Family Friendly Gravel

“C’mon, kids, only two more miles!”

-Me. Every time we do this

If you’ve read my writeup on the Palouse To Cascades Trail, then you know that the stretch between Cle Elum and Thorp is one of my favorites. The trail follows the Yakima River as it meanders its way through a small canyon of basalt and lush vegetation.

In late summer, it’s a green and gold oasis where the temperature is just a little bit lower and the walls provide some shade. In the spring, It’s a colorful blend of sagebrush, willows, and wildflowers.

The Route

This stretch is a great experience for riders of all ages and skill levels, as long as they have a bike that is capable for the surface and you prepare them ahead of time for what to expect.

It’s an out and back that’s just under twelve miles long with minimal elevation gain, and it is 100% on gravel. There is a nice spot to have a lunch, and you will get to go through two different abandoned railroad tunnels.

*pay attention to the forecast and do this on a day with minimal wind so your family doesn’t hate you.

The Thorp Trailhead has a clean and stocked pit toilet and that’s about it, so be prepared with your water and supplies. You’ll need a Discover Pass to park there.

The surface is deep and loose as you head west from the trailhead, but it smooths out at the first road crossing, which is less than half a mile out.

The trail passes through the western end of the Kittitas Valley, rolling alongside the local ranches and farms as it makes its way towards the windmills and hills in the distance. There are two road crossings and one of them has little cattle gates you have to pass through that are secured with a chain. Please close the gates behind you.

The Kittitas Valley
this is the looser surface at the first half mile.

About three miles in, the trail approaches a bridge that crosses over Taneum Creek, and as soon as you cross this bridge, the landscape begins to dramatically change.

Pine Trees suddenly appear on your right, showing the Yakima River behind them, and all trace of the farmland and valley disappear behind you as the Earth begins to rise.

Yellow Balsamroot blooms along the hillside.
looking back towards the valley as the canyon begins to rise higher.

As you move deeper into the canyon, you will see sandstone deposits along the left side. Some of it is still smooth from when the river ran alongside of it, and some of it has been eroded away, exposing some pretty amazing geologic structures.

*Your kids may find this interesting, or they may simply look at you and say, “it’s just a bunch of rocks”.

palouse to cascades trail
sandstone formations, still worn smooth.

Soon, the Earthen hill beside you rises into a massive basalt cliffside, exposing evidence of ancient lava flows. Lichens paint the rock hues of orange and green, and if you look closely, you’ll find hundreds of little sparrow nests nestled into the outcrops.

Eventually, you’ll come around a small bend to tunnel 46. There are two tunnels in the canyon, and they aren’t far from each other.

Tunnel 46 is the shorter of the two and it curves to the left just enough that you can’t see the other side from the entrance. This tunnel won’t require a light on a bright day.

Exiting the tunnel, you’ll pass by a long abandoned homestead and farm. It’s very tempting to go down and explore the farm, but there are signs asking you not to, as it is private property.

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tunnel 46

It must have been a wonderful little home at one time, perched right on the Yakima River and surrounded by towering cliffs. It’s technically part of Springwood Ranch, which was once owned by Stuart Anderson, the founder of the Black Angus restaurant chain.

The farm is in a serious state of disrepair. The barn and many of the outbuildings are completely collapsed and flattened. The house has been slowly sinking into its own cellar over the years and the grass is just tall enough to hide sharp, rusty objects as well as the possible rattlesnake. I highly recommend that you respect the park boundaries.

palouse to cascades trail
please respect park boundaries and stay on the trail.

The trail continues past the farm and before you know it, you’ll pass a nice picnic area as you approach Tunnel 47. This tunnel curves as well but it’s quite a bit longer than the first. You will definitely need a light inside this one, and the floor of this one is significantly rockier than the last.

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After you exit the second tunnel, turn around and go right back through it. You can have lunch at the Picnic table on the bank of the Yakima River before heading back to the trailhead.

Family Friendly Tips

  • The slowest person in your group sets the pace.
  • Take the time to let the kids explore the things they want to see. Even if it means stopping often.
  • Listen to your kids and stop for snacks and water breaks when they request it. Even if it means stopping often.
  • Encourage them and let them know that you know how hard of a ride it can be, even though you’re only going 7 miles an hour. Pushing 20 or 24 inch wheels through gravel is hard work, especially for someone with little legs.
  • Plan on spending a few hours out there and making a day of it.
  • Take your time at lunch and let the littlest members of your group recover.
  • Reward your kids with a treat when they make it back to the trailhead.
  • Dress casual and ride flat pedals if you can, it’ll make you more comfortable riding at kid speed.
  • Bring spare tubes for all tire sizes in your group and be self sufficient. There is very spotty phone service in the canyon.
  • Take this opportunity to teach your kids how to take care of trails and the principles of Leave No Trace.
  • Take pictures!
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Let the slowest person in the group set the pace.
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The kiosk at the Picnic area.
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Victory at the end of the ride.

Ride Bikes With Your Kids

Published by joeski

Look Fast. Ride Slow

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