The Palouse to Cascades Trail: The Columbia River to Rock Lake

So you’ve ridden through the fir and hemlock forests of the western slopes of the Cascades, down through the Kittitas Valley, and through the massive basalt cuts and rolling hills of the Yakima Training Center. You’ve now arrived at the mighty Columbia River and the Beverly Bridge.

If you’ve come to this page, and you’re looking for the western half of the trail, you can find all of that info here. Otherwise, if you’ve already experienced the west side, please read on.

The far reaches of the east side.

The Eastern part of the trail is a completely different experience than the western half. If you thought the Yakima Training Center was remote, you are in for a surprise. Not only does the trail surface get rougher, but there are vast stretches on the eastern part of the trail with no services whatsoever.

The Palouse to Cascades Trail is a State Park, but it is a work in progress, and if you are expecting plentiful access to campsites, vault toilets, and water, you may want to rethink your plan. East of the Columbia is far less developed than the western section, and if you’re going to attempt to take it on, I highly suggest that you take some serious time to fine tune your plan, especially if you’re planning to ride it without support.

While there are maps and routes out there, I’ve found that the eastern stretches remain a bit of an unknown for most folks. This is partly due to the remote nature of the trail and the land it goes through, and also due to the fact that so few people have actually ridden it. *I’m not kidding, there are Strava segments out there with less than thirty people who’ve recorded a ride.

The Scablands provide some spectacular scenery

The challenges of the eastern half are many: there is little if any shade for vast swaths of the trail, and very few places to refill water. Services and resupply spots become problematic and so does finding official places to camp for the night. There are miles of trail with no cellular service at all, and there is no bike shop anywhere if you suffer a mechanical failure.

It goes without saying that preparation is key, and if you haven’t at least done a flyover of the entire trail along with your planned detours on Google Earth, I cannot recommend that you attempt the eastern half. Unlike the western half, the trail is not entirely intact east of the Columbia and so it requires several detours. You need to be aware of the detours so that you don’t get lost or find yourself inadvertently wandering around someone’s private land that doesn’t want you there.

Look at my bike leaning against stuff

Self-sufficiency is key here. You may very well come across some wonderful folks while on the trail, but this is a not a place to bank on the kindness of strangers. While there are many folks out there who support the trail and its users, there are also people who are openly opposed to it and want nothing to do with it or the people who use it.
*What I’m getting at, is that knocking on doors to ask for water is not a viable option out here unless it’s a life-threatening emergency.

The first thing you need to do before proceeding past the Beverly Bridge is to ensure that you have registered with State Parks to ride the trail east of the Columbia, which you can do here. Registration is free and it’s good for an entire year. Not only does registration allow State Parks to get a good idea on how many trail users there are, it also gives you the codes for any locked gates that you may encounter.

The next thing you’ll need to do is study the following map, as this is the route you’ll be taking. It has all of the info you’ll need such as detours, services, water, etc. This will help you plan your trip based upon how far you can ride, where you can restock, and where you can comfortably sleep for a night.

This is the route of the eastside from

Like my write up of the western half, I’m going to break up the east side into sections, so that it’s easier to navigate

Table of Contents

  • Beverly to Othello (40 Miles)
  • Othello to Lind (40 Miles)
  • Lind to Ralston (18 Miles)
  • Ralston to Marengo (* Miles)
  • Marengo to Rock Lake (30 Miles)

  • Beverly to Othello (40 miles)

    This section of trail contains the first major detour.

    So you’ve crossed the Columbia on the Beverly Bridge and are now headed east.

    The community of Beverly sits just to the south of the trail. There are no services here, but if you’re really in need, the community of Schwana is about a mile south and has a 76 Station with a convenience store.

    The trail heads east along a valley flanked by the Saddle Mountains to the south.

    *Fun Fact: This valley isn’t really a valley, it’s a coulee, and it was formed during the ancient ice-age floods. Crab Creek is much too small to have cut this deep into the Earth, it simply follows the path that the Missoula Floods took as they carved out the basalt landscape.

