Exploring the Washington Cascades; waterfalls, old towns, mountain biking on John Wayne Trail

We’re spending two weeks in Seattle, house-sitting a lovely condominium on the west side of Queen Anne Hill.  Our first several days were spent re-acquainting ourselves with the Seattle we knew from frequent visits when we lived in Spokane (1971-84) and occasional visits since.  So we have toured the Queen Anne Hill area; lovely with mansions and views to die for, the Ballard area, the Lake Union Ship Canal and Chittenden Locks, Alki Point, a quick lool at Pioneer Square and more.

Snoqualmie Falls' water thunders into the canyon below; it's on the way to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.

We brought our mountain bikes, so it was inevitable that I would suggest a trip to the lovely Cascade Mountains: from Seattle, we elected to take a tour to Snoqualmie Falls and then continue further east to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Our destination was about 50 miles from Seattle – Snoqualmie Falls, the adjacent Salish Lodge for a delicious lunch, then into the little town of Snoqualmie (with two Ferraris parked on the street, testimony to the money of surrounding residents, I guess); across the street, an old railroad yard, now the Northwest Railway Museum, trainmuseum.org.

Iron Horse State Park is 15 miles further east along I-90, centered on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, once the Milwaukee Railroad – the longest rail trail conversion in the US, at 285 miles. We entered the gravel trail with our mountain bikes near Rattlesnake Lake – here the City of Seattle constructed a masonry dam to enhance the Cedar Falls hydroelectric plant in 1915. The dam flooded the old town of Moncton, forcing its 200 residents to relocate as the town flooded.

Rattlesnake Lake, the beginning of our bike ride on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.

Pedaling south west on the trail we quickly found the concrete foundation of the old Cedar Falls railroad substation, where hydroelectricity once powered electric engines used to push heavy freight trains up and over Snoqualmie Pass. Following the easy railroad grade through pristine cedar forests, it’s another 18 miles to Snoqualmie Tunnel – bring your headlamps! Failing to do that, we doubled back to our starting point – all gently downhill on the ride back!

These notes, below, come from the trail’s website: johnwaynepioneertrail.org

The John Wayne Pioneer Trail is the longest rail-trail conversion in the United States. The trail follows the former railway roadbed of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road) for an estimated 285 miles across two-thirds of the state of Washington, from the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains to the Idaho border. 


The John Wayne Trail is well maintained and posted with directional signs.

The State of Washington bought the former Milwaukee Road corridor for $3,000,000 via a quitclaim deed after the railroad filed for bankruptcy in 1977. State legislation “railbanked” the corridor with provisions that allow for the reversion to railroad usage in the future. The trail was named in honor of the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association for their vision and assistance in creating the trail.

Today the John Wayne Pioneer Trail is a National Recreational Trail, enjoyed by hikers, horse riders, bikers, Boy Scouts, rail historians, scientists, and trail enthusiasts of all sorts. The trail highlights Washington’s diverse and scenic landscape, traveling through evergreen forests and dark tunnels, over high trestles and spectacular rivers, and across open farmland and high desert. In 2006, the 110 mile section from the western terminus near Cedar Falls/Rattlesnake Lake to the Columbia River south of Vantage was developed as Iron Horse State Park. Washington State Parks continues to work on development and improvement of the JWPT through eastern Washington. (Author’s note: in 2015, two WA State lawmakers tried an “end-around” to vacate the eastern portion of the trail and give the old rail property to adjacent land-owners – the attempt failed – but the trail on the eastern end is not yet fully developed).

What’s nearby: Snoqualmie Falls, Snoqualmie Pass, the quaint town of Snoqualmie and its Northwest Railway Museum.

How to get to Snoqualmie, WA: From Stockton, take I-5 north; in Seattle, go east on I-90; it’s about 850 miles and fifteen hours from Stockton.

Susan pedaling along the trail near Cedar Falls.

For more information: John Wayne Pioneer Trail, the trail’s website: johnwaynepioneertrail.org; for Washington State tourism, info, experiencewa.com.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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