Iron Horse Trail Ride Report (Almost)

On July 5, 2011, the Snoqualmie Tunnel was re-opened after completion of a significant repair project. This tunnel is part of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Iron Horse State Park just east of Seattle, WA. It was closed in 2009 (actually didn't reopen after the '08-'09 winter closure) due to safety concerns (falling rocks and an underground RIVER flowing through it). The tunnel was fenced off with big warning signs advising you not to enter...

Snoqualmie Tunnel east entrance, Snoqualmie Pass, WA, as it looked in 2009-2011 during the safety closure. 

This tunnel has been on my "bucket ride" list ever since I heard of it when I first moved back to WA in 2001. I never made it up there until they closed it. Then the economic downturn and state budget cuts made it seem like they would never get it fixed. I heard about the opening several days after it happened (I was out of town on vacation at the time) and was pleasantly surprised.

Trail surface: gravel, packed gravel, and packed dirt.

Bike recommendations: anything with tires wider than 28mm (i.e. don't ride on a road bike with skinny tires). Cyclocross bikes should be fine. The last time I rode I was on a bike with 26" x 1.7" road tires and they worked great.

The WA State Park Service has contracted with a private company to provide a shuttle from the trailhead, near Cedar Falls and Rattlesnake Lake, all the way up to the summit at Hyak. This allows you to park your car and, for somewhere around $20, you and your bike can be shuttled up to the top and ride the ~23 miles downhill back to your vehicle. Total time, including shuttle ride, should be in the neighborhood of 3 hours.

I fully intended to ride through the tunnel with 2 of my kids (the 2 that can ride) leaving the other home with Mom but when Saturday arrived Mom was sick in bed. Change of plans! Our ride down the trail turned into a hike through the tunnel with some geocaching thrown in for good measure.

We started out playing the compass game...

Playing the compass game at Snoqualmie Pass, WA

To play the compass game you simply find an object in the distance, using your compass to get the magnetic bearing. Then you have someone else stand in the exact same spot (very important!) and try to determine which object you were pointing at using only the compass bearing. My kids love to try to stump Dad but I always get it. }B^)

We ate some lunch and read the information signs at the Hyak parking lot along the trail.

Informational board at the Hyak parking lot, Iron Horse State Park, WA

And then we hiked the very short distance (less than 1/3 of a mile) to the tunnel entrance. This is the east entrance of the Snoqualmie Tunnel.

East entrance of the Snoqualmie Tunnel, Iron Horse State Park, WA

Inside the tunnel we hiked for about half a mile before we turned back. My boys were not in the mood to hike the nearly 2.5 miles to the west entrance on the other side of Mt. Catherine. So we hiked in a bit, found a geocache, and called it a day.

Looking out toward the east entrance, Snoqualmie Tunnel, Iron Horse State Park, WA

So the tunnel is open ready for riders. The trail in the tunnel was very smooth but a bit moist. There are a few dripping leaks from the roof (expected in a 100+ year old tunnel) but the eastern 1/3 of the tunnel is virtually brand new trail surface and walls/ceiling. I'll be back again this summer with my boys to ride the tunnel and trail again.

Our next stop was a great little lake called "Gold Creek Pond", a reclaimed gravel pit right across the freeway from Hyak on I-90. This is a very picturesque lake with picnic tables, a paved trail around the perimeter, and great views of the mountains. We intended to ride our bikes on the perimeter trail but USFS rules stated "no bikes" so we ended up walking.

Gold Creek Pond near Snoqualmie Pass, WA

If you are looking for a quick picnic at Snoqualmie Pass this is a great place. The trail was flat and easy, the picnic tables are 100 yards from the parking lot, and there weren't many people around.

To make up for the fact that we didn't get to ride in the tunnel or around the pond our next and final stop was the Marymoor Velodrome, Marymoor Park in Redmond, WA. This is one of my boys' favorite places to ride, and for good reason-

Marymoor Velodrome, Marymoor Park, Redmond, WA

The track itself is open to the public (when not in use for classes or races). The surface is textured concrete with banked turns and a 400m circumference. This is one of the few outdoor bike tracks in the western US and it is just a few miles from my house! I highly recommend checking it out and taking a few laps. 

As I was playing around on the track with my oldest son I broke the frame on one of my favorite bikes, my nearly 18 year old Schwinn High Plains. After nearly 10,000 miles it finally gave out under my weight. I can generate a lot of torque and have replaced many parts on this bike over the years. It's like losing an old friend. Yes, I almost cried.

Broken rear dropout, drive side on the rear wheel of my 1993 Schwinn High Plains after nearly 10,000 miles. Goodbye old friend! 

...but then I remembered something very important: NOW I CAN GO BIKE SHOPPING! In the past 3 years this bike has served as my year-round commuter bike and has seen everything from thunderstorms, sleet, and hail (which really hurts your face). Now I need another bike that can fill this void.

Upcoming posts: shopping updates!