    The time of year that you ride through here will effect how you feel about this place. In late spring, the sagebrush and bunch grasses are green, and the Russian olive trees are blooming, spreading their perfume scent on the breeze. Birds are abundant in the lakes and there are emerald green fields in the distance. Summer will give you blazing sunshine with no shade to be had and endless miles of sandy landscape interrupted by dead lakes and chunks of basalt (and possibly a rattlesnake or two). Fall will be cool and possibly wet with layers of golden brown and yellow stretching out to the horizon.

    The trail in spring, nestled in between a grove of Russian Olive Trees and the Saddle Mountains. (The Vault Toilet at Beverly Dunes is visible on the right)

    Not far outside of Beverly, you’ll come to a vault toilet on the right side of the trail in a dirt parking lot. This lot has a dirt road that leads into the Beverly Dunes. You can camp here for free, however, it should be noted that there is no water available and the campground is first come/first served. If it’s a weekend, there’s a very good chance that the campground will be full of RVs, giant trucks, ATVs, and dirtbikes. If it’s during the week, there’s a good chance that you’ll get this place to yourself. There are also some trees that serve as windbreaks.

    Further up the trail, you’ll pass a few structures before coming to the parking lot for Lenice Lake, which also has a vault toilet and camping. It tends to be quieter and less busy than the dunes, but it’s basically a gravel parking lot and you will be at the mercy of the wind.

    That being said, Lenice Lake is managed by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and dispersed camping is allowed, so if you’re going to camp here, I’d suggest riding up past the gate into the lake access to find a quiet spot near some trees. There are no motorized vehicles allowed past the gate so unless there are a bunch of people fishing, you’ll more than likely find some privacy near the water.
    *Just be mindful of mosquitos

    The parking lot at Lenice Lake
    The lake itself is just a short distance past the gate.

    Here at Lenice Lake, you will come to the first major detour on the trail. There are two trestles that cross over Crab Creek and both of them suffered significant fire damage a few years back. State Parks has plans to rebuild them, but for now, you just need to take Lower Crab Creek Road, which parallels the trail.

    The first detour.

    Lower Crab Creek Road is a wonderfully hard packed and smooth gravel road. It will be a welcome break from the rougher trail surface and monotonous rail grade that you’ve been on, and while it is technically a road, there is very little traffic on it. The surface is fast-rolling through here, so take a moment and just enjoy the scenery as you pedal along through the coulee.

    You’ll pass several dried up lake beds that appear white due to the alkaline soil, and if you’re here in the spring there will be an abundance of birds, as it is a state wildlife area.

    Lower Crab Creek Road with an alkaline lake bed.
    the Saddle Mountains.
    Looking back towards Beverly. These big views never get old.
    Looking west at the burned trestles over Crab Creek. Photo Credit: Mike Sorensen and Marilyn Hedges

    Eventually, you will begin to see some signs of civilization. First, you will realize that the endless rolling sagebrush and Russian Olive trees have been replaced with a few irrigated fields, and then you’ll start to see structures and homes.

    As you enter the community of Smyrna, the road will turn to pavement. It’s a welcome break from the relentless gravel that you’ve been on and if the wind is blowing in the right direction, it’ll feel effortless to move through town.

    Smyrna is an agricultural community of homes, barns, and outbuildings. There are no services here, not even water.

    On the eastern end of town, the road will turn north, crossing the Palouse to Cascades Trail (you can choose to get back on trail here, but it only goes for about a quarter mile before you’re forced back onto the road again, and this section is also famous for goathead thorns, which, if you are unfamiliar, will absolutely ruin your day on a bike, so it may be better to just stay on the road).

    The road will go over some small rolling hills and the shoulder will disappear, but this is a very low traffic road and anyone driving seems to give you a pretty wide berth.

    Lower Crab Creek Road as it leaves Smyrna with a few rollers in the distance.

    This is where things get tricky; The road will eventually veer north, and Lower Crab Creek Road branches off as a gravel road continuing east. It is imperative that you don’t miss this turn or you’ll end up spending much longer on Highway 26 than you need to (The first time I was here, there were no signs indicating which road was which, but last time there was, so I would ensure you are one-hundred percent aware of this turn or just make sure you’re following a GPS route).

    This shows the turn required to stay on Lower Crab Creek Road.

