns up Swale Creek and into the remote and beautiful Swale Canyon, ending in the high, open ranch country of the Goldendale Plateau. The trail’s spectacular scenery includes carved gorges, interesting geologic formations, abundant wildflowers, rolling hills, oak and Ponderosa Pine woodlands. There are great birding opportunities, including winter habitat for bald eagles near the Lyle trailhead.
Currently the trail is unpaved, with a packed fine gravel surface for the first 2 miles from Lyle to the Fisher Hill Trestle and also through the town of Klickitat. The rest is primitive, with dirt and larger gravel, suitable for hiking and mountain biking. The first 13 miles — between Lyle and Klickitat — can also be used by equestrians, but the rest of the trail, with many trestles, is not yet horse-ready. In season, the entire trail is great for cross-country skiing. A missing trestle one mile north of Klickitat prevents through use in this section, so those wanting to hike or bike the entire trail need to use Hwy 142 for the 3+ miles between the town of Klickitat and the Wahkiacus trailhead. The 2+ mile section of trail going from Wahkiacus toward Klickitat is a beautiful hike, but dead-ends at the missing trestle.
Most of the land adjacent to the trail is private and it is very important to respect private property by staying on the trail and keeping dogs leashed and on the trail. Washington State Parks rules clearly state dogs must be on a leash at all times. Adjacent landowners have poultry and livestock and there is open-range grazing of cattle and sheep, especially in the section from the Fisher Hill Trestle to Pitt and in the Harms Rd. area. Rattlesnakes, ticks, and poison oak can be hazards to dogs and people alike everywhere along the trail.
The route includes a remote tributary canyon, a nationally designated Wild & Scenic River and a National Scenic Area. The wildlife in the area includes wild turkey, rattlesnakes and cougars. Deer kills on the trail by cougars are common, and yearly salmon runs attract bald eagles.
The 13-mile Swale Canyon section of the Klickitat Trail, from the Wahkiacus trailhead to the Harms Rd trailhead, closes annually in the summer when fire danger is high and re-opens in early fall. All other sections of the Klickitat Trail, including the short section east from Harms Rd., are open year-round.
Washington State Parks, U.S. Forest Service, and the Klickitat Trail Conservancy keep this trail open and managed for the public. The Klickitat Trail Conservancy (KTC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the 31-mile Klickitat Trail.
The region was originally passed through by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Lewis and Clark calling the Klickitat river the "Cataract river". In 1903, the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railroad built the original track linking Lyle and Goldendale. Passenger service existed for several years during the 1920s between Portland, Oregon, and Goldendale, Washington. Lumber was an important part of its transport until the 1980s. It was abandoned in 1992 following the decline of the lumber mill in the town of Klickitat and the mill in Goldendale. The railroad right-of-way was purchased in 1993 by the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Ownership of the rail line was transferred to Washington State Parks in 1994, despite some local opposition. In 2003, local supporters of the Trail formed the Klickitat Trail Conservancy (KTC).
The Klickitat Trail, a public right of way, is now managed cooperatively by Washington State Parks, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Klickitat Trail Conservancy (KTC). In 2007-2008, the U.S. Forest Service completed its Trail management and development plan which includes a partnership with the Klicktitat Trail Conservancy (KTC) and Washington State Parks.