The John Wayne Pioneer Trail
The John Wayne Pioneer Trail follows the route of the old Milwaukee Railroad. It runs East/West across the State of Washington. Most of the route is administered by Washington State Parks. In 2018 the State of Washington renamed the trail the “Palouse to Cascades Trail”.
The Milwaukee railroad built the Chicago to Seattle line between 1906 and 1909. In 1915 it was electrified. The last train ran in 1972 and the route was abandoned in 1980. There was immediate controversy on how to use the right of way. Chic Hollenbeck, founder of the original JWPWR group, spearheaded the effort to convert the right of way to a trail.
Heading east from Rattlesnake Lake near Seattle, the trail edges its way up the Cascade mountains, traverses the range through a 2.3 mile long tunnel, winds along the edge of Lake Keechelus, passes through irrigated farmland and descends down a series of nine switchbacks to the Columbia River. The Trail continues east through wetlands, cattle ranches and scablands, ending in the Palouse wheat fields in the small town of Tekoa.
The western segment of the Trail is in Iron Horse State Park. There are marked trailheads, a well maintained surface, controlled access and good signage. It is characterized by mountains, high trestles, irrigated farm land and high desert. The eastern segment is more primitive. The trail crosses large pastures and open rangelands and bisects small ranching communities. The Columbia River divides the two segments.
The trail is open to all non-motorized uses. Its gentle gravel surface is popular with cyclists, hikers, birders, horseback riders, teamsters and cross country skiers. The western segment, which is closer to Seattle and more accessible, is more heavily used than the eastern segment.