    Now that you’re back on gravel, Lower Crab Creek Road will cross a set of railroad tracks, and this is the reason for this section of the detour; You see, this stretch of the Milwaukee Road was sold and is still an active rail line, so as you continue east, the tracks that are directly to your right are where the trail should be. So, for the foreseeable future, you’re going to be on a patchwork of paved highways, rural roads, and possibly a dirt canal bank or two, depending on your plans.

    You’ll pass more farmland as the road moves closer and closer towards the mountains and before you know it, a wall of basalt will be rising up next to you. There is a short climb up onto the ridge, and it’s important to be aware here as you are climbing blindly around the curve. Any vehicle coming the opposite direction won’t be able to see you so use your best judgment here.

    Climbing up onto the ridge on Lower Crab Creek Road

    The road continues through some small hills and eventually you’ll come to another dirt road that heads north. This road is called Road B SE and just past it are what’s left of an old rail depot location known as Corfu, which once boasted a school, a gas station, a post office, a two story general store, several homes, and a bunkhouse for the rail workers.

    Nowadays it’s difficult to tell that there was ever anything here at all, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll ride right by and miss it. However, if you choose to venture off the road you’ll find a path through the tumbleweeds and sagebrush that will take you to the remains of the old Corfu Schoolhouse (it goes without saying that there no services in Corfu).

    The foundation and the front steps of the Corfu Schoolhouse as seen on Ghost Towns Of Washington
    The location of Corfu

    Shortly after Corfu you’ll cross over a cattle guard and things will get interesting here because beyond the cattle guard is open range land. This means you’ll need to be on the lookout for cows, and depending on the time of year that you’re here, there is a very good chance that you’ll come across more than a few.

    While they tend to leave people alone, it can be a little unnerving weaving your bike through thirty or more very large animals. The cows I came across didn’t seem to be bothered with my presence at all, in fact, many of them couldn’t be bothered to move as I passed through (but the calves sure are cute).

    Obviously, give them space, and don’t scare, chase, or harass them.

    Cattle Guards
    Look at all of these ladies
    It’s just this for miles and miles

    Soon, you’ll cross over Crab Creek and through another cattle guard as Lower Crab Creek Road becomes West Gillis Road. There will be no more cows here, but you’ll come to the highway pretty quickly where you will need to make a decision on how you’re going to get to Othello, which is right down the road.

    You can see here where West Gillis Road meets Highway 26

    You have two options here: you can choose to ride the shoulder on Highway 26 straight into town, or you can take a slightly longer, much more peaceful route.

    Othello is a little more than eight miles down Highway 26 and the highway has a pretty wide shoulder however, it also has a speed limit of 50mph and much of the traffic (including a lot of trucks and trailers) is going faster than that. It’s an option that lots of folks have taken but I’ll be honest, after being so far out here, it’s kind of a shock to the system to be suddenly sharing the road with massive semis passing you at high speeds.

    The other option only takes the highway for about a mile and then turns off onto a rural detour for ten miles to get you into town. I definitely prefer this route.

    You’re only going to ride the shoulder of Highway 26 for about one mile before you come to a right turn on S. Danielson Road. This is a low traffic rural farm road that’ll climb up the ridge and then connect to West Bench Road, which will take you around the highway and into Othello without all of the traffic.

    This shows the route to West Bench Road

    As you go up the ridge, you’ll cross the railroad tracks where you’ll see an old derelict brick building in the distance. This is the Taunton Substation (also known as substation 21) which the Milwaukee Road used to provide power to the electric locomotives that were used through this stretch.

    It’s tempting to go check it out as it’s right down a dirt access road but unfortunately, it sits on private property and is in pretty bad shape nowadays. It’s a shame because there are only six or seven substations left standing and this one has been allowed to slowly rot away. The inside is filled with bird and rodent droppings, piles of trash and car parts, while the outside has succumbed to years of graffiti.

    There are a few reports of the landowner not being thrilled to find people wandering around it so it’s best to just keep on route.

    The Taunton Substation up close
    A fantastic view of the substation as seen from the road, via Flickr user Montanatom1950

    You’ll round a curve and have a very punchy climb before the road levels out and connects to West Bench Road, which is a paved, low-traffic road with a small shoulder. It’s pretty low traffic, and runs straight through farmland and several small neighborhoods. You’ll cross over a canal before coming to a large roundabout at the intersection of Highway 24 on the southern end of Othello. Highway 24 has a wide shoulder and turns into Broadway as it enters town.

