I love rail trails and some of my favorite winter hiking destinations and year round running routes throughout Washington are on rail trails. Rail trails offer safe traffic free running routes. They’re gently graded. They can be found all over the state from major urban areas to the state’s remotest regions. Many rail trails begin, end and connect excellent parks and greenbelts offering even more hiking and running opportunities.
I frequently train on rail trails for long distance runs and keep in shape throughout the year. I live close to several and chances are good that you live close by to a couple of them too. I also often cross-train on rail trails as well, mainly bicycling and mountain biking, and occasionally cross-country skiing. Rail trails are especially close to my running heart. I clocked my fastest marathon ever—a 3.03.29 on the old Seattle Marathon course which was run almost entirely on the Sammamish River and Burke-Gilman rail trails. I ran my very first Ultra race on a rail trail too—the Mount Si Ultra which utilizes the Snoqualmie Valley and John Wayne-Iron Horse rail trails.
Let me introduce to you five of the finest rail trails in western Washington. In subsequent posts, I’ll introduce you to some more. It’s quite a diverse array covering territory from the Columbia River Gorge to the Olympic Peninsula; and communities from Seattle to Raymond. Have fun exploring them!
Length: 23 miles
Highlights: farms, Skagit River and North Cascades views
Races on this trail: Woolley Runs; Cement City Trail Run
Details found in Urban Trails Bellingham
One of my favorite local rail trails, the Cascade Trail travels from Sedro-Woolley to Concrete along the Skagit River across farms, forest, and sloughs. The eastern and western ends are the most scenic with mountain, farm and river views. Eagles, elk and other wildlife can frequently be observed along this trail.
Cedar River Trail
Length: 17.3 miles
Surface: paved and dirt
Highlights: Cedar River views
Details found in Urban Trails Seattle (due for release in 2018)
Walk or run from Lake Washington all the way to Landsburg at the boundary of Seattle’s Cedar River Watershed. While most of this mostly paved trail parallels the busy Maple Valley Highway and is appealing more to bicyclists than pedestrians; the western three miles or so within the Renton City limits are a pure delight to walk or run. Here you can walk on a beautifully landscaped brick riverside path that feels like it is straight out of Europe. And just beyond—the path traverses an emerald hollow that is pure Northwest wild. The eastern stretches are wonderful too having you cross the river a couple of times on historic trestles.
Length: 30 miles
Highlights: Lake Cassidy, historic Nakashima Barn
Races on this trail: River and Rails Run; Walk and Roll Run
Details found in Urban Trails Everett (Due for release in 2018)
Another one of my favorite local rail trails, the Centennial Trail traverses a rural fringe from Snohomish to the Skagit County line. Recently. The northern reaches of this trail travels along Bryant Lake and through thick forest to an historic barn and farm now a county park. There are several old trestles and bridges including one over the Stillaguamish River.
Length: 31 miles
Highlights: Swale Canyon, Klickitat River, Fisher Trestle
Races on this trail: Klickitat Trail Half Marathon and 5K;
Details found in Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge
Photo above of the Swale Canyon section of the trail.
This is a gorgeous rail trail through spectacular scenery of canyons, oak forest and along the wild and scenic Klickitat River. Rapids, wildflowers and eagles are abundant along the way. The restored Fisher Trestle spans a narrow chasm above the thundering river where Native Peoples still dipnet fish from plankings.
Length: 14.5 miles
Highlights: rural countryside, Mount Rainier views
Details found in Urban Trails Olympia
This near level trail connects Tenino to Yelm following alongside SR 507. Most of the way is across farm and forest lands with some stretches of wetlands and a crossing of the Deschutes River. The section along McIntosh Lake is exceptionally scenic. The trail connects to the 22-mile Chehalis-Western Trail allowing for some very long distance running or hiking!