Whenever I head north along the Sammamish River Trail, a gravel trail that breaks off to the east about 6 miles from Redmond frequently catches my eye.
Leaving my road bike at home, I recently paid a visit to the Tolt Pipeline Trail, left, on the used Rockhopper mountain bike that I bought to explore the many dirt and gravel trails in my big back yard.
This trail is the right-of-way for a water pipeline the serves the City of Seattle. The total distance of the trail, not counting the interruptions, is about 12 miles. I bicycled the 7-mile central section from Sammamish River Trail to just above West Snoqualmie Valley Road.
Steep grades Those of us who are used to the oh-so-gentle climbs on rail-to-trail right-of-ways will certainly find these steep grades challenging. The pipeline simply goes from Point A to Point B and the trail follows, with no grading involved.
I set out from Marymoor Park on my mountain bike outfitted with knobby tires. The first 6 miles along the busy Sammamish River Trail was uneventful. I stopped when I passed the baseball fields, which is where the Tolt Pipline trail intersects.
This is certainly the road less travelled. Granted it was a weekday, but I only saw one cyclist over the next 3 hours or so.
The right-of-way is about 100 feet wide. There is very little shade, which normally isn’t an issue in the Pacific Northwest. The route passes some upscale neighborhoods and quite a few horse farms. Some of the views are spectacular on a clear day.
From the Sammamish River Trail, the Tolt Pipeline trail begins as a loose gravel flat stretch. At Woodinville-Redmond Road it immediately begins a very steep uphill climb on hard-packed dirt with some patches of gravel.
I tried pedaling up this numerous times and could never get going. I pushed my bike to the top of the long hill and faced a rollercoaster scene heading off into the distance.
Fortunately, that was somewhat of an optical illusion. My momentum from the downhills helped keep me upright and propelled me up the next hill. These climbs are steep too, but nothing like the first one.
About 2 miles in the trail starts heading generally downward toward Bear Creek. There’s a shady spot on the right at the bottom of one hill with a swing. There’s also shade at Bear Creek, which is a small stream with a tiny beach for those wanting to cool off their hot feet in the water.
There was another climb or two (I lost count), before a passed a horse farm with a bathtub sitting out in the front yard. Right after that road crossing the pipeline trail heads downhill to a virtual dead-end above the Snoqualmie River Valley. I rode down to the guardrail. End of the trail, or so I thought.
Actually, I later read that the trail rolls off to the right to a driveway that goes downhill to West Snoqualmie Valley Road. A cyclist taking that can proceed south to NE 124th Street, cross the river, and head north on Carnation Duvall Road to the extension of the Tolt Pipeline Trail or continue into Duvall. (Update: The blogger at BikeSeattle.org has a great description of this route at “From Tolt Pipeline to Snoqualmie”.)
Completing the trip
[Update: Sept. 1 -- I was champing at the bit to get back to the Tolt Pipeline, so I rode from my house to Redmond then intercepted the pipeline on Bear Creek Road. I followed the pipeline eastward for a couple of miles, followed that gravelly downhill to the end, and kept my eyes open for that road to the right.
There it was, as big as the nose on my face. How I missed it the first time, I'll never know. I might have discounted it as a private driveway. It zooms down some switchbacks to West Snoqualmie Highway. I followed that right to 124th, left across the bridge, and found the Snoqualmie Valley Trail just before the traffic circle for Duvall-Carnation Highway. Check the flickr images above or click through to my Tolt Pipeline set.]
I returned the way I came. It was a lot faster heading back to the Sammamish River.
You’ll see from that map that the Tolt trail continues a few miles to the east, after an interruption, from where I stopped. It also heads uphill to the west on the other side of the Sammamish River.