Monday, November 2, 2015

Iron Horse East & Iron Horse West Trails

Hyak rest station

In the past two weeks we have taken hikes along the John Wayne Trail in the Iron Horse State Park.  The park extends from North Bend to the Columbia River with a trail that follows the former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad line sometimes referred to as the Milwaukee Line.  It is flat like the Burke-Gilman trail, also an old rail line, in the city and all of it can be used for cross-country skiing in the winter if there is enough snow.  As the names suggest one part of the trail was on the east side of Snoqualmie Pass the other on the west side of the pass.  

An annual Discover Pass is required for hiking and cycling.  The east side trail starts at the Hyak snow park trail head.  The snow park is used for cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and sledding in the winter, hiking, cycling, and horse back riding in summer.  There is also a boat launch ramp at Lake Kechelus; however, at the present time due to the lack of snow pack last year and little rain the lake is only 9% full so the ramp currently doesn’t reach the water.  At this time of year only half of the restrooms are open but they are super deluxe with heat, flush toilets, sinks, soap and TP.   As we walked along the trail we found two other outhouses and picnic tables accessible from the trail at pretty creek side locations. 

Lake Kechelus

Low water marks on the bank

Many of the creeks and streams pass under the trail on the way down the mountain passing through old railroad culverts before emptying into the lake.   There are occasional mountain views, forest, and clearings where we had good views of Lake Kechelus and the highway construction across the way.  We did not go the entire distance to the dam which would have been about a 12 to 13 mile round trip but turned around after about 3 miles for half that distance.  It stayed at 46 degrees F all the time we were out and with the wind chill factor from a more or less constant southeast wind it was about 37 degrees F, good weather for hats and gloves.  The clouds never cleared from the mountaintops but we did have patches of sun along the trail.  It was a very pleasant hike that also included two small waterfalls, as an unexpected bonus.  

 New snow on the mountain top

This brilliant red-orange Hawkweed was one of the few flowers in bloom

Others on this trail that day included one woman with a dog and three people on bikes.  We had skied here two years ago and hope that there will be sufficient snow this coming winter to do it again.  It is a very pleasant trail.  An old railroad tunnel the opposite direction is open for hikers and bikes during the summer months but closes November 1 until May 1.  There are a couple of informational displays with historical notes about the railroad and the park that were fun to find and read too.

To reach the Iron Horse West trail take exit 42 from I-90 and park at the McClellan Butte Trail head.  The Northwest Forest Pass or a Golden Age Pass is required here since it is on federal forestland.  Most hikers probably continue on up to McClellan Butte but we opted to take the John Wayne Trail where the two intersect.   Like the Iron Horse East trail the west trail is through woods and does have some streams.  This year most of the creek beds were dry but we did come upon one that had enough water and no safe way to cross requiring a turn around and going back the other way.  In the end the way we had to choose turned out to be a great walk.  At one place there was a very nice waterfall where a stream fed into an old railroad culvert.  Part of the trail is in the power line swathe that had telephone cable markers making a handy way to calculate how far we had gone.  One lone bike rider and a soil-engineering consultant were the only people we encountered that day.  

Amanita muscaria, pretty but poisonous

The surprise waterfall

Both of these hikes are quiet, peaceful, easy, with a mostly wide walking surface and have things to look at.  No flush toilet at the west trail head but there is an outhouse.  Since it is possible to hike as far or as little as desired these would be good ones to do with young children. 

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