    Othello is a full-service town and there is a Quality Inn on the north-eastern side of town as well as the Othello Inn& Suites, along with a Walmart, McDonalds, several pizza options, and a multitude of restaurants that serve some of the best Mexican food in the state.

    If you’re looking to camp here, you can do so at the Adams County Fairgrounds south of town (off West Bench Road). The campsites are first-come/first-served and there are restrooms and showers on site.

    Othello to Lind (40 miles)

    The next stop is the town of Warden, which is where the trail picks back up. It’s about sixteen miles away and you’re going to ride some very low-traffic, rural roads to get there. The entire route is paved, pretty flat, and honestly… kind of boring. There are some structures here and there to break up the monotony, but it’s mostly just agricultural fields and a few canals for as far as you can see.

    If you’re here earlier in the year, the fields will be a vibrant green, but if you’re here in late summer or fall, the landscape will be filled with dusty golds and browns.

    Fields and fields and fields and the occasional canal.

    The roads all have shoulders and you may be passed by the occasional truck or car, but there isn’t much traffic to be seen out here.

    As Lee Road heads east out of Othello, the only major road you’ll cross is Highway 17. You’ll come into an area called Bruce with a water tower, silos, and a bunch of agricultural buildings. This is where you’ll take a left on Booker Road and head north into Warden.

    Most of this route just looks like this.

    If pedaling for miles down straight, relatively flat farm roads past endless potato fields sounds unappealing to you, you may choose the more adventurous route into Warden, which Pat Sprute of 26inchslicks navigated. It makes use of all of those canal banks and access roads. It’ll keep you off the road but I have no doubt it’ll take longer and the scenery won’t be much better. You can find that here. The only advice I have for you is that this paved break may very well be worth it, given what the rest of the route to Lind looks like.

    Warden is a small, agricultural-based town with only a few services. There is a Market where you can resupply on food and water along with several small restaurants, and they are almost all on South Main Avenue at the north end of town. I am unaware of any place to officially camp in Warden.

    *Hey, remember way back on Lower Crab Creek Road near Smyrna when the trail turned to Railroad Tracks? Well, that’s the reason why you’ve had to take all these farm road detours, but the good news is, the active rail stops here in Warden.

    On the northeastern side of town, just off of First Street, the official trail picks back up. Here, you will pedal off the pavement, around a gate, and resume your journey on the palouse to Cascades Trail.

    This is the trail for the foreseeable future.

    You will be thankful for a larger tire here, as the trail consists of a loose and sandy surface, not nearly as bad as some of the stuff back in the Yakima Training Center, but it does take a little more effort to push through. It’s roughly twenty-five miles to Lind and most of it is pretty uneventful. The sandy surface never really changes, but you may have to dodge the occasional tumbleweed or horse hoof divot.

    There are a few road crossings as you make your way east, and it’s here that you’ll encounter your first locked gate (you saved the gate combination when you registered with State Parks, right?).

    This gate will require a combination to open the lock.
    The Roxboro Elevator. If you’re here in the summer, this is the only shade you will find until you get to Lind.

    Soon you’ll come to Roxboro, which is just a grain elevator now that the railroad is gone. Up until this point, the trail has been running parallel to Lind-Warden road, but here it begins to sweep south in a long curve. As it arcs through Lind Coulee on its way into town, it rises up onto a berm leaving the surrounding landscape below. It’s here, as the trail gets more remote that you will start to encounter small missing trestles.

    The missing trestles aren’t that big of a deal. None of them were ever that long and none of them crossed waterways. The trail is up on a berm and all of these cuts were installed to allow passage under the rails to the fields on either side. Some of the missing spans have visible fire scars, while others just appear to have been dismantled. Either way, there are seven or eight large dips between here and Lind.

    They all warn you with a large concrete block across the trail as a side path dips down the berm, across the gap and then steeply rises back up the other side (some of them are really quite steep, and depending on how loaded your bike is and what your gear range is, you may find yourself walking up the other side).

