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Path Less Pedaled: Iron Horse Trail is ‘great resource’ that deserves more attention

From a state pamphlet (click for full pdf)
From a state pamphlet (click for full pdf)

Russ and Laura, the renown bicycle tourism promoters behind The Path Less Pedaled, recently joined Jason from Swift Industries for a “bikefishing” trip down the Iron Horse Trail, officially known as the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.

We wrote recently about new state efforts to open even more tunnels along the trail route. But even as it is, Russ and Laura say the trail is a “great resource” both for camping and day trips.

They recently posted about their trip, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. But the takeaway for them was that the trail could be quite an attraction, helping the small economies surrounding it. They were surprised this was not marketed more.

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From the Path Less Pedaled:

We rode only a portion of the Iron Horse Trail and really enjoyed it and look forward to exploring it more in the future. The section we rode was pretty tame riding (perfect for families or a S24O) but we hear it gets rougher the further east you go (downed bridges, crossing a military base, signing waivers to ride through tunnels, etc.,). But we’ll save that part for a future adventure.

One thought that really stood out in our mind is how great a resource is the Iron Horse Trail. Our return trip was on a Saturday and we saw lots of day riders and climbers using the trail. Despite that, we felt that it could be even MORE popular. Being just a visitor and not privy to the politics of the trail, I was surprised at the lack of marketing behind the Iron Horse. It really could be an awesome bike destination, if only people knew about it and if the local communities seemed more connected to it. In the end, the riding was great, the fishing could have been better, but it was still a fine way to celebrate the 4th of July.

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29 responses to “Path Less Pedaled: Iron Horse Trail is ‘great resource’ that deserves more attention”

  1. Zach Shaner

    I love the trail, and I keep a pair of knobby-ish tires around just for riding between Rattlesnake Lake and the Snoqualmie Pass tunnel. The 1-2% grade is easy for anyone, and it’s incredible to bike up to 3000′ and back with only moderate effort. The trail is truly a treasure, but it’s a treasure-by-default since it’s really just the torn-up Milwaukee Road repurposed for nonmotorized travel. We haven’t really put any effort into marketing or improving it.

    But just imagine the possibilities of fully paved, grade-separated, gentle trails linking Downtown Seattle to Snoqualmie Pass (or Easton? Vantage?)? People would come in droves to bike that, and it might just make us the best bike tourism spot in the country. We already have an impressive patchwork, we just need to connect the dots: pave the East Lake Sammamish Trail, pave the the Issaquah-Preston trail, rebuild the connection between the Preston-Snoqualmie trail and Snoqualmie Falls, pave the connection between North Bend and Rattlesnake Lake, and pave the rest of the grade up to and through the main tunnel. Charge $10 use fees east of North Bend, and you’ll make your capital costs back within a decade. Sigh, dreaming.

  2. Doug Bostrom

    I don’t know about all that pavement. Peaceful riding today might end up as hair-raising encounters with roadies screaming “hold your line” and generally taking everything a little too seriously. Sometimes grit and gravel are all that stand between us and the law of the jungle. :-)

    1. Gary

      I agree, too much pave and it does get “roadied” out, on the other hand there isn’t a good way to ride a road bicycle from Seattle to the Eastern side of the mountains.

      As for connections, if the bit from Landsburg to Rattlesnake was opened up, it is already owned by the county but it’s in the Seattle watershed, that would be another great connection as well.

      As for riding gravel, I’ve got a wide tired bicycle for it, and so do my kids. The Maple Valley to Landsburg part of the Cedar trail isn’t paved and it’s slightly uphill and a great ride.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        If I’m not mistaken, I think the John Wayne Trail (or at least part of it) is also a horseback riding trail, which may be another reason for not paving it. Is this true?

      2. Zach Shaner

        Yes, there are signs saying that bikes should yield to peds and equestrians. In my opinion the ROW is wide enough to accommodate a paved trail adjacent to a soft surface equestrian path.

