The Palouse to Cascades Trail: Rock Lake to the Idaho Border


Entering the Palouse

You’ve made it to Ewan and since there isn’t anywhere to camp or eat or resupply, you need to keep moving east. Ewan sits at the southwestern end of Rock Lake which is a spectacular monument of the scablands formed in the ice-age floods, but unfortunately, you’re not really going to get to see it.

I have no doubt that you’ve read somewhere that somebody rode through Rock Lake, or have seen photos posted of someone on trail there, but I’m just going to save you from the disappointment right now- the trail through Rock Lake is closed and has been for quite some time. While portions of the trail on the lake have been open in the recent past, they have only been open as out-and-backs.

It’s a shame, because Rock Lake is definitely the crown jewel of the eastern part of the trail. The lake sits in a nine mile long basalt chasm with sheer walls, and water that’s several hundred feet deep. There are several trestles and tunnels 44 and 43 burrow through the rock to maintain the line. Currently, from the Ewan side, the trail is closed three miles in at the first trestle, and at the other end, it’s also closed about three miles in at the first trestle.

The majority of the trail through Rock Lake is closed and requires a detour. DO NOT poach the trail.

*I visited the northeastern end of Rock Lake as an out-and-back a few years back, and if you want to see what you’re missing you can read about it here. I hope that someday, this section becomes open and passable as part of the trail because it really is a major highlight.

If you absolutely have to see it you can ride up into the lake on the trail or up to the boat launch off Rock Lake Road and then turn around at the closure, but you’re not going to get to ride through. The trestles are closed because they are in need of repair, there is a rock slide across the trail, and there is a one mile stretch that is privately owned, so just take the detour. I shouldn’t have to say it, but I’m going to anyway: Do not poach the trail here. State Parks has closed off the trestles for a reason.

On the bright side, the detour around Rock Lake is quite scenic, and it’s like nothing you’ve encountered thus far. You’ve seen all kinds of landscapes on this journey but this will be your first taste of the rolling hills of the Palouse region, and if you happen to be here when things are still green, you’re going to be in for a treat.

*You could also skip this whole section and take highway 23 to St. John, which is about 8 miles southeast. It has an Inn, a cafe, and a small grocery store. Then you could take Pine City-Malden Road another 9 miles north to where the Rock Lake detour ends. If you’re running low on food and water, this may be a good option, as Rosalia is still thirty miles away.


Table of Contents

  • Rock Lake to Malden (20 Miles)
  • Malden to Rosalia (10 Miles)
  • Rosalia to the Idaho Border (25 Miles)

  • Rock Lake to Malden (20 miles)

    Basalt cliffs line Rock Lake Road as you head north out of Ewan, and before you get to the lake, you’re going to take a right on a gravel road called Gene Webb Road. It follows the tree-lined Kamiache Creek and dead ends on Stephen Road, where you will take a left. This is where the landscape suddenly shifts and all trace of the dramatic formations of the scablands will disappear almost immediately.

    …and just like that, you have entered the Palouse. It’s really quite striking how quickly it occurs, and the color palette you experience will depend on when you’re here. A later season journey will bring you rolling hills of amber and gold, while an earlier visit will treat you to greens so vibrant that they don’t seem real.

    Headed towards Pine City on Stephen Road
    The rolling hills of the Palouse in late spring

    Stephen Road curves, dips, and rises as it follows the contours of the surrounding hills. The odds of you seeing a car on this road are minimal, however, depending on the season, you may encounter some farm equipment.

    The Palouse hills are a fascinating geological feature created by the windblown silts left behind after the last ice age floods, and this silt based soil is what makes it so fertile.

    Up and around
    At the top of a climb, looking out over the Palouse

    It should be noted that this route is not flat at all, and while some climbs are steeper than others, they all reward you with a descent on the other side. *seriously, there is no flat ground here, the road is always either going up or down, so just settle in and enjoy not being on flat rail grade for a bit.

    Windows XP?
    Late summer in the same place. Photo by Shawn Pedersen

    Eventually, you will crest a climb and be rewarded with an absolutely glorious two mile descent. Pine trees will begin to break up the hills and you’ll pass the signs for Hole In The Ground and Kenova Roads as you make your way down to Pine City-Malden Road. You may find yourself wondering, “Wait a minute, what about the trail? Why am I taking a paved road to Malden?” and that is an excellent question.