    Trail gaps!
    Endless horizons

    The trail sweeps back to the north towards Lind and eventually you’ll come to a crossing at Highway 21. This is the Lind Detour. The trail appears to continue across the highway but there is a sign stating that it’s closed. Trust the sign. There are two missing trestles ahead and they were both significant spans. You’re not getting around either of them.

    Highway 21 is two miles of smooth pavement with a nice shoulder into town and halfway down the highway you’ll see the reason for this detour. There is a dirt turnoff on the right that takes you down to the bottom of the missing Lind trestle. This was a significant span on the railroad, and now all that’s left are the concrete arches that held the steel span across the coulee.

    An eastbound freight rumbles underneath what used to be the Milwaukee Road. The bridge was built over the Northern Pacific Line which is now BNSF.
    The remnants of the old Lind Viaduct. The rest of the bridge was removed shortly after the railroad abandoned the line in 1980.
    There were originally two concrete pillars at mid-span but one was removed in 2014 so BNSF could widen their trackage.
    Look at my bike in scenic places

    Lind is nestled on the floor of a shallow coulee and has a population of just over five-hundred. The hills that surround it are covered with wheat fields for as far as you can see. It also has a charm that many trail users find quite welcoming. The main streets are lined with brick buildings from the early 1900s while massive, modern silos and elevators rise up from behind them.

    The town offers several services depending on what time you find yourself here. Wheat-Lind Coffeehouse is a like a beacon out here for fans of coffee, as the last quality espresso you could find was all the way back in Ellensburg and you won’t find any more for the foreseeable future. If they’re open, I highly recommend you pay them a visit. The owners are wonderful folks and the coffee is top tier.

    Wheat-Lind Coffeehouse
    The old Empire Theater in Lind

    Next door to the Coffeehouse is The Golden Grain Cafe, and if they’re open you may want to grab a bite to eat. The owners Jim and Cheryl have been known to allow trail users to camp in their backyard.

    Slim’s Tavern is down the block and if you feel the need for a burger and a beer, this is the place to go.

    Around the corner, you’ll find Jim’s Market which has everything you may need to resupply your water and food. What you choose to resupply with will depend on what your plan ahead is (don’t worry, we’ll get to that in the next section).

    Jim’s Market has everything you need to resupply.

    Lind to Ralston (18 miles)

    The trail picks up on the south end of Lind and you’ll have a nice climb on the road to get out of the coulee and up onto the ridge (there was a major fire here in the summer of 2022. Several people lost their homes but thankfully nobody was hurt). The trail surface starts out quite nice but it quickly turns rougher with a chunkier and deeper gravel. It will remain this way all the way to Ralston and beyond.

    *This surface is the ballast from the old railroad, and unlike the typical chunky 3″ ballast that most railroads use, the Milwaukee Road preferred a smaller aggregate, which is good for you, because it’s rideable with the right tire. I recommend a minimum of a 47mm / 1.95″ tire going forward and a 2.2″ is even better. It’ll float well over the rocks and absorb a lot of the vibrations, keeping you comfortable.

    The trail crosses over several roads with a few gates and then you’ll pass a grain elevator on your right as a large highway comes into view ahead. The railroad used to go right through here but now Highway 395 cuts through, and since there’s no bridge here, you’ll need to go under it.

    The trail veers left down the berm and it is quite steep. The surface here is a larger ballast than what you’ve been riding on so be careful as you make your descent to the bottom. The trail goes under the highway with three massive culverts and then immediately veers right up an even steeper grade (11-12%) than the one you came down.

    The Culverts under Highway 395
    There’s good shade down here and the temperature is a few degrees lower than up at the top.

    Shortly after, there’s another drop and climb to cross Lind-Kahlotus Road but it isn’t nearly as steep or long as the previous one. From here it’s just steady pedaling through chunky gravel until you get to Ralston. Most of the trail is elevated through here and there are a few small road crossings that connect to Lind-Ralston Road which parallels the trail. There’s a few small missing trestle gaps here but nothing major. You’ll pass a grain elevator and then Ralston is a short distance away.

    Chunky gravel and rolling hills
    You may even take a break from the monotony and take the road into Ralston.

    Ralston is not so much a town as it is a handful of homes, a water tower, and a grain elevator. When the Milwaukee Road left, the town’s population dwindled, but the folks who remain have managed to keep up a wonderful area that can be best described as an oasis out here.