Cycling Merit Badge

This weekend I had the pleasure of teaching a group of Boy Scouts about the joys of cycling. I have been a Cycling Merit Badge counselor for about 5 years now and find it very rewarding.

The main purpose of this post is to link to all the information I discussed in the class and give a short description of some of the routes I have used for the 10, 15, 25, and 50 mile rides required to finish the merit badge.


10 mile rides

Camp Piggot 10-mile loop

Marymoor Park to Redhook Brewery - very easy ride on the Sammamish River Trail.

15 mile rides

East Lake Sammamish Trail - Easy ride on a gravel surface (although they are paving the trail in the summer of 2011)

25 mile rides

Issaquah-Preston-Snoqualmie Trails - Easy to moderately challenging ride with a great view of Snoqualmie Falls at the end.

Snoqualmie Valley Trail - Snoqualmie Falls Easy trail up to the falls from Carnation.

50 mile ride

Marymoor - North Lake Washington Loop - moderately challenging ride around the north half of Lake WA. We finished it off with some laps around the track to make it an even 50 miles.

Iron Horse State Park - FABULOUS ride with great views. Can't go through the tunnel. Easy ride.


Cycling Skills:

Cycling Classes: Cascade Bicycle Club, REI

Bicycle Repair info: Sheldon Brown, Park Tool "Repair Help"

Low Cost Helmets: Cascade Bicycle Club Helmet Campaign

Ride Report: Presidents Day Ride 2011

Every Presidents Day holiday for the past few years I have organized an informal ride with friends. Those of you from the Seattle area should be shaking your heads by now. Why? Well, the average temp range for Presidents day in Seattle are a bit on the chilly side (Hi: 52F, Lo: 36F). Since I typically leave before 8am the temps can be somewhat chilly. In '08 the temp was 27F when I departed at 7:15 am. With this in mind attendance ranges anywhere from 2-15. Suprizingly my luck with weather on this ride has been fabulous: nothing more than fog, typically with lots of sun. This year was not different with overcast skies, slight snow flurries, and some breaks in the clouds.

Each year the ride typically ends up on the I-90 trail from Sammamish to Pac-Med in Seattle. This year we decided to do something different at the request of my son (Boy #1): the John Wayne Pioneer Trail at Iron Horse State Park. With some intrepidation and snow in the forecast we loaded up the car at 7am and headed for the trailhead. Unfortunately I forgot our camera so we had to make do with my cell phone camera (i.e. not the best quality pics/videos). Iron Horse State Park

For those not familiar, Iron Horse State Park is a "rails to trails" park that has one of the best kept secrets in WA state. One of our friends on this ride, a long time WA resident, had heard of the trail but never actually seen it. The trail is a retired rail bed converted into a hiking/bicycle trail (At the time of this writing, 2/23/2011, you could also use it as a cross country ski trail with all the snow received this week). I took a group of Boy Scouts on a 3-day ride on the same trail back in '09. The ride is easy (never more than a 2% grade), well maintained, and quite scenic with views of waterfalls, the Cascade Mountains, high bridges over the canyons, and lots of wildife.

We met up with a couple of friends (bringing the group size to 4) and headed out on our adventure. Some highlights:

  • The trail was smooth and frozen: warmer weather would have meant more mud to contend with.
  • Although there were a few small sink holes the trail was in great shape.
  • Lots and lots of ice on the cliffs and around the running streams but no ice over the trail. On one of the cliffs, where the ice covering the cliff face was beginning to melt, air bubbles were flowing with the runoff under the ice making it look like there were ants crawling underneath (I tried to take a video but it didn't turn out well).
  • We had remarkable visibility, despite the overcast skies, which gave us great views of the valleys and mountains.Views of the Mountains from the Mine Creek bridge
  • Best part of the ride (according to Boy #1): the fast ride down.
  • Good conversations with our friends over the course of the day.
  • We came across a mountain goat on the Deception Craggs climbing cliff. Very unexpected and cool.


  • Did I say it was chilly? BRRRR! (30F when we set out)
  • Someone had taken some pot shots at the signs with a shotgun. We saw other rifle/shotgun damage to signs, posts, and rocks as well as some clay pigeon remnants. They even shot the "no shooting" sign.
  • We only had 4 hours to do the ride, which meant we covered 8.5 miles before we had to turn around.

Lessons Learned:

  • Next time Boy #1 needs a bigger bike: 26" tires would have made a big speed improvement for him.
  • Drink more water. Although I brought 2x20 oz bottles, I didn't drink more than 10 oz.
  • Breaks needed to be longer in duration for our two younger riders. At 90 minutes Boy #1 struggled a bit.

After just over 2 hours we decided to return. As you can see in GPS ride profile the return trip was a bit faster than the first half. On the way home we stopped in Fall City at "Small Fries", one of our favorite hole-in-the-wall burger joints. That's how we top-off after a great ride in the mountains!