Looking for an active road trip adventure? Get out your mountain or hybrid bike, pack your hiking boots and plan to visit a little-known Washington treasure.
The 3,876-acre, 130-mile Columbia Plateau State Park Trail is one of the state’s hidden riches; explorers who find it are rewarded with big eastern Washington skies, rolling landscapes and unforgettable journeys.
Start from the Fish Lake trailhead at the trail’s northern end. Pass through 4.75 miles of Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, home to deer, elk, moose, small mammals and 200 species of birds. (The best times to visit are early morning and evening.) Between March and May, and September and November, you’ll be treated to spring and fall bird migrations; you may even see a trumpeter swan. The 23-mile improved trail provides rest and swim stops at Cheney and Amber Lake and ends at Martin Road. Most hikers arrange for an overnight stay or a car shuttle. The first 3.75 miles is an asphalt trail; the remaining 19.25 miles are crushed gravel.
The southern end of the trail overlays the former Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railroad opened in 1908. The trail follows the Snake River from the impressive Ice Harbor Dam to the Snake River Junction 15 miles north. This section made of crushed gravel welcomes walkers, bikers and equestrians. The trail has several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers access points.
The trail’s nearly 100-mile midsection remains undeveloped and goes for long stretches without resources such as food supplies, potable water and first aid. It is only recommended for expert long-distance hikers who undertake careful planning.
Columbia Plateau is part of State Parks’ commitment to long-distance recreation trails, and long-range plans include developing trail through Devil’s Canyon to Benge, with segments along the Palouse River and a connection to Sacajawea State Park.
Once you’ve covered the two ends of the trail, why not check out Washington’s state waterfall and its dramatic surroundings at Palouse Falls State Park. Plan a picnic overlooking the falls before starting the last leg of travel – the drive home.
Discover Pass: A Discover Pass is required for vehicle access to state parks for day use. For more information about the Discover Pass and exemptions, please visit the Discover Pass web page.
In the early 1900s, the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway Company constructed a rail bed in the area. The company, which never actually connected the line from Portland to Seattle, operated the steam, and later diesel, railway for more than 50 years. It was said that the owner, James Hill, promoted the railway as a Seattle connection only to mislead competing railroad developers.
The Burlington Northern Company operated the rail line for many years after, until the company abandoned it in 1987. State Parks acquired the land in 1991. Remains of reservoirs, reservoir flumes, and homes of former railroad employees and other developments also are apparent along sections of the trail. The historic trestle over Burr Canyon was built in 1908.