    The old hotel and church have been converted into homes and the park has lush, green grass with trees that provide shade and a break from the wind. There are tent pads on the south side of the park and camping is allowed here. The Ralston Grange is across the street from the park, and if it’s open it has restrooms and a kitchen with coffee, tea, water, and other things for sale.

    Ralston to Marengo (30, 20, or 9 miles)
    *Choose Your Own Adventure

    Okay, so you’ve made it Ralston and now you have a decision to make: Beyond Ralston the landscape drastically changes as the trail moves beyond these fertile fields into the channeled scablands; a geological area that was carved out by the ice-age floods, leaving behind spectacular basalt formations and massive chasms in the landscape.

    One of these chasms is just past Ralston. It’s called the Cow Creek Coulee and the trestle that once spanned the gap was torn down and scrapped for steel shortly after the line was abandoned, leaving a sizeable gap between Ralston and Marengo. This is unfortunate for two reasons:
    a) The bridge was an amazing structure and at this point it will never be replaced.
    b) The lack of a bridge requires one of two detour options to get to the rest of the trail.

    The choice you make here has everything to do with how much you can carry and how self-sufficient you are, because beyond here, there are no real services on the trail for almost eighty miles.

    I’m going to make you read that again: There are no real services beyond here for almost eighty miles.

    The trail as it leaves Ralston. Up ahead on the left is the detour for Ritzville, and further up on the right is the detour for Cow Creek.

    Option 1: Ritzville. Ritzville is the largest town in any direction for a significant distance and it’s only about fifteen miles north. The route to get there branches off the trail shortly after Ralston and consists mainly of low-traffic farm roads (many of which are well groomed gravel) and once you’re there, you can enjoy the amenities of a grocery store, several hotel options, and a multitude of fast-food or sit down restaurants. Depending on how long you’ve been out here and the temperatures that you’re experiencing, this may be extremely appealing to you.

    Many folks will opt to stay in Ritzville for a night and take advantage of those comforts, while others will simply resupply and pass through. It’s just about thirty miles from Ralston through Ritzville and then around to Marengo and the rest of the trail.

    However, if you stocked up enough back in Lind, you can also bypass Ritzville completely with this route which will get you to Marengo in nineteen miles (this is the official detour on the map above). Having said that, if you really did stock up enough in Lind, there’s no real reason to ride all of those miles and you could just proceed with option two.

    Option 2: Cow Creek. Assuming you have everything you need at this point to make it to Rosalia (food, water, etc), and you are one-hundred percent positive that you don’t need to go to Ritzville, and you like a little adventure in your life, you can detour directly across Cow Creek. Where the the turnoff to Ritzville goes left, you’ll keep going for a little ways until you come to the Cow Creek gate which will be on your right.

    Before 2022, this was not an option and everyone just had to go north and around, however the family that owns the land here worked along with some trail advocates and State Parks to create a detour across Cow Creek to Marengo.

    At only nine miles, this option is significantly shorter, however there are several things you need to know about this detour:
    A) It is not so much of a road per se, but more of a rolling, twisting, turning, adventure route through open range land.
    B) Your bike handling skills will be tested if you take this option.

    The entrance into the Cow Creek Detour
    Same place but greener.

    Depending on when you’re coming through here, you may experience endless rolling fields of green, or you may find yourself surrounded by a sea of golden-brown that reaches to the horizon. Either way, it’s quite beautiful.

    The detour is technically marked, but it can be difficult to see where it goes at times depending on how tall the fields are, so if you want to make sure you’ve got the correct route, you can download it here.
    *I really recommend that you follow the downloaded route.

    There are several gates to open and close here, and you need to text the number on the sign before you head in. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you respect the detour and stay on trail here. This is private property and the landowner is allowing trail users access, so it’s imperative that you make your way through quickly, leave no trace, and don’t harass any cows.

    Follow the white posts

    There are white posts that mark where the trail passes through, although some of them have been knocked down. Depending on the height of the grasses you may be able to clearly see the path, or you may have to take a moment and figure out where it goes.

