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Snoqualmie Tunnel(sh)
aka Iron Horse Trail(sh)

There are two interesting cycling summits in the Snoqualmie Pass area. This is the lower one, and also the more interesting. Its main attraction is an unlit 2.2 mile long tunnel through the top, and also a couple of bridges. The Iron Horse Trail follows the old railbed of the "Milwaukee Railroad"

1.(00.0m,1960ft)START-END EAST:old Cle Elum depot
2.(21.3m,2150ft)Iron Horse Trail crosses Stampede Pass Rd.
3.(29.6m,2600ft)TOP:eastern entrance to Snoquamie Tunnel
4.(31.8m,2530ft)western entrance to tunnel
5.(42.5m,1650ft)dirt road crossing connects with Homestead Rd in valley
6.(45.7m,1380ft)this dirt road crossing also connect with Homestead Rd
7.(51.0m,960ft)START-END WEST: western trailhead to Iron Horse Trail


From East.
For the Milwaukee Road Cle Elum was the beginning of the mountain section across the Cascades. There was a roundhouse for helper engines, a turntable and an electric substation. Today the depot houses a restaurant. The remnants of the roundhouse are adorned with a whole series of informational tablets, detailing many aspects of the Milwaukee Railroad' hostory. The two cabooses on the grounds look a little forlorn. but it is still the most extensive set of railroad souvenirs along the trail. Surprisingly the elevation gain between here and the summit at the tunnel is only a little more than 500ft.

But riding the trail today, it seems that the next town is really the point of transition: Easton. There is no perceived change in gradient, flat is flat. But the forest becomes thicker, the temperature drops dramatically when the sun from here on is filtered through a thick canopy of trees. It's time to put away the sun glasses. The surface also improves for biking. The last miles before getting to Easton are quite a chore, due to a newly graveled road that has not been compressed properly.

Leaving Easton, the diminutive hills next to the trail are replaced by the first far views of real mountains: the high Cascades. They first appear as background to Lake Easton State Park just before crossing the lake on a new trail bridge. Miles later the first tunnel appears out of nowhere. If you like this one - just wait for the summit. Another interesting museum type informational tablet in the wilderness talks about the silk trains, that used to run from Seattle eastwards. They had right of way over everything else including people express trains, in order to transport easily spoilable, and price unstable silk to processing centers in silk trains, pulled by bipolar electric engines.

The nicest part of the trail on this side is - I imagine - also is the nicest part, of what was the rail journey in the glas covered "Superdome" car, and that is the handful of miles along the south side of Keechelus Lake just before the summit. The busy interstae stays on the north side of the lake, while the trail is away from all the noise, running along its southern shore.

The lake has a strangely apocalyptic appearance, because of the hundreds of tree stumps left on its shore to accommodate high water - while right now the lake seems almost empty. Even along the lake, many times the trail dives into deep quiet forest and a few Cascade Peaks loom above.

 The tunnel entrance is the highest point - by just a few feet. It comes a short distance after the Hyak trailhead,  Here an old railstation has been refunctionalized into multiple toilets - not the most beautiful railroad station I have ever seen, but probably the most "beautiful" set of toilets. There are no dire warning signs about the impending prolonged darkness when approaching this point - unusual for a country where you are warned about every tiny thing. Approaching the tunnel on a warm day, a moist cold wind flows out of it like a river. For those not in the mood for 2.25 miles of utter darkness there is an option to climb a little further to Snowqualmie Pass and then find the descend down its west side.

From West. (described downwards). This is a well behaved tunnel, but it is completely unlit and very long. It has a slight bend, but as soon as you enter you can make out the tiny dot of light on the other side. So there is no danger of getting lost or tripping over stuff, but instead of loosing things in the dark and running into the tunnel walls - if you do not carry a good light. I met one cyclist along the way who prides himself in going through this tunnel without a light, or at most with the illumiation of a cell phone. But it is much more fun with a light - I think. I met a total of 5 people in the tunnel, all hikers with tiny flashlights that were hardly visible.

2.2 miles later the daylight returns in full glory, and sheds onto a beautiful view of I90, far below, marching up the valley on stilts. The railtrail traverses along the hillside all the way to Cedar Falls and looses elevation very gradually and steadily - as expected. Along the way the fast, well surfaced dirt trail passes over two high metal trestle bridges, and a handful of smaller ones - also a reconstructed snow shed and signs marking the old siding names.

The connection to the rails is all in memory, Signs along the way recall the history and the trains, but there is nothing left except the grade the trail is on. Instead several single track trails give the handful of mountain bikers a chance to explore the forested hills further. The bikers with the panniers probably have other things on their mind.

After all this rail fantasizing, somehow I expect to find a park of old historic engines at the trailhead in Cedar Falls - after all it's  name is "Iron Horse State Park". But there is nothing of that kind - just a lake in the woods. The profile continues to descend further on a connecting rail trail - the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, which winds further down into the valley to a low point near I90.

cLiCk on image , arrows , or thumbnails to advance slideshow

A Dayride with this point as shoulder point is on page:  Snoqualmie Pass

Historical Notes:

The Chicago, Milwaukee and St Paul Railroad started operation on this line in 1881. In the coming decades the "St Paul" mutated to "Puget Sound" and then "St Paul and Pacific". Maybe that is the reason that this railroad is generally known by the geographically more general part of its name the "Milwaukee Road"

Passenger service on this western extension railline began in 1910, a year after it was completed. Trains operated between Chicago and Puget Sound and were electrifed with bi-polar motors starting in 1920. Old photographs of the most popular trainset of the railroad profilferate: the streamlined Olympia Hiawathan. It started running just after WW2 in 1947. Curiousely this was a diesel train on this the most electrified of all American railroads. It took 45 hours between Chicago and Seattle.


However business was not going as good, as the flashy train might inidcate. The 23 million dollars that the western extension cost was three times the original estimate. There was also more competition, not so much from other railroads, but from the Panama Canal for the overland traffic and also from the automobile. The decline was long and painful. First reorganized in 1927, the company went bankrupt anyway, in 1935. Reorganized encore lead to final bankruptcy in 1977, with the remains sold and buried in 1985.

The bike trail, also named after a non biking old movie star of bad cliche Hollywood westerns (think the name is John Wayne), was opened in 1985