Thursday, October 3, 2013

Iron Horse Trail from Thorp to Thorp Tunnels

Hiking the Iron Horse Trail from Thorp to Thorp Tunnels Want to get away from it all? A quiet stroll along the Iron Horse Trail from Thorp to the Thorp Tunnels adds up to a pleasant, scenic day through a variety of terrain. Views range from sprawling ranches and farms, where curious horses, goats and cattle gather along fences that separates the “two-legged” from “the four-legged” to views of the Yakima River. Still-green hillsides rise above the Yakima River and irrigation ditches parallel the railroad grade from time to time. You’ll also pass small marshes, dotted with plump cattails and a few silvery swirls of fireweed gone to seed. Fat golden clumps of rabbit-brush added more color still. The hike is on an old railroad grade (Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad). The stretch between Cedar Falls near North Bend to the Columbia River (Vantage) is about 100 miles in length and is managed by Washington State Parks. The Iron Horse travels two-thirds of the way across Washington State and ends at the Idaho Border. Though hiking the railroad grade is easy remember you have to hike back the way you came and the last few miles on the gravel surface can be tiring (be warned - we guarantee the scenery will lure you to hike further than you intend). Most hikers will be content to hike from the trailhead to tunnels No. 46 and No. 47. The hike through the tunnels is over 12 miles round trip with about 800 feet of elevation gain. Though the grade appears relatively flat there are minor ups and downs; they add up. In summer the trail is open to hikers, bikers, equestrians and horse-drawn wagons. In winter the trail is also open to snowshoers, cross-country skiers and snowmobiles (a Sno-Park permit is required in winter). On our way to the tunnels we passed pastures where horses grazed, raising their heads to gaze at us with mild curiosity. At one farm Black Angus cows gathered at the fence to watch us go by; there's always something peaceful about looking at cows. At another farm we spotted pretty black and white goats with golden markings. Along the railroad grade a few white snags reached their branches beseechingly toward the sky, their thick trunks encrusted with yellow lichen. In about four miles we skirted cliffs of columnar basalt daubed with orange and green lichen, home to cliff swallows and nearby views of the Yakima River. In about five miles you’ll reach the first tunnel (No. 46). There you are required to sign a permit relieving Washington State Parks from any liability issues that might arise as you proceed through the tunnels. Each hiker must sign the waiver and deposit that into the drop-box provided where the forms are available. Though it is possible to walk through the first tunnel without a light source you will need one to walk through the longer, second tunnel (No. 47) though we were more comfortable using a light source through the first tunnel. Between the tunnels we stopped to view and photograph an abandoned homestead. I remembered this scene from a previous hike before the tunnels were closed; it is a setting well worthy of a pause, with or without a camera. Signage warns hikers to stay on the railroad grade rather than explore the outbuildings though you can still get good photos of the homestead from the railroad grade especially with a telephoto lens. It looked like a scene out of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” after the Joad family pulled up stakes and headed to California. Seeing the old homestead made us sad as we pondered what could have caused whoever owned the property to move away from this idyllic setting beside the Yakima River. Shortly past the homestead we passed under an old wooden road-bridge – this has been closed for quite some time as well. We soon came to the second tunnel; here we needed flashlights though both tunnels are in good condition. We only hiked a little further before turning around and heading back to the trailhead. As we anticipated the last couple miles were cruel; even with hiking boots. Despite tired feet we enjoyed ourselves in this quiet, nostalgic setting and are certain to return. Driving directions: From Seattle head east on I-90 to Exit 101 (Thorp). Turn left, (north) cross freeway to Depot Road and turn left (west), continue to the designated trailhead parking lot and pit toilet, Discover Pass required. Additional Information: A Sno-Park permit is required on the Iron Horse Trail between November 15-April 30. The Iron Horse Trail is open year-round, winter hours 8 AM to 5 PM If you have questions regarding the tunnels call Lake Easton State Park 509-656-2230. For information on Sno-Parks, the Discover Pass, campgrounds, winter schedules, rules and regulations contact Washington State Parks at: or call Washington State Parks at 360-902-8844. To view photos of the Iron Horse Trail scroll down to the fourth set at . Karen Sykes

No comments:

Post a Comment