    Beneath the grasses the trail can be sandy with the occasional rock so be aware. It should also be noted that this route is not flat at all, as it winds its way through the rolling landscape, down to the creek and then back up to the trail. There are several punchy climbs that will test your legs, gearing, and tire traction.

    There is a very good chance you will come across some cows, but unlike the ladies back on Lower Crab Creek Road, these cows aren’t interested in people on bicycles and they tend to give you a very wide berth.

    The bridge over Cow Creek.
    sandy trails cutting through the fields

    After crossing the creek, the detour climbs up to a beautifully graded gravel road, but don’t get too excited, this is not the trail. This just takes you to a final climb up the hillside and through one more gate before putting you on the trail, which is not nearly as smooth and wonderful as that road you just had the pleasure of riding.

    As you head east, the trail sweeps around in a curve through a rock cut before it crosses over the active tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad.

    The trail as it leaves Cow Creek.
    Trail over / Union Pacific under

    Up ahead there is a road crossing and a grain elevator marked with a sign for a railroad stop that no longer exists. This is Marengo and there are no services here. This is also where you will rejoin the trail if you opted to go around Cow Creek through Ritzville.

    On trail at Marengo

    So, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s the big deal here? Why all of this detouring for that little creek in the photo above and what about this huge missing bridge you were talking about?” and that is an excellent question.

    Back at Ralston, If you had kept on riding up the trail you would have come to a sign warning you not to proceed due to extreme hazards ahead. You would encounter a similar sign if you turned around at Marengo and rode the trail past where the Cow Creek detour ended. Regardless of what side you are on you will eventually come to a precipice looking down onto Cow Creek. The creek isn’t really the issue here, it’s the coulee that it runs through, and the coulee isn’t small.

    The gap over Cow Creek as seen from Google Earth
    Standing on the edge of the berm looking east down on to Cow Creek which is visible in the foreground. These sheer basalt walls were carved by the ice-age floods. The concrete footings are all that remain of the trestle. Photo by Professor Larry Cebula

    Given the sheer size of the span, it must have been a spectacular bridge. According to the Cascade Rail Foundation, the Cow Creek Trestle was a 27 span, 1,400 foot long, 100 foot tall steel bridge. Because it is so remote, photos of it before it was torn down are extremely rare, but you can see an excellent example of one here.

    Anyway, back to the trail and your journey. You’ve made it around the missing bridge and now it’s time to move past Marengo.

    Marengo to Rock Lake (30 miles)

    This part of the trail has a way of making you feel very, very small. As you leave Marengo, you begin to realize just how remote this stretch of the trail actually is. There aren’t any roads running parallel or crossing the trail and there aren’t any grain elevators or farm houses in the distance, in fact, there isn’t really anything out here at all. It’s kind of shocking at first but it can be pretty wonderful once you settle in.

    Vast swaths of nothing under massive skies

    This is an area that you really need to plan ahead for because the trail surface is rough, there is no water, no shade, and nowhere to get off trail. If you find yourself out here in the summer as temperatures crest into the upper 90s, you may end up going through far more water than you anticipated.
    *Remember what I said about being 100% sure about skipping Ritzville?

    Endless fields and some classic scabland geological structures in the distance.

    About four miles beyond Marengo you’ll approach a hill that the trail passes through in a cut. This is Carlmar, the location of a former spur track on the railroad. Nowadays, it’s a flat and rocky dip through a hillside with a gate at the eastern end. Past Carlmar are two more gates as the trail crosses over Benge-Ritzville Road (the only paved road that you are going to see for a very long time).

    Beyond Carlmar, the trail maintains the same rough surface and remote surroundings. There are a few cattle gates to open and close as you pass, and a few rough dirt access roads but that’s about all that’s out here. The trail moves through a few cuts and back up onto berms until eventually, you’ll come to the Columbia Plateau Trail.