    The trail is nearby and there was actually a way to get to it back on Hole In The Ground Road, but you’d just have to turn around and come back to where you are. There are three steel trestles that cross Pine Creek between here and Malden and the wooden decking on every single one of them was burned in a fire. State Parks has plans to fix them, but for now, the road is your only option.

    The good news is that it’s only about three-and-a-half miles from here to Malden and any vehicles you encounter should give you lots of space.

    One of the trestles that are currently impassable between Pine City and Malden.

    You’ll come to Pine City first (there are no services here), which is a very small community of about one-hundred people nestled down on the pine-lined banks of Pine Creek (hence the name). It’s hard to miss the signs of the fire as you pass through. The Babb Road fire burned much of the town back in 2020, but Pine City is a resilient place, and they are slowly recovering. The fire started north of Rosalia and was driven all the way down into Pine City by high winds, with Malden taking the brunt of the flames. *You’ll see evidence of the fire from here all the way to Rosalia.

    Burned pine trees line the road on the way into Malden

    You’ll cross Pine Creek as you come into Malden and the trail will be on your left.

    Founded by the railroad in 1909, Malden was the headquarters for this stretch of the Milwaukee Road. It’s hard to believe now, but this was once a thriving city with a vibrant downtown complete with saloons, several stores, and a three-story brick hotel. In the 1920’s, Malden was a boomtown that boasted a population of over a thousand.

    Unfortunately, the railroad decided to move its operations to Spokane in the early 1930s, and since the majority of the people here were employed by the railroad, they packed up and left as well. By the time the railroad abandoned the tracks in 1980, the population had dropped to just over two-hundred and the buildings and businesses of Malden’s heydey were long gone.

    The trail through Malden

    In September of 2020, the Babb Road fire tore through here. Fueled by high winds, it leveled most of the town, burning eighty percent of the structures and houses. Most of the folks who live here lost everything, although new construction can now be seen as the residents rebuild their lives and homes.

    The Malden of today is a symbol of the strength and adaptability of the communities that make up this region of the state, and while it’s easy to pass through many of them without a second thought, I always like to remind myself that these are real places that real people call home. They have their own lives and traditions and the boom and bust cycles are just part of those rich histories.

    As the trail leaves town you’ll pass the location of the former railroad headquarters, and if you venture a little ways off trail here you can find what’s left of the old Milwaukee Road roundhouse.

    The concrete foundations of the old roundhouse are still visible on the edge of Malden

    Malden to Rosalia (10 miles)

    *This section of the trail is currently closed as State Parks is working with the residents on installing a trailhead in Malden (with water) and resurfacing the loose and deep gravel. However, there are still two ways to get to Rosalia from here: You could just ride Pine City-Malden Road all the way into the southern end of town. It’s paved and it doesn’t have much of a shoulder, but it’s relatively low traffic. Or, you could turn off Pine City-Malden Road onto Squaw Road, and then Gashous Road, which will take you to the northern end of town. This route would be ninety percent smooth gravel and far more scenic and peaceful. Either way, the work here should be done by June of 2023 so it shouldn’t effect too many trail users.

    As you leave Malden you’ll cross a bridge over Pine Creek, which the trail essentially parallels all the way to Rosalia. You’ll go through several rock cuts, past wide open farms, and under groves of fire-scarred pines (if you’re here late in the season you may want to slow down and enjoy the shade that these trees provide).

    This ten miles between Malden and Rosalia is pretty much the only shade you’ll get east of the Columbia.

    This stretch is really quite beautiful as it cuts through the landscape, hugging the path of the creek. The pines surrounding the trail have a way of making you forget that you’re in the Palouse region.

    There are a few gates where the trail crosses Squaw Road and then another bridge over the creek (another great example of the concrete and steel spans that the Milwaukee Road used).

    Between malden and Rosalia
    Under the road

    The trail passes under East Dixon Road through a massive culvert and then begins to curve south towards Rosalia. As you make your way into town, the creek drops below the trail into the valley and you’ll find yourself rolling along the old berm that the railroad cut into the hillside.

    The railroad maintained this grade all the way through Rosalia, and there are several crossings where the old wooden pile bridges are missing. These require you to drop down the provided side trail and then back up the other side. Some of these short detours are steeper than others, but they are all manageable.

    When you get to Gashous Road, you’ll drop down the grade into the Pine Creek valley and take a left into town.

    Rosalia is a full service community, and quite a wonderful one at that. Everything you need is located downtown on Whitman Avenue. There is a market, a taproom and bar (which both serve food), and two cafes as well, although you need to be aware of what time and day you end up here as many of the businesses may be closed.