        I understand the complaints about pretentious roadies taking over, but I’d rather police that behavior somehow (speed limits, writing tickets, whatever) while greatly increasing the corridor’s bikeability rather than keep it gravel and have most people never know about it. Seriously, a paved BGT-SRT-E Lake Sammamish-Issaquah-Snoqualmie Pass route would be top of the world in terms of an easy, accessible introduction to bike touring.

      3. Lynne

        Speed limits, yeah. Because they are enforced on the Burke.

      4. I dunno ’bout y’all, but I’ve never heard anyone yell “hold your line” on the Burke. I really don’t have anything against small fast groups riding in lines on much of the Burke as long as they observe basic courtesy, and most do (part of basic courtesy is slowing down when there are other people around).

        The best way to keep cycling behavior honest is to have lots of normal people around, right? And unpaved trails hardly are a guarantee of that — some of the most dangerous over-fast riding occurs on MTB trails.

      5. Dan

        Does any one knows the Pole Line Rd adjacent to Landsburg open to public? I was attempted to get to the Snoqualmie Pass Tunnel from Cedar River Trail but was stopped at Landsburg. I want to give it another try if Pole Line Rd is open to ride bicycle.

  3. […] – Port of Seattle has some great trails, as well as those city and county parks. Obviously, the Burke-Gilman and Sammamish River trails are great. The Interurban trail is barely more than a bike lane in the City, but it opens up in North Seattle and in the suburbs. Seattle Bike Blog links to another blog making the case for the Iron Horse Trail. […]

  4. Erik Olson

    Having the come of the country’s best drinking water vs. filling in a missing link from Cedar River to Iron Horse trail… which to choose? Maybe if the Preston-Snoqualmie trail were completed into North Bend instead?

    1. Gary

      Drinking water vs Bicycle trail:
      It would be possible to transit the watershed without having ruin the drinking water. This was the same excuse they used for years to keep fish out of the upper reaches of the Cedar river. Besides, things like the giardia parasite don’t come from people, as in the water has to be treated anyway.

      But because we don’t want folks wandering around the watershed, it would have to be fenced as well, adding to the cost.

  5. PAVEMENT? I hope you’re all joking. The JWPT is one of the last refuges to get away from the norm and enjoy a little “Vitamin G.” Pavement would ruin the experience for everyone. Buy some bigger tires if you must (FWIW – I’ve ridden from Cle Elum to Seattle via the JWPT on a road bike with 28s and had no problems), but pavement/asphalt, in my opinion, would be awful and would essentially turn the Iron Horse into the Burke-Gilman. Keep things wild.

  6. And Tom, to answer your question, the IHT is a multi-use trail and the further east you get, the more equestrians you’ll find using it, especially near Ellensburg. It gets rough out there because of the extra use and lack of upkeep, but it’s still a treasure to have.

  7. […] trail recently got some great e-ink from the most excellent folks at the Path Less Pedaled. Russ and Laura have toured all over the […]

  8. […] own. As for new challenges, several local family bikers have expressed interest in exploring the Iron Horse Trail, but I’m a little leery of carrying even a lighter camping load through gravel…not to […]

  9. dana berg

    Bainbridge Island is trying to complete a trail called the Sound to Olympics Trail which would connect the west side of Puget Sound to Seattle and this long distance state trail. And it would include a beautiful ferry ride…where bikes are free.

  10. Alexis lair

    Is it possible to ride a road bike on the trail, I’ve seen parts of the trail and the road is graveled, but seems manageable. A friend and I are touring and hope to avoid i90.

  11. Alexis,

    At least on the part I rode (Rattlesnake Lake to Snoqualmie Tunnel), a road bike with wide tires (e.g. 28mm) should do fine on the John Wayne Trail. The grade is gentle (I think no more then 2%), so going up and coming down should be okay. The gravel is pretty well packed. It might help to lower the tire pressure a bit (but not too much) to help with riding on the gravel. Others may have other ideas and suggestions. The trail is a real treat to ride and provides a great break from riding on busy roads. Enjoy!


