*It doesn’t have to be on a bike, you can cross the state by foot as well. Or horse.
The Palouse To Cascades Trail is Washington State’s premier rail trail. It starts at Cedar Falls, which is just outside of North Bend in the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains. From here, it follows the path of an old railroad across the mountains, down into central Washington, across the Columbia River, through endless potato and wheat fields, across the channeled scablands, and into the Palouse.
The Milwaukee Road
What set this railroad apart from so many others, was the fact that large sections of it were electrified. Steam locomotives had difficulty operating in the northern reaches of the Rockies, and the tunnels through the two major mountain ranges proved problematic for trains belching smoke from their coal-fired boilers.
The trail is used as part of the Cross Washington Mountain Bike Route and it makes direct connections to both the The Snoqualmie Valley Trail and The Columbia Plateau Trail. You can also make connections to Idaho’s Trail of The Coeur d’Alenes and the Route of The Hiawatha, which together, make up the western section of the Great American Rail Trail which is a future plan that is really, really exciting. But enough about trains...
* Okay, but if you really do want to learn more about the Milwaukee Road and its history The Cascade Rail Foundation is an excellent resource. They do a lot of work and advocacy for the trail.
The Trail Today
There are few trails I’ve found that cross through such a diversity of landscape, wildlife, and climate. Riding the trail at bike speed allows one to really appreciate the place that we choose to call home. I first rode the trail in 2014, and I’ve been exploring more of it and advocating for it ever since. If you’d like to read about my personal journey across the entire trail to the Idaho border, you can find that here.
You can view and download detailed GPS maps with all of the information you’ll need here. They are kept up to to date as much as possible as things on the trail change.
Many folks choose to explore the trail in sections, while others take the entire thing on at once. While both options will provide plenty of adventure and some great memories, one requires far more prep than the other and it is my intention to create a guide to the entire trail that folks can use to plan their own journey and adventures. The trail is ever evolving as weather affects the surfaces, wildfires create barriers, and State Parks makes improvements. It is my goal to keep this up to date as trail conditions and detours change. I hope you find this guide useful, and I hope you come to love the trail as much as I do.
A Guide to the Palouse to Cascades Trail
The West Side: Cedar Falls to The Columbia River
Headed East: The Columbia River to Rock Lake
The East Side: Rock Lake to The Idaho Border
My Personal Experience on the Trail
Day one: Cedar falls to Ellensburg
Day Two: Ellensburg to Othello
Day Three: Warden to Paxton
Day Four: Paxton to Idaho
Wrap-up & Final Takeaways
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!
4 thoughts on “The Palouse to Cascades Trail: a guide to crossing Washington by bike”