Iron Horse Trail To Tunnel
There are many reasons not to
like this hike. It's on an old railroad grade that is now just a gravel road.
It passes under four huge power transmission towers. Several sections are
in sight of a main road. This is not a trip I would take on a sunny summer
day. However, on a cold fall day it can be very beautiful. It had been 10
years since I last hiked all the way to the tunnel. In an unusual twist it
was clear all the way to Snoqualmie Pass and cloudy over the east side. I
reached the trailhead just beyond South Cle Elum at 8:30. I was the only
car in the small lot. There was a little snow on the ground and it was about
35 degrees. Thankfully, there was not much wind. I dropped down to the trail
and quickly left the road and houses. The trail follows the Yakima River
with a steep hillside on the other side. Most of the way was on a thin layer
of snow which looks much better than gravel. All the still water was frozen
solid. In season the leaves would make a great display. I was a little late
although some color still remained.
After about a mile the Teanaway River merged with the
Yakima. The water flow improved significantly. Since the last snow someone
had driven the whole distance to the tunnel. It would have been much nicer
with no tread marks in the snow. There were many footprints in the snow
at first. They thinned out farther down but at least one person went all
the way to the tunnel. At about 3 miles I reached the power lines. They
are huge and numerous. The buzzing was just a bit unnerving. Across the
river are several farms with animals out in the fields. Earlier the grass
would have been golden. Now it is just pale as the color has faded. Beyond
the power lines is an enormous cement drainage ditch. When it is flowing
it looks like a scary water slide right into the Yakima River. This day it
was empty. Soon I came to the old water wheel on the other side of the river.
It is no longer used but is in relatively good shape. I have seen deer along
the trail and many birds including raptors. This day I kept flushing birds
and the flapping noise against the complete quiet startled me every time.
Some were the size of grouse but I seldom had much of a view before they
The next sight was a large open field on the right.
It is usually empty but this day it was full of horses. They were munching
breakfast through the snow. Every one of them looked at me as I passed. More
to the point they never took their eyes off of me. I guess either they don't
see many people along here or they expected me to be the guy bringing some
real food. There wasn't much grass for them to eat. After the field the canyon
narrowed again. High above and out of sight and sound is the I-90 rest area
on Indian John Hill. Down in the canyon there was just me and the river.
At about 5 miles I came to the old "town" of Horlick.
Harvey Manning called it a town in his 100 hikes book. It would take lots
of imagination to see a town in this spot. What must have been a train depot
is still standing between the grade and the river. It is just barely still
standing. "For rent" is painted on the building but I doubt they will
have any takers. One other building is still standing as well. I think on
my first time here there was at least one more building standing. After
Horlick there are steep walls to the canyon all the way to the tunnel. The
operating trail tracks are on the opposite side of the river just across
the way. Highway 10 is also now just across the river. This was once the
main cross state highway before I-90 was built. It is still a much more scenic
way to get to Ellensburg. My feet were telling me I must be getting close
to the tunnel. I can hike all day on soft trail but after 21 years of constant
hiking I can not take much hard gravel. At least the snow softened my steps
a little. A few more twist and turns of the river and I could see where the
tunnel would be. A few more minutes of slogging and I finally reached the
tunnel after 7 1/2 miles. In that distance I had dropped a whole 200'. This
is about as flat a hike as can be done. You can't hike this far and not go
through the tunnel. It is not very long as it took only about 5 minutes to
transit. The fun is in the fact that the tunnel makes a continuous curve.
As you walk into total darkness there is no light ahead for a short distance.
When you see a sliver of light ahead there is none behind. I carry a headlamp
but that would be no fun. I walked through without a light. The black in
the middle is such that you can't see your hand right in front of your face.
I enjoyed hiking through. Of course, I also hiked through the long Snoqualmie
tunnel without using a light.
There used to be signs stating that the next section
was closed to travel. I did not see any signs this time. Perhaps it's now
OK to keep going. I had lunch just above the river. It took me 2:22 to reach
the tunnel. That works out to 19 minutes per mile while slowing to take
75 photos. It was cold enough that within 30 minutes I was ready to get
moving again. The return trip was a little warmer as it likely reached near
40 degrees in the afternoon. The return was slower as I took more time for
photos and my heels let me know how much they hate hard packed gravel. Even
at a slower pace I made it back to the car at 2:30. For about the 20th time
this year I saw nobody the whole day. I really like getting away from the
city and getting away from everyone once in awhile. A little snow and no
people makes this an infinitely more enjoyable trip than it would be in the
On the way home I stopped in South Cle Elum to check
out the official Iron Horse State Park - John Wayne Trail trailhead. As
I expected it requires a $5.00 parking deposit. I was pleased to see that
the city and Washington State Parks have collaborated to restore the old
train depot. It is not open but looks to be nearly done. The totals on the
day were 15 miles with a huge 200' of elevation gained. It was a nice day
to revisit an old favorite.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Photo Page 2
Barn At Start
Leaves On The Trail
Snow On Trail
Golden And Green
Along The Trail
Barn And Horses