    The Rosalia City Park also has a small RV park that allows camping.

    The historic Texaco station which is now the visitors center with a passing spring storm in the distance
    Looking north up Whitman Avenue after a passing spring storm

    Rosalia to the Idaho Border (25 miles)

    The trail picks back up south of Rosalia. As you take Whitman Avenue out of town you’ll catch your first view of the Rosalia Bridge (you may want to plan get a photo of it while you’re still down here, because once you’re up there crossing it, it’s a little difficult to really capture how special it is). You’ll make a right onto Pine City-Malden Road, which climbs up a steady grade and the trail will be on your left, taking you directly out onto the bridge.

    Photo Credit: Marilyn Hedges

    The structure is a striking example of engineering and showcases some of the most spectacular uses of the concrete arches that the Milwaukee Road was so famous for. The railroad had to figure out a way to cross the entire Pine Creek Valley while maintaining the same grade to the other side, and it had to go over the creek, a road, and two other railroads in the process.

    The Rosalia bridge is actually two bridges, constructed of beautiful concrete arches with a section of Earth-fill between them. Together, they form a stunning monument that spans the valley and dominates the landscape.

    a view from above showing the entirety of the Rosalia bridge as it spans the valley. Photo credit: Mike Sorensen
    Photo Credit: Marilyn Hedges
    Looking north from Rosalia Road. Photo Credit: Marilyn Hedges
    Headed east on the Rosalia bridge. The cut in the hillside to the right is where the trail continues east

    As you leave the valley behind, the trail will enter a massive cut in the hillside. This is the former location of Tunnel 42, which collapsed in 1911. After the collapse, the entire section of the hill was removed, creating a massive cut in its place.

    *Fun Fact: the Earth removed from the tunnel collapse was used to create the fill between the two bridges in the valley.

    As soon as you exit the cut, the hills of the Palouse spread out to the horizon. The detour past Rock Lake followed the shape of the landscape, but out here, the railroad cut right through it, providing a very different perspective.

    The trail moves through a few rock cuts and past a few farms as it makes its way east in large, sweeping curves.

    A freshly graded cut just east of Rosalia
    looking back west

    The gravel through this stretch ranges from deep, chunky, and unforgiving, to small sections of freshly graded hardpack, and the deeper stuff will definitely take its toll on you.

    *I should note here that if it has recently rained you need to be hyper aware of mud in this stretch. If there is mud on trail after Rosalia, it will only get worse as you go east, and it can eventually reach a point where it is unrideable. Plan and prepare accordingly.

    A little ways out, you’ll come to Pandora, which was a siding on the railroad. You’ll know you’re there by the single pine tree standing next to the trail. Once you reach the tree, there is a dirt bypass that leaves the trail down to Pandora Road. You need to take this as there is a large missing pile bridge ahead over a creek and there is no other way around it. In a few hundred feet you’ll take a right on Wilhelm Road and there will be a dirt path that climbs back up to the trail.

    There will be several more big dips and climbs due to missing bridges, but other than that, you’re just out there riding on an elevated railroad berm in the middle of the Palouse. It’s a pretty amazing experience.

    looking east past Pandora
    Random apple trees along the trail

    Trees will begin to appear on the trailside and soon you will come to the Seabury Trestle. As a bridge, Seabury is interesting because there are no railings, and the bridge decking is essentially as it was when the rails were pulled up. There are small gaps in the wooden planks allowing you to look straight down through the deck, and if it’s windy, it can be a little unnerving, as there is nothing between you and the edge.

    The Seabury bridge showcases the classic concrete arches of the Milwaukee Road. Photo credit: Marilyn Hedges

    Seabury was originally a three layered crossing. The Milwaukee Road crossed over another railroad bridge, which crossed over a farm road. The other railroad was abandoned long ago, but the grade is still visible if you know what you’re looking for, and the farm road is still being used today.

    Approaching Seabury

    Shortly after Seabury, you’ll pass a farm on the right side of the trail and drop down and up another missing pile bridge. Beyond this bridge, Lone Pine Road begins to parallel the trail. This is important because up ahead, the trail enters an area that is commonly referred to as “The Swamp“.

    Up until this point, the trail has been maintaining its grade up on a large embankment, elevated above the surrounding landscape, but it’s going to enter a long stretch that drops down into what can only be described as an almost two-mile long ditch, and once you’re in it, there’s no way out.

    This stretch holds water throughout much of the year, so even if the trail has been dry up to this point, any recent rains may have taken their toll up ahead, and if you have already encountered mud on the trail, you do not want to proceed.

