Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail
(formerly Iron Horse State Park Trail)
From the densely forested Cascades to the scablands carved by the Ice Age floods, Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail gives hikers, cyclists and, in some places, equestrians, a taste of Washington’s diversity. So, hop on your bike or dust off your backpack, and take to the trail! This linear park runs from west of North Bend to the Columbia River near Vantage – and continues from the town of Lind to the Idaho border.
Heading east on this historic rail trail (part of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad from 1909 to 1980), travelers pass lush, vast Olallie State Park, with its waterfalls and seasonal colors. Explorers continue through the mountain pass into dark tunnels and over high trestles, until the landscape gives way to the amber-hued farmlands of eastern Washington. And, railroad buffs, don’t miss the historic train depots at South Cle Elum and Kittitas along the way.
You can take this trail in one-day sections or as a long-distance hiking or biking trip through diverse environments. Trailheads and access points are located every few miles along the trail. Camping can be found at Lake Easton State Park, just off the trail near Easton, and Wanapum Recreation Area, a few miles south of Vantage. Primitive campsites are available west of Thorp along the trail.
The 5,794-acre, 250-mile Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail reflects State Parks’ long-term commitment to developing cross-state trails. It is part of an emerging multi-state trail system. The Milwaukee Road Railroad right-of-way, which includes the Palouse to Cascades Trail, travels east into Idaho.
Improvements have been made to the portion west of the Columbia River, and plans are in place to improve the 9-mile segment from Malden to Rosalia on the eastern portion. The center section, between Royal City Junction and Warden has intact rail; it is not used as part of the recreational trail at this time.
From Renslow to the Columbia River: The trail runs through the Yakima Training Center, managed by the U.S Army. Trail users are required to self-register at one of the two trailheads at Renslow (west) or Doris (east). View other rules (PDF) for using the trail through the Yakima Training Center.
Registration form - between Beverly and the Idaho border: Washington State Parks now manages the entire trail from Beverly to the Idaho border. Users must pre-register to use this section of the trail. Registration can be completed up to a year in duration. Individual trail users and groups of 19 and less may complete and submit the registration online. Groups of 20 or more should call the park office at (509) 337-6457.
Plan ahead Long distance through-hikes or cycling trips require planning and extra gear and provisions, particularly water. Some detours are needed around rail lines, missing bridges and private property. Be sure to check conditions before you go. The state-managed corridor is typically 50 feet on either side of the center of the trail, but this varies. Please respect private property along the trail.
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.
Automated pay station: An automated pay station is located at the Hyak trailhead for visitors to purchase a one-day or annual Discover Pass (April 1- Nov. 30) and Sno-Park permit (Dec. 1-March 31). Donations are accepted a this station year-round.
- Hiking trail
Use our interactive ADA recreation map to search for other state parks with ADA amenities and facilities.
- 250 miles of biking trails
- 250 miles of hiking trails
- 250 miles of horse trails
Water activities & features
- Freshwater fishing
Winter activities & features
- Cross-country skiing
- Dog sledding
Other activities & features
- Bird watching
- Mountain biking
- Bike repair station
- Rock climbing
- Wildlife viewing
Kiosks and panels are installed at Hyak, Easton, South Cle Elum, Thorp and Kittitas with a map of the trail and interpretive information.
- The trail meanders through a variety of ecosystems and geological zones.
- No motorized vehicles are allowed on the trail except for snowmobiles in winter, which are allowed from Stampede Pass Road to Cabin Creek.
- Horse-drawn wagon users must obtain a gate combination access agreement from Lake Easton State Park.
- Winter sport opportunities are available. Sno-Parks require a seasonal or day permit from Dec. 1 - March 31. Hyak, Crystal Springs and Lake Easton sno-parks also require a groomed trail sticker with the seasonal Sno-Park Permit. A sticker is not required with a daily Sno-Park Permit. For more information, call (509) 656-2230.
- A recreational license is required for fishing and shellfish harvesting at Washington state parks. For regulations, fishing season information, or to purchase a recreational license, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
- Printable park brochure (PDF).
There are five primitive campgrounds along the trail, each with three to four campsites, one picnic table, and a vault toilet. Campsites are walk in or bike in only. They are located at milepost 2109.5 at Roaring Creek, milepost 2113.2 at Cold Creek, milepost 2123.2 at Carter Creek, and milepost 2127.1 at Alice Creek, and at Ponderosa Pines in the Yakima Canyon.
Check-in time is 2:30 p.m.
Check-out time is 1 p.m.
Camping is also available near the trail at U.S. Forest Service campgrounds at Tinkham, Denny Creek, Lake Kachess, and Crystal Springs. There is state park camping at Lake Easton and Wanapum Recreation Area.
Reservations & fees
The Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail traces the historic route of the Washington State section of the Milwaukee Road, a railroad that once stretched over 2,300 miles from Chicago to Tacoma.
The Milwaukee Road was the last of three transcontinental railroads built through Washington. It followed the Northern Pacific, which famously reached Tacoma in 1883, and the Great Northern, which reached Everett ten years later.
The Milwaukee Road route was developed by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Company (the company’s name changed several times throughout its history). In 1905, the company made the decision to expand its line from Mobridge, South Dakota to Puget Sound in Washington. Unlike earlier transcontinental railroads, the Milwaukee Road was built on independently purchased land without the benefit of federal land grants. Its late start and strong competition encouraged the railroad to be resourceful and efficient. Construction of the Milwaukee Road started in 1906, and freight service began just three years later in 1909, an incredible pace. Passenger service followed in 1911.
The legacy of the Milwaukee Road is primarily technological. The route’s rapid construction was enabled by a highly mechanized approach using steam shovels and narrow-gauge construction railroads, which required fewer laborers than earlier railroads. In 1911 railroad leaders began an ambitious first-of-its-kind project to convert long sections of the route to fully electrified lines. This advance allowed for carrying heavier loads with fewer locomotives and staff and required less maintenance than steam locomotives. Soon after electrifying a 440-mile stretch of track in Montana and Idaho, electrification was completed on the Milwaukee Road’s Coast Division, the 209-mile section between Othello, Washington and Tacoma, Washington. The combined distance made the Milwaukee Road the world’s longest electrified line. The Milwaukee Road also pioneered the use of regenerative braking, which allowed locomotives to generate additional electrical power while braking.
Despite its advanced technology, the Milwaukee Road was financially troubled for most of its history. The downside to electrification was the extremely high cost to develop the lines. Projected increases in freight traffic never fully materialized, and the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 offered companies another way to ship goods between the east and west coasts. Additional loss of freight and passenger traffic resulted from the growing use of automobiles.
The company suffered its first bankruptcy in 1925 and entered receivership (a form of bankruptcy) again during the Great Depression and lasting until after World War II. In 1972, after decades of mounting losses and deferred maintenance, the Milwaukee Road made a last-ditch effort to stay operable by abandoning their electrified lines and switching to diesel. The move was unsuccessful, and bankruptcy proceedings began in 1977. In 1980 the railroad closed permanently. Efforts to convert the route into a cross-state trail began the following year.