    Approaching the Columbia Plateau Trail

    *The CPT crosses over the Palouse to Cascades Trail with a steel bridge on the former bed of the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railroad (like the trail you are on, it is owned by Washington State Parks and someday will make an amazing trail, but currently, most of it is unrideable). Some folks use this as their end point on the PTCT, taking the CPT north into Spokane. The reason for this is that Spokane is a large city and a wonderful place to end a bikepacking trip, especially if you’re looking for a hotel, good food, and all of the amenities that a city can provide. The CPT is in good shape near Spokane (in fact, some of it is paved), but out here it’s surfaced with the original railroad ballast, but unlike the Milwaukee Road ballast (which is smaller and what you are currently riding on), the CPT is surfaced with chunky fist-sized ballast which makes it almost impossible to ride on anything other than a fatbike. So, if that is your plan, you’ll need to figure out how to route around the twenty or so miles of chunky surface, which is totally doable, but it’s not the current purpose of this post.

    If it’s raining, this bridge is a great spot to take a break . It’s also a great spot to take a break in the dead of summer.

    A little ways beyond the CPT you will come to a gate and a “road” crossing. I use the term road loosely here because it’s actually more like a jeep track. This is Paxton, the location of a former passing track, but with no railroad here, you’d never know it was anything other than some random dirt road crossing.

    Here’s the thing, though- that road goes somewhere and it may be of great value to you and your planning. On Google maps you can see the dirt road that crosses the trail is called George Knott Road, and what you don’t see on there is that the road that heads east parallel to the trail is called Breeden Road.

    This view shows where George Knott Road connects to the trail, and Breeden Road heads east.

    All of the land south of the trail is operated by the Bureau of Land Management and it contains Escure Ranch, which is a former working ranch that is now a campground. There isn’t a whole lot of information regarding this place but what I can tell you is that dispersed camping is allowed throughout the property, and the official campground is less than eight miles away. Breeden Road will take you through some fantastic scenery down to the campsites.

    The campground is nestled in a coulee with a creek, several nice campsites, fire rings, and a vault toilet (there is no potable water here and all trash must be packed out). Camping here is free, and it’s first-come/first-served. It’s a really beautiful area to stay for a night, and even if you don’t want to go all the way down to the campground, you can pitch anywhere for the night.

    Breeden Falls is just off the trail on the way to Escure Ranch.

    In any case, the trail moves on, crossing Revere Road and then past the Revere grain elevator. You’ll have to hop on to Wagner Road for a second to cross a small stream and then the trail will parallel Rock Creek.

    Basalt cliffs begin to jut from the earth, creating sheer walls that ripple across the landscape. Buttes and mesas intermix with rolling hills and potholes of water connected by creeks. If you haven’t noticed, you’ve left wheat country behind and are officially deep in the scablands.

    *I should note here that you may be getting a false sense of what this place may be like based upon my photos. Everything is lush and green due to the fact that most of these photos were taken in May, but for a large part of the year this place is dry, dusty, brown, and hot.

    The Scablands in Spring.
    Washington really is a beautiful place
    Following along Rock Creek

    The trail will move through a fence line and for about a half mile, it becomes a shared dirt access road for a ranch. Up ahead, at a road crossing, there is a gate across the trail and it has several signs on it stating that the trail is closed here. This section is private property and you have to detour around it, but it’s okay, because the entire detour is on groomed gravel roads through some pretty spectacular scenery.

    This shows where the detour into Ewan begins.

    This detour cuts right through the scablands, giving you some up-close views of what the Ice Age Floods did to this landscape.

    Texas Lake Road goes south from the gate and crosses Rock Creek. Eventually, you’ll make a left to head east on Mail Route Road, and then another left on Cherry Creek Road which takes you directly into Ewan.

    Ewan (it’s pronounced E-Wahn by the locals) is a small community at the southern end of Rock Lake consisting of a handful of homes, a church, and a massive grain elevator that towers over everything else in town.

    There are no services here other than a water faucet on the side of the Church, and being that it’s a church, I doubt they’d mind if you filled your bottles here (but don’t quote me on that).

    Ready to head out into the Palouse?

    Next: Rock Lake to the Idaho Border

    Better than a high five…

    All of this is done on my own time, so if you find any or all of this information useful, a high five would be cool, but a beer or a coffee would be better. I have spent countless hours compiling all of this information and double checking it to ensure that it is correct, and I continually check it to ensure the information is up to date for anyone trying to plan their own journey. Any donation for my time is appreciated. Cheers!


    Seek and Enjoy

    Published by joeski

    Look Fast. Ride Slow

    One thought on “The Palouse to Cascades Trail: The Columbia River to Rock Lake

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