Biking the Iron Horse Trail
Fall in the Pacific Northwest is the perfect time for a hike or bike ride in the Cascade Mountains. The cool air, beautiful views, and changing leaves make for an absolutely stunning autumn activity. At just 30 minutes east of Seattle, the Iron Horse/Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail is the perfect option for folks looking for a great gravel bike ride or relatively easy hike.
The trail weaves its way through the Cascades, connecting state and regional parks along the way. It is a popular choice for mountain and gravel biking, trail running, and rock climbing.
About the Iron Horse/Palouse to Cascades Trail
The 212-mile Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail from the Cascade Mountains to the Idaho border is a great opportunity to bike through some of Washington State's most interesting and beautiful landscapes. The trail is maintained by Washington State Parks and reflects their commitment to building a state-wide network of trails. The trail sits along decommissioned Milwaukee railroad right-of-way and generally follows the Interstate 90 corridor east-west across the state. There are some gaps in the system, but any day trip or even an overnight trip will be covered with uninterrupted, off road riding. In addition to mountains, forests, plateaus, rivers, and plains, the trail passes by historic railroad stations at Cle Elum and Kittitas. One of the most interesting elements of the trail is a 2-mile long tunnel through the side of the mountains at the Snoqualmie Pass. The tunnel is so long, lights and some warmer gear are required, even on a bright summer day. In addition to biking, the trail is a great place to hike, trail run, or even rock climb.
How to Get There & Tips
The Iron Horse/Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail follows Interstate 90 east of Seattle, through the Cascade Mountains. Leaving Seattle, take the interstate east to North Bend, WA, the home of the fictional Twin Peaks TV series. Take Exit 31 and head south of the highway to access the trailhead. Parking is limited and requires a State Parks Discover Pass so it's best to head to the trail early in the morning, especially on a nice weekend. It is easiest to get to the trailhead by personal vehicle, though some trailhead transit exists in the area, especially in the summer months. Although this year's service was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, King County's Trailhead Direct service as well as Sound Transit are some great resources for accessing natural areas on the East Side throughout the region.
Equipment: The trail is mostly made up of a fine crushed gravel with limited hills, bumps, or dips. Gravel bikes and mountain bikes will be the most comfortable options on the trail. I used my crossover/hybrid road bike which was totally fine (though my arms did absorb quite a bit of shock). The trail is also popular for families and, with helmets, and a steady pace, even kids will have a great time!
Provisions: Be sure to bring lots of food and water with you. There are great places to stop along the trail for a picnic or snack break. While there are nearby towns like North Bend and Riverbend, be sure to bring everything you need with you as the trail is only accessible by limited crossings and trailheads so food, drink, and bathrooms are limited. We like doubling up on water bottles or even using Camelback packs when we're biking here since we know it will be an all-day activity.
Camping: For ambitious cyclists, the trail provides great bike-camping opportunities. The trail connects numerous state parks throughout central Washington State, so you can definitely make a weekend out of the ride. Be sure to check out Lake Easton State Park and Wanapum Recreation Area. There are also five primitive camp areas right along the trail. Of course, a day trip provides more than enough great views and opportunities to ride as far as you like.
Views from the Trail
We love exploring all over the Pacific Northwest. Where should we head to next? Do you prefer hiking or biking or another outdoor activity? Leave your ideas below.