Over the Cascades!


On a Sunday my wife announced that she would like to get one more tour in before the cold set in. By Tuesday I realized that she (and the time) was right, and that the weather would be great. Thursday we decided to take the Iron Horse Trail over the Cascades to Cle Elem, Washington. Friday, we decided also to bring our 10-year-old along.

Friday was a whirlwind of action. Bikes were checked, camping gear pulled out, and panniers packed. This, I knew, was a ride that goes many miles between support stops. In addition to the water we normally carry, we would need to bring additional water and food.

We got up at 5:30, loaded the bikes on the car, and traveled to the trailhead. I had my Surly Long Haul Trucker, Lynette was on her Trek Elance, and Alec had his Trek 7.3 FX Hybrid. This first day would be 50 miles on a gravel trail, with 20 of those miles climbing to the crest. This was along an old rail line that was limited to a 2.5 percent grade; however, with loaded touring bikes and a humid day in the Pacific Northwest, we were slogging up the hill.

Alec did well, enjoying the ride as we came upon "the tunnel," a cold, gaping maw in the side of the mountain -- 2.5 miles in total darkness, so it was time to pull out the headlamps. Through the darkness we made it, to the other side. Now going down, we noticed that our pace picked up. We still had 30 miles to go along a section of the trail that is less used. It was wonderful to go through the mountains on the road less traveled.

The hours passed quickly. However, the miles began to be felt on Alec’s tush. Stopping in Easton we had dinner, where a chocolate milkshake was at the top of Alec's "need list." Light was failing and we still had 10 miles to go to get to our destination. No worries; we once again pulled out the headlamps and forged into the darkness. We arrived at our destination, set up the tent -- and quickly realized that I had packed the two-man tent for a three-person tour. It was a snug fit.

The ranch we stayed at treated Alec like royalty; the folks there were impressed that a 10-year-old had made such a ride. I was impressed, too. Since Alec was in pain from the ride, they offered to take us back to the top of the ridge for the 20-mile ride down on the following day.

We accepted, and the next morning off we went, from the top of the mountains in the rain. Gravity has a way of either helping the loaded bike tourer or being a demon on his back. This was a steady coast down the mountainside.

On the way down we saw a bear step out ahead of us. All of us stopped! He looked at us and we at him. It is a totally different feeling seeing an animal like this OUTSIDE of a zoo with no protection between you and him. He decided to run off and we decided to get out of his way, quickly.

All too soon the ride was over and we were on our way home. Overall, we traveled 75 miles on gravel trails. Not bad for tour bikes with skinny tires. As for Alec ... he wants to know where we are going next.

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: Bring extra water and food.

Favorite local bike shop: Bike Tech, Olympia, Washington.

8 responses so far ↓

John - Jan 23, 2012 at 10:05 AM

A 2.5 tunnel is a long way to go in the dark. Sounds like this is a great rail trail worth trying. Thanks for the trip report!

Doug W. - Jan 31, 2012 at 8:56 AM

What a great ride for you and your family. The trail stays in pretty good shape all the way through Yakima Canyon to Ellensburg, but then it really starts to get deep and loose. East of Ellensburg, you'd be better off on a horse than a bike. Even mtn bikes struggle a bit when it gets loose that far east.

John: For more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snoqualmie_Tunnel

It's a great ride. The trail ends at Rattlesnake Lake but joins immediately with the Snoqualmie Valley trail which you can take as far west as Duvall.

Robert - Feb 27, 2012 at 9:23 AM

Is this tunnel still open? I just read on the parks website that most of the tunnels in the park are closed. Trying to plan a trip for my familly and this one sounds like what I am looking for.

Kevin MacLachlan - Feb 27, 2012 at 9:17 PM

The long tunnel at Snoqualimine is open. There are several short tunnels that are closed on the eastern side. When you get to them you can see the chunks of stone on the floor of the path. We chose to ignore the "closed" signs as often it was MILES out of the way. the first one we could see the end and we walked the bikes through. The second was better and we rode past the closed sign and on to our destination.

Dale - Jul 31, 2012 at 9:53 PM

I have been wondering if there is a way to ride my road bike over the Cascades to Yakima without breaking any laws. Figured the Iron Horse was for mountain bikes. My bike is not a touring bike. Good steel frame. Is such a trip advised for me?

Michael McCoy - Aug 1, 2012 at 2:03 PM

Dale, I am looking into your question. Check back soon for more info.

Dale - Aug 1, 2012 at 4:24 PM

Thanks! I'll be hoping. Today at REI a salesperson told me he and his dad biked to Montana via Chinook Pass and loved their trip. I love the wide shoulders on I-90, but figure that's not legal?

I'll be watching for your counsel.


Michael McCoy - Aug 2, 2012 at 8:21 AM

Dale, I consulted with Adventure Cycling's Routes & Mapping guru Jennifer Milyko. Here's what she had to say:

Dale might want to take a look at our Washington Parks #2 (http://www.adventurecycling.org/routes/washingtonparks.cfm) or the tail end of Sierra Cascades #1 (http://www.adventurecycling.org/routes/sierracascades.cfm). Another good resource is the Washington State Bike map; you can view or download one from here: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/bike/statemap.htm

MM: Using that map you should also be able to determine which parts of I-90 are open and which are closed (if any) to bicycling. Let us know how your trip goes!

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