Exploring the American Northwest – Rails to Trails

Foothills Trail - Buckley

Foothills Trail - Buckley

We’ve discovered the Rails to Trails routes in the Pacific Northwest and have found them a great way to explore. As American residents of Germany, summertime finds us traveling throughout the United States. Our travels always involve distance walking of some sort, so we have had the opportunity to explore many of America’s Rails to Trails paths.  What a great idea it was to convert unused railroad beds to useable trails. These trails are good for enjoying the outdoors as well as for getting a little exercise.  Most of the trails are fairly easy to traverse, being fairly flat or having slight inclines, due to previous train use.

The composition of the paths varies from bike-friendly paved trails to those that are made of dirt and gravel of varying sizes.  We have enjoyed walking and biking many trails, and suggest that they are a good way to begin an outdoor exercise program, and can allow you to see some new territory, even in your own hometown.

There are a few trails in the northwest US that we tend to frequent when we are in that area.

Foothills Trail:  This trail is in Washington State in Pierce County.  It is mostly paved with only slight inclines and patches of gravel.  When completed, this trail will go for 28 miles, and will connect with other interurban trails in Washington State.  Right now, it goes from the City of Buckley through South Prairie, Orting and into Puyallup.

We have walked portions in Orting and Buckley and have biked 25/35 km in the Orting area, also.  The website will provide you with trailhead points and access.  We love this trail as in most parts there are glorious views of Mt. Rainier, and a feel for the outdoors is always present – it runs along the White River for much of it’s length, and there is a good opportunity to view wildlife and natural beauty while passing through quaint small farming towns, and you don’t go very far without comfort stops and opportunities for refreshment.  For instance, the Buckley section goes along the Pioneer Museum, by the historic downtown, with the opportunity for a rootbeer float or peanut butter milkshake at the classic Wally’s Drive-in Diner (with the old fashioned drive-in option.).  If you are looking to do some mapped 5/10km routes on this trail, you can find information at the Daffodil Valley Volkssport Club’s webpage.

Chehalis-Western Trail: This trail is in Thurston County in Washington state.  Thurston County operates 22 miles of the trail, and it intersects with the Yelm-Tenino Trail.  (The Capitol Volkssport Club in Olympia, Washington, has mapped out 93 km of the trail for a nice fairly flat, paved bike ride with distances marked from 25km to -the whole 93km.)

Chehalis-Western Trail

Biking the Chehalis-Western Trail

The trail is mostly rural, and goes through farmland and wooded areas, but there are a few comfort stops and access to refreshment not too far off of the trail, but those places aren’t actually marked on the trail – you would need a map to know the locations of the little stores and food kiosks.  There are numerous trailheads and distances marked, and the South Bay section of the trail has a horse trail paralleling the walking/biking trail.

John Wayne Trail: “The John Wayne Pioneer Trail follows the former roadbed of the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad two-thirds of the way across Washington, from the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains to the border with Idaho.” (From Trail website)  This trail is a mostly gravel trail, so I prefer to walk and not bike it.  Part of the trail is designated as the “Iron Horse State Park” in Washington State, and actually is on both sides of the Cascade Mountains in Washington.  On the west side of the state, the trail starts at Iron Horse State park and has railroad tunnels that are fun to maneuver, but a flashlight is recommended.  More information about the tunnels on the Iron Horse State Park website .

On the east side of the state, the trail is a bit easier to maneuver.  The gravel isn’t as large, and you walk through beautiful Washington farmland, along farm canals, through small towns and rural area.  We did a section of the trail recently in Thorp, Washington.  Thorp is a sleepy Eastern Washington town, with a wonderful historic grist mill and museum).  A stop in Thorp isn’t complete without visiting the Thorp Fruit and Antique Mall – right off the freeway – to purchase fresh fruit and goodies.  (We got cherries and peaches.  Yum!)

The John Wayne Trail goes over the pass in the Cascade Mountains, so it is not just good for hiking and biking – cross country skiing is possible at the right time of year.

Golden Tiger Trail:  We found this little gem of a trail this year.  Right now, it’s only 2.5 miles long, but there are plans to extend this shortly paved trail in Republic, WA to up to 28 miles.  The trail follows the Great Northern Railway route.  We found wonderful views of the mountains from this trail, and much beautiful “high country” rural vistas.  The trail is accessible to walkers, bikers, cross-country skiers and other nature enthusiasts.

Golden Tiger - Republic

Walking the Golden Tiger - Republic, Washington

Republic, Washington is a friendly frontier town in the northwest corner of  Washington state – there is a lot of beautiful hiking in the Colville National Forest in this section of Washington State.  We had a very nice, comfortable stay at the Prospector Inn in Republic, and we enjoyed our meals at the Sportsman’s Roost and great pizza at the Tamarack.

Republic is also home to an interesting fossil site, and small frontier stores.

I hope you have a little taste of rails to trails adventuring, and that you get out and enjoy a trail in your local community or on the road!

More Information
Rails to Trails Conservancy

Photo Credit: Cheryl Patterson

Cheryl PattersonGuest Contributor, Cheryl Patterson, is a teacher for the Department of Defense School System in Germany. During the week she works with Army kids on an American Army Post, and on the weekends she and her husband take advantage of living in Europe, by traveling all over the continent. The Pattersons are avid participants in the walking sport of volksmarching, and incorporate the sport into their world travels.