Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail

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Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail
John Wayne Pioneer Trail - east end of Iron Horse park.jpg
Rail cut in the eastern end of the Iron Horse State Park portion of the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail as it nears the Columbia River south of Vantage
Length285 miles (459 km)[1]
LocationWashington, United States
Right of wayRailways
Maintained byWashington State Parks and Recreation Commission
Trail map
The Saddle Mountains as seen from the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail. Photo looking east southeasterly at Boylston tunnel

The Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail, formerly known as the John Wayne Pioneer Trail and the Iron Horse Trail, is a rail trail that spans most of the U.S. state of Washington. It follows the former railway roadbed of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road) for 300 miles (480 km) across two-thirds of the state, from the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains to the Idaho border.

The former Milwaukee Road roadbed was acquired by the state of Washington via a quitclaim deed, and is used as a non-motorized recreational trail managed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. State legislation "railbanked" the corridor with provisions that allow for the reversion to railroad usage in the future.


The trail was originally a railroad line which was decommissioned in 1980. Afterwards, establishing a public right-of-way trail on the land was championed by various people and organizations, especially by Chic Hollenbeck, who founded the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association in the 1980s. Beginning in 1981, Hollenbeck and his organization organized annual horse and wagon rides across Washington along the trail. The organization aimed to fortify the public-ownership of the land, in opposition to nearby private property owners’ extralegal efforts to exert control over the land for their own use.[2][3] When it was officially established, the eastern part of the trail took on the name "John Wayne Trail" after the organization that lobbied for its existence, themselves being named after actor John Wayne, while the western 100-mile (160 km) portion from Cedar Falls (near North Bend) to the Columbia River south of Vantage was named the "Iron Horse Trail" and had been developed and managed as the Iron Horse State Park.

In 2002, it was designated a National Recreation Trail.[4]

In 2015, two Washington state representatives from the 9th district attempted to include language in an amendment to the state's 2015 capital budget that would close a 130-mile-long (210 km) section of the trail east of the Columbia River. It was later revealed that a typo, referring to the closed section as "from the Columbia River to the Columbia River", nullified the amendment temporarily.[5][6]

In April 2018, Washington State Parks proposed renaming the trail and Iron Horse State Park to resolve confusion.[7][3] Additionally, the name did not conform to the State Parks naming policies.[3] The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission adopted a new name, the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail, in May of that year.[8]

In April 2022, the Beverly Railroad Bridge across the Columbia River reopened to provide access for hikers, cyclists, and horse riders following the trail. The railroad trestle, south of Vantage, was renovated at a cost of $5.5 million by the state government. Other sections of the trail in Eastern Washington remain unfinished or in need of replacement.[1]

Trail features[edit]

Army West Trailhead near Beverly Washington

Iron Horse Park access[edit]

Access points to the developed portion of the trail, managed by Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, are at:[9]

  • Rattlesnake Lake, Cedar Falls – western terminus and connection to the Snoqualmie Valley Regional Trail
  • Twin Falls
  • Hyak – provides access to the 2.3-mile-long (3.7 km) Snoqualmie Tunnel through the crest of the Cascade Mountains. In winter this site provides a public sledding area and ski trails groomed for track and skate style cross country skiing from Hyak eastward. Washington DOT Sno-pass parking is required at this site in winter. Within walking/snowing/skiing distance is a state parks owned lodge.
  • Easton – descending the eastern slope of the Cascades
  • Cle Elum – provides access to the Upper Yakima River Canyon
  • Thorp – near the historic Thorp Mill
  • Kittitas, Washington – in the open farm valley of the Yakima River drainage east of Ellensburg, Washington
  • Army West – at the western edge of the stretch passing through the shrub-steppe country of the U.S. Army's Yakima Training Center
  • Army East – at the eastern edge of the stretch passing through the Yakima Training Center as it reaches the Columbia River


The trail features six tunnels, including the longest trail tunnel in the world, the 11,894-foot (3,625 m) Snoqualmie Tunnel, which was #50 on the railroad's numbering system. The other five tunnels in order are the Boylston (#45), Thorp (#46), Picnic Area (#47), Easton (#48) and Whittier (#49). The Boylston Tunnel was also known as the Johnson Creek tunnel to the railroad and sometimes tunnels #46 and #47 are known as the Thorp Tunnels.


The trail runs along the east side of Rock Lake in the Rock Creek drainage; the former railroad grade climbing the basalt walls of the lake can be seen

Access points to the undeveloped portion of the trail, managed by Washington State Department of Natural Resources, have not been formally opened to the public. However, the trail provides access to the unique geological erosion features of the Channeled Scablands regions of the state of Washington, and several stretches have been recognized as providing access to this area created by the cataclysmic Missoula Floods that swept periodically across eastern Washington and down the Columbia River Plateau during the Pleistocene epoch. At Malden, once home to the largest railroad turntable in the world, Washington State Parks is planning a trailhead in the former rail yard.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Banse, Tom (April 12, 2022). "Riding or hiking across Washington state just got easier with new bridge over Columbia River". KUOW. Retrieved April 13, 2022.
  2. ^ "About the Palouse to Cascades Trail". John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association. n.d. Retrieved September 3, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Paul, Crystal (April 17, 2018). "Washington may rename the cross-state John Wayne Pioneer Trail; here's why". The Seattle Times. Retrieved September 3, 2021.
  4. ^ "John Wayne Pioneer Trail". American Trails. February 28, 2013. Retrieved August 14, 2014.
  5. ^ "Typo stalls effort to close part of John Wayne Trail". Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce. Associated Press. September 24, 2015. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  6. ^ Babcock, John (September 23, 2015). "Wording error keeps John Wayne Trail open". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  7. ^ Bonar, Kayla (April 2, 2018). "State looks at renaming Iron Horse-John Wayne trail". Yakima Herald. Archived from the original on April 2, 2018. Retrieved April 14, 2018.
  8. ^ Paul, Crystal (May 17, 2018). "Former John Wayne Pioneer Trail renamed Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail". The Seattle Times. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  9. ^ Brochure: 'Your Guide to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail – Iron Horse State Park'; Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission; undated (copy distributed at trailheads in 2008)

External links[edit]

Media related to John Wayne Pioneer Trail at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 47°13′45″N 117°14′59″W / 47.22917°N 117.24972°W / 47.22917; -117.24972