Hiking And Biking On The John Wayne Pioneer Trail In Washington State

December in the Northwest, a landscape palette of grays, blues, browns ... and green -- Washington State is the Evergreen State after all!

While staying with family in the Seattle area, I got to hike and bicycle a section of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, also known locally as the Iron Horse Trail, on consecutive gloomy, overcast days. Pure northwestern delight!


Stickers on the bicycle my brother loaned me: Climb up, down pints -- Expendable youth, full throttle to the grave! :)

Stickers on the bicycle my brother loaned me: Climb up, down pints -- Expendable youth, full throttle to the grave! :)

... [T]he Iron Horse Trail is an unparalleled resource so magnificent I can still hardly believe it’s real....
— SeattleBikeBlog.com

At over 200 miles, the John Wayne Pioneer Trail is one of the longest railroad to trail conversions in the United States. The trail winds along an old Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad line (yes, a mouthful, the line was conventionally known as the Milwaukee Railroad in the area). After the railroad went bankrupt in 1980, the State acquired the land along the route which would later be converted to the trail. 

The beauty of railway trails for the hiker or touring bicyclist is the slope or grade. Because locomotives are not built to easily handle sharp inclines or declines, the converted railway trails meander gently over the rugged terrain. I'm not in great bicycling shape but I was able to (somewhat) easily ride twenty miles because of the lack of steep uphills.   

For both my hike and bike, we started at the parking lot near the Rattlesnake Ledge hiking trail in North Bend and headed east towards the famed Snoqualmie Tunnel, a former train tunnel that now forms one of the major attractions of the trail system. At 2.3 miles long, the tunnel is a destination for many outdoorists in the area, but at 18 miles from the parking lot trail head, we weren't able to make it all the way. Next time!

My 6 year old nephew -- all business on the trail!

My 6 year old nephew -- all business on the trail!


In sum, both the hike and bike ride were excellent winter fun, perfect for families and everyone from the casual outdoors-person to the dedicated adventurer. When we arrived each morning, the parking area bustled with rain geared hikers and bikers but, with so much area to explore, the trails themselves were completely uncrowded. For most of the time, we were by ourselves among the massive trees, mountains, mossy rocks, and spectacular converted railway trestles. Someday I would love to bike-camp the trail like this couple. For any outdoor enthusiast spending time in the Pacific Northwest, the John Wayne Pioneer Trail is Meserve Reserve approved and recommended. :)