3-day weekend bicycling the John Wayne Pioneer Trail

When my wife texted me last Friday that I should take advantage of the sunny fall weather with a Labor Day weekend bike trip, she didn’t have to repeat the offer.

I got to spend a spectacular weekend up on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, a rail-trail that starts at Cedar Falls east of Seattle and rolls all the way to the Idaho border.

Of course, I didn’t go the full length. With a late start on my touring bicycle on Saturday, I was lucky to make it to that first campground at Alice Creek. It’s a 50-mile ride from home.


My original plan was to return on Sunday, but I decided to continue after I saw the overcast breaking up as I headed toward Snoqualmie Pass. This was turning into a “sub 72-hour overnight” bike tour.

Among the first folks I met were these two families that had camped together at the Carter Creek Campground, still about 6 miles from the Snoqualmie Pass Tunnel. They had parked a car at Hyak and were basically rolling downhill to another car at Cedar Falls.

I wish I could have made it to Carter Creek that first night; it would have been fun to camp with them and their dog (in the carrier).

Further uphill I paused at this old snowshed that protected the tracks from avalanches. This stretch is my favorite of the trail, probably because of the awesome scenery coupled with the relic from the bygone railroad days.

I passed through the 2-mile-long Snoqualmie Tunnel, which still sees a lot of bicycle traffic. Here’s one reason, the shuttle that carries bicyclists and their bikes from Cedar Falls to the Hyak trailhead. If you’re interested to using their service, check soon as they close down the operation for the fall and winter seasons. Check BusUp90.

Leaving the crowds behind, I continued along Lake Keechelus. Even though you can see Interstate 90 across the lake, it’s out of earshot much of the time. The water level at the lake is way low in the late summer, enabling me to walk among the old tree stumps left over from when this was a dense forest.

I followed the trail all the way to Lake Easton, where I jumped the interstate and had huge and delicious lunch at the Parkside Cafe. Picking up some supplies for dinner — a box of mac and cheese and can of beef stew — I returned all the way to the Roaring Creek campsites situated next to Keechelus.

These campsites are in the woods, and I picked a tent site that had a view of the lake through the trees. I was happy to discover that it also had a view of the full moon and rising over the lake late in the evening, as well as the morning sun. The temperature had dipped to the low 40s overnight, so as soon as I saw the sun I headed out to the warm sunshine streaming onto the trail.


The ride back was mainly uneventful. I got away before 9, fiddled around talking with folks at each end of the tunnel, and made my way down the trail to the Cedar Falls trailhead where I visited the Watershed Education Center for cold water (the state park trailhead doesn’t have running water).

I made it down to Snoqualmie by 3 p.m. for a late lunch and reached home by dinner, bone tired but completely reinvigorated.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.bikingbis.com/2012/09/07/3-day-weekend-on-john-wayne-pioneer-trail/

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    • Paul on September 8, 2012 at 12:57 am
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    Been planning a bike trip on John Wayne Pioneer Trail for the past 3 years (!!!)… wondering how long it would take me to get to ( at least ) Columbia River/Vantage

    1. I’ve only gone as far as Thorp, so I wouldn’t be a lot of help. I can say that the gravel gets a little harder to plow through the further east you travel although that is downhill.

      If I were to do it starting at the Cedar Falls trailhead, I would expect to take four days. That would give me time to admire the scenery, read all the trailside information plaques and explore some of the towns and trailside attractions along the way. The trail passes through an old railroad yard in South Cle Elum, for instance, and there’s an old mill in Thorp. If you do it, I’d be interested in knowing how it turns out!

    • Ron on September 9, 2012 at 12:57 am
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    About eight years ago my daughter (then 15) and I did a self-supported ride from Montana to North Bend on the Milwaukee Road right-of-way. I think it was about eight days of riding all told. We started at the east portal of the Taft Tunnel (on the Trail of the Hiawatha) and spent nights in Calder, Plummer, Malden, Lind, Othello, Vantage, and Ellensburg. We crossed the Columbia on Wanapum Dam (had to write in advance for permission) and from there it was two days to North Bend. I think some of the tunnels between Cle Elum and Thorp are closed now so there’s probably an off-trail detour to get around them. We had some tough days, but she still says she’d do it again in a heartbeat. Fun times.

    1. That sounds like an awesome bike tour! You’re right about those tunnels being closed, but only one of them (Easton) is blocked. You can still pass through them, just be careful because there’s a lot of debris on the ground inside.

      How’s the trail surface in eastern Washington? I heard it was very very rough and gravelly!

        • Ron on September 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm
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        Sections of the right-of-way were extremely rough — railroad ballast (i.e., 2″ rock) covered the trail and it took considerable effort to maintain 5 mph. Eventually around Malden we started to parallel the RoW on county roads and did so (for the most part) till Othello. In hindsight I think it would have been better if we’d run lower pressure in our mountain bike tires — that might have smoothed the ride out a bit.

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