From Evergreen Trail Guide
The official name of this popular rail trail is the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. A good portion of this trail is in the 100 foot wide Iron Horse State Park. Yup, it's confusing, but you're looking in the right place.
This gravel surfaced rail trail follows an old railroad line up to, and under, Snoqualmie Pass and takes you all the way to the Columbia River. There are plans to extend the trail all the way to Idaho. The surface is smooth gravel and the grade is never over 2.2%. Any bike will work on some parts of this trail, but wide tires are nice on the gravel, which can be a bit loose in certain sections.
The trail starts on the Seattle side at Rattlesnake Lake and climbs gently up towards Snoqualmie Pass, crossing over several old railroad trestles. Just before the pass the trail goes into the 2.3 mile Snoqualmie Tunnel under Snoqualmie Pass and comes out near Hyak. You'll need lights to go through the tunnel.
From Hyak the trail gently descends towards the Columbia River through the sunny and dry Eastern Washington Steppe. On the way you'll cross through several tunnels, over several trestles, and go through the Army's Yakima Firing Range.
On the east side of the Columbia, the corridor is managed by the DNR, and you need a permit to use it. If you contact their Southeast Region Office, they will send you a information packet with detailed maps. They will also have information on trail conditions.
DNR Southeast Region 713 E. Bowers Rd. Ellensburg, WA 98926 (509) 925-8510
How to find it
There are numerous trailheads for the trail. From West to East some major trailheads are:
- Cedar Falls (Rattlesnake Lake). Take I-90 to Exit 32. Head south on Cedar Falls Road for 3.5 mi and park in the nice lot. google map
- Twin Falls. Take I-90 to Exit 38. google map
- Eastbound: turn right after exit, cross the river and turn into the lot marked Twin Falls Natural Area.
- Westbound: Turn left at exit and drive about 2 miles.
- McClellan Butte. Take I-90 to Exit 42 and turn south after the exit. Go a short ways and you should see the trailhead signs on your right. Northwest Forest Pass is required to park here. google map
- Annette Lake. Exit #47 from I-90. Turn south at the first stop sign and then turn left on Road #55. Drive 0.25 mile to the large parking lot on the right. The trail begins at the east end of the parking lot, up the gravel road and to the left. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park here. google map
- Hyak. Leave I-90 at exit #54, turn south at exit, turn east (left) on Hwy-906, 1/2 mile turn right on Lake Keechelus boat launch road, turn right on next road approx. 200 ft. In winter, you will need a Sno-Park permit to park in this lot. Google map
- Easton. Leave I-90 at exit #71, turn south to stop sign, cross Railroad Street, railroad tracks, turn left. Drive 1.4 mile to the parking area. Google map
- South Cle Elum. Leave I-90 at exit #84, follow signs to South Cle Elum. Once in town, follow signs to parking area. One of the original train depots is being restored here by the Cascade Rail Foundation and is quite interesting to see. 
- Thorp. Leave I-90 at exit #101, turn north on Thorp Hwy, 1/2 mile turn left on Thorp Depot Road and 1/4 mile to parking area.
- Ellensburg. The trail cuts right through town and goes through Central Washington University. Google map
- Kittitas. Take I-90 to Exit 115. Head north towards town on Main St for about .75 miles where you'll find the trail and the old railroad station. Google map
- Boylston/Army West. A permit is required between here and the Columbia River. This section can be closed if the military is conducting exercises in the area. Contact Ginko/Wanapum State Park before heading out. Take I-90 to Kittitas Exit 115. Take the exit toward the south side of I-90 and then make your way on the roads alongside the freeway heading east for approx 5 or 6 miles. Just past the trestle over I-90 you'll find a parking lot. Google map
- Columbia River. A permit is required between here and the Boylston trailhead. This section can be closed if the military is conducting exercises in the area. Contact Ginko/Wanapum State Park before heading out. Take I-90 to the Vantage/Huntzinger Rd Exit 136. Head south on Huntzinger Rd for approximately 7 miles where you'll cross the trail. Look for a gravel road on your right and take this road up to the parking lot. Google map
This West Cascades part of this trail has a well maintained gravel surface and there are rarely any potholes. East of Snoqualmie Pass the trail has a variable surface. Most of the time it is nice hard gravel, but there are a few spots where the surface is a bit looser. Generally, the further east you get, the looser the trail surface becomes. East of the Thorp trailhead, you'll find little to no shade - it get's hot in the summer! East of Ellensburg, the trail becomes quite loose and riding can be difficult.
The ride between the South CleElum trailhead and the Thorp trailhead passes through the upper Yakima River canyon and is quite nice. There are two small tunnels in this section, and it's best to have a flashlight handy.
The Snoqualmie tunnel is closed annually from Nov. 1 until May 1, depending on conditions.
--Bcrowley20 13:41, 5 September 2011 (PDT)Snoqualmie Tunnel is open. The tunnels near Easton State park are marked closed, but they are not fenced. The bridge over the Yakima River near Easton State Park is gated closed. A detour through Easton State Park is provided.
The Snoqualmie tunnel will reopen on May 15, 2007 due to heavy snowpack this year. Justin 13:13, 25 March 2007 (PDT)
Still a lot of snow at the Hyak trailhead. Tunnel is still closed as of yesterday (25 May 2008). --Leswashburn 17:20, 26 May 2008 (PDT)
Several tunnels are closed along the trail as of 8/1/2009. See: the Washington State Parks website: Iron Horse State Park
You can go to any trailhead and ride out until you're tired and then head back. If you are doing an out-and-back it is more pleasant to start out heading uphill.
Another popular option for families is to leave a car at a lower trailhead and shuttle in another car up to Hyak and do a downhill ride back to your first car.
Washington State Parks  website has quite a bit of useful information.
Seattle Post Intelligencer article from our frind Greg Johnston.
A good resource is the book Kissing the Trail by BBTC supporter John Zilly.
List your personal favorite route on the Iron Horse Trail here:
My favorite way to ride the Iron Horse is to start in downtown Snoqualmie, near the Mt. Si Golf Course and ride the wide, gravel Snoqualmie Valley Trail to its terminus near Rattlesnake Lake and Cedar Falls, then begin riding the Iron Horse trail uphill towards Snoqualmie Pass until I get tired. Then I just turn around and retrace my route. Rattlesnake Lake is a great spot to have lunch or even go for a swim during a long training ride like this. Enduro 15:01, 20 March 2008 (PDT)
Local Points of Interest
Here you might list nearby places to get a bite to eat, nearby bike shops, etc.
- Iron Horse State Park
- Ginkgo/Wanapum State Park
- Milwaukee Road's South Cle Elum Site Restoration Project
- Cedar River Watershed Education Center at the Cedar Falls trailhead
The Snoqualmie Pass tunnel needs significant maintenance and State Parks is seeking funding for the repairs. The work needed is to keep the lining of the tunnel from falling apart and could cost upwards of $10 million. The tunnel may be closed in the future for safety reasons and State Parks is considering on-grade reroutes to keep the trail open across the pass.
The Army owns the section of the trail between the Columbia River and Boylston and there are occassional rumblings that they will close it to public use.