    *But if it’s later in the season and it hasn’t rained in a month, then I say, “go for it”.

    *State Parks has done quite a bit of work here, creating low ditches on the edges so the water has a place to go, but heavy rains will still saturate the trail here, creating a swampy, muddy mess, and Palouse mud is not something you want to contend with on your bike. It is not rideable. It is extremely heavy and it sticks to itself, filling every crevice and gap on your bike. It can easily destroy your drivetrain if you attempt to take it on. Late in the summer, this stretch should be dry, but if it’s earlier in the season, I would proceed with extreme caution.

    In any case, a little ways past the farm, there is a dirt path that leaves the trail and takes you up onto Lone Pine Road. If it has recently rained, I highly recommend bypassing this stretch. Lone Pine Road is beautifully graded gravel and will follow along the trail, crossing over it at one point on a bridge, and you can get right back on the trail at Chase Road, skipping the low section entirely.

    Beyond the swamp, shortly after where Chase Road crosses the trail, you’ll pass the long abandoned Lone Pine grain Elevator.

    The Lone Pine Elevator peeking out over the trees.
    I don’t want all of my springtime photos to give you a false impression of the Palouse, so here is a late season photo from Shawn Pedersen

    The trail will cross Summer Road where there is a trailhead and a kiosk/marker with some historical information about the trail and the Tekoa Trestle. This used to be the turnoff for the required detour through town because there was no decking or railing on the bridge, but State Parks completely refurbished the trestle in early 2022, making it accessible to trail users.

    The Tekoa trestle is an impressive bridge that spans over Hangman Creek and several roads, including Highway 27. It has been a symbol for the people of Tekoa, and to see it finally open and useable is an amazing feat. The endless advocacy and fundraising that was necessary to see this project through is a testament to the people of Tekoa, and how much they love their town and believe in the trail.

    Looking north at the Tekoa Trestle. Photo Credit: Mike Sorensen

    The Tekoa trestle is a 17 span, 975 foot long steel bridge that towers 125 feet above the town below it. Built in 1908, it showcases the endurance and strength that the Milwaukee Road engineered into their infrastructure.

    *The missing bridge over Cow Creek would have looked much like this one, except at 27 spans, it would have been a full 500 feet longer.

    Looking south. Photo Credit: Mike Sorensen
    Looking west back at the Palouse. Photo Credit: Mike Sorensen
    Crossing the Tekoa Trestle.

    As you leave the trestle behind, the trail will cross Washington Street. You can take this south over the creek into town where you will find a small market, a cafe, a coffee roaster/house, a bar and grill, and a diner. There are also public restrooms available. The folks in Tekoa are wonderful and welcoming and many of them are big supporters of the trail and its users. It’s a great place to stop and refuel.

    Anyway, you’ve made it! You deserve a good meal and a big high five!

    *Technically, the trail continues for another five miles to the Idaho border, and if you really want that photo with the state line sign, it’s out there waiting for you.

    What you do and where you go from here requires some planning. There technically isn’t any official camping in Tekoa and there are no lodging accommodations, although it doesn’t hurt to ask around. Some folks have been given permission to camp in the parks or near the trestle and I have been informed that they are currently working on creating an official area dedicated to trail users. While I can’t officially tell you to go camp in Tekoa, it definitely wouldn’t hurt to contact City Hall before your journey and ask for official permission.

    Another option is to have to have someone meet you in Tekoa for a pickup or keep on pedaling. Spokane is forty-five miles north and has all of the amenities that you could possibly need. It’s a great place to celebrate the completion of the trail, and a hot shower and a hotel bed are well deserved. A lot of folks also continue on into Idaho to the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, which is a wonderfully scenic (and paved) route that runs seventy-three miles across the Idaho panhandle.

    Whatever you end up doing, you can celebrate the fact that you’ve ridden a bicycle across most of Washington State, which is not something that a whole lot of folks can say they’ve experienced.


    I hope you’ve found this guide useful in your planning. The trail is a different experience for everyone who chooses to take it on, and I hope that I get to hear your stories about your own journey, and that they inspire others to go explore as well.

    Enjoy the ride.

    LOVE YOUR STATE PARKS. PACK IT IN. PACK IT OUT. LEAVE NO TRACE.

    Home

    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!

    $5.00


    Published by joeski

    Look Fast. Ride Slow

    One thought on “The Palouse to Cascades Trail: Rock Lake to the Idaho Border

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