  12. Kris Rhodes

    Check this out: http://26inchslicks.blogspot.com/2012/06/crossing-washington-state-on-john-wayne.html

    I think it is possible but it would be more difficult as there are portions where the additional traction is very useful. The trail quality greatly degrades after Cle Elum unless conditions were vastly changed from 2 years ago but from Seattle to Cle Elum it should be smooth sailing.

  13. Kris Rhodes

    Oh, and if I had to make just one suggestion… JUST ONE… it’s stop at the campground Carter Creek. It’s $5 and totally worth it (you should also have a back country permit to camp there), a gorgeous little campsite. I do a fair bit of camping and out of all of the campsites, this is my favorite. The only downside is there’s no firepit. If you’re looking at the campsite from the Iron Horse Trail, the campsites on the left have a better view, but if the noise from the running water is too loud it’s a little quieter if you use the ones on the right.

  14. Roberto

    I do both road biking and loose gravel cycling, and I would agree that paving the Iron Horse/John Wayne trail could potentially ruin the laid-back, fun nature of the road. I ride the Burke 2-3 times a week, and you DO NOT want the Iron Horse turning into the Burke, believe me you. I’ve never heard “hold the line”, but I’ll tell you what I DON’T hear…it’s roadies not saying “On you left!” when they’re passing you within inches at 20 MPH. Arrrrgh!! I hate those Lance Armstrong wannabees!

    Anyway, I do see on Google Maps that the Cedar River Trail does connect pretty closely to the Iron Horse. From the sketchy information I can gather, the portion going east of Landsburg Park is closed to the public in order to preserve the Cedar River Watershed. Does anyone have information about this trail opening up? And has anyone perhaps “snuck in” with any field reports? It would be awesome if that became an official cycle/hiking trail.

    But Lord have mercy, PLEASE DO NOT PAVE the Iron Horse! Keep it wild and friendly.

  15. Justin Geel

    The Iron Horse is wild and beautiful and quiet and exactly as it should be. Paving it would completely ruin one of Seattle’s best kept secrets. North Bend has enough pretentious roadie tourists mucking up our streets and trails all summer long. We don’t need even more.

    Keep it secret.
    Keep it safe.

  16. Julie Bennett

    Oh please don’t pave the Iron Horse. That would be stupid. To me, the gravel adds to the sense of adventure. Not every rail trail needs to paved. It’s easy to ride anyways. If anything should happen, it should be the repair of the bridges on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. Going from Fall City to Snoqualmie on the trail is not possible. Being an Oly resident, I’m truly interested in the Cedar River connection to Rattlesnake Lake. I do hope this gets opened without fencing. Signage would hopefully be enough to discourage some from polluting. The watershed could be used an an educational tool regarding the importance of ecosystem and water.

  17. Julie Bennett

    Tires for Iron Horse—- I did a short bike tour last summer on the trail. I had loaded panniers and camping gear. My bike is a commuter-touring rig with drop bars. The tires I rode were 700c x 40c Clement Xplor MSO’s. Perfect !!! Not a single puncture. Coming back down from the tunnel, it was quite easy to ride at 12 to 18 mph despite the gravel.

  18. […] More info on a Iron Horse Trail. […]

  19. Helen L

    I’m from Vancouver, BC and am planning to bike the JWP with a few friends from Vantage to Rattlesnake. I was wondering if there’s a shuttle service that can take you from Rattlesnake Lake eastward? Maybe to Ellensburg? Or even to Vantage? My friends and I are planning to leave one car at each trailhead and do the shuttle service ourselves but if there’s a company around that area that provide this service, it would make our lives way easier. Any suggestions? Is Uber around that area? Thank you!!

    1. Roger Gable

      The Vantage end of the trail does not have a trailhead, i.e. a place to park your car. The trail stops abruptly (with gate) at a local county road. Parking your vehicle along the side of that county road would be risky.

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