A Planning Guide to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail

A Planning Guide to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail


The John Wayne Pioneer Trail from Rattlesnake Lake to Alice Creek
The trail climbs into the mountains crossing the old railroad trestles of the “Milwaukee Road” railway – abandoned in 1980

Washington State’s John Wayne Pioneer Trail and Iron Horse State Park is just emerging as a premier long-distance multi-use trail. Built along the old “Milwaukee Road” railroad grade the trail stretches from North Bend to the Idaho border, although the further east you go from the Snoqualmie Tunnel, the worse the trail conditions get.

The trail is a multi-use trail open to hikers, bicycles, horses, and in many places, snowmobiles. The trail would make for excellent snow-shoeing in the winter.

There are several, lightly used, back-country camping areas between Rattlesnake Lake and Easton State Park. While the trail and camping areas between Rattlesnake lake and Easton State Park are in good conditions, the trail is lightly traveled East of Hyak, and there are a few things you will want to keep in mind when planning your trip on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.


John Wayne Pioneer Trail
A bridge across the Yakima River near Lake Easton State Park on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail


Some Distances

Distances both on the map and along the trail are given between trail-heads, not camp grounds. This is useful for Cyclists, but not really for hikers. Here is a distance list from campground to campground. The distances on this list are approximate as I can’t verify the accuracy of my GPS tracking software.

  1. Cedar Falls Trail-head to Alice Creek – 11 miles.  Intersecting hiking trails – Twin Falls and McClellan Butte
  2. Alice Creek Campground to Carter Creek Campground – 4 miles
  3. Carter Creek Campground to Cold Creek Campground – 10 miles.  Intersecting Hiking Trails: Angela Lake
  4. Cold Creek Campground to Roaring Creek Campground – 3.5 miles
  5. Roaring Creek Campground to Easton State Park (Gate) – 15 miles
  6. The Easton trail-head to Cle Elum is another 11+ miles – but I didn’t walk that leg so I can’t verify the campground to campground mileage.


Camping Fees

The John Wayne Pioneer Trail from Rattlesnake Lake to Alice Creek
The Alice Creek back-country camping area is a shadeless, exposed affair that sits right up against the path

Each campground has a semi-policed honor-system payment method where you place cash (or check if you have a US bank account) in an envelope and stick it in a box. The Rangers do check from time to time so it worth being honest – besides, you are paying for the maintenance of the sites and facilities.

The fee (verified summer of 2015) for one night in a “back country” site along the trail is $5.00. Fires are not permitted in these sites so be sure to pack a camp stove or cold food.

The fee for one night in one of Easton State Park’s Hiker/Biker Spots is $12 dollars.


John Wayne Pioneer Trail Overnight Gear List

This is by no means a definitive packing list, but here are some things you will need if you plan to spend the night in one of the back country camp sites along the John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Washington’s Iron Horse State Park.

  1. Water Filter There is NO drinking water along the trail. None. You are welcome to take your chances with the streams and brooks – but my advice is to pick up a water filter or purifier. You can get these at most outdoors stores including REI.
  2. Camp Stove Fires are not permitted in back-country sites – invest in small, portable camp stove – especially if you are a coffee drinker.
  3. Headlamp You will need it for the tunnels and the camp grounds. Even the short tunnels show no light in the center.
  4. Sunscreen…Or protective clothing, or both. There are places along the trail where you can’t get away from the sun, so it is important to bring protection.
  5. Enough Food OK – this one is huge – if you are planning on spending multiple days on the trail the first access to food is at Easton State Park. At Easton you will find a couple of diners and a gas station convenience store. Make sure you calculate carefully and pack what you will need.
  6. Quarters…if you want a shower. There is a shower in one of the bathroom stalls in Hyak. Two quarters buys you three minutes of shower time – but the machine only takes quarters. There are also showers at Easton State park, but they are operated by tokens which you can purchase using $1’s or $5’s from the machine at the reception office.


Thoughts for Hikers:

The John Wayne Pioneer Trail is built along an abandoned railroad bed. This means it never really gets very steep and that there are frequent, long straight stretches – not exactly the most interesting hiking. An alternative to walking the trail straight is to spend some time in the Alice Creek or Carter Creek Camping areas to hike some of scenic trails that intersect the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.


Some Helpful Links

Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and Trail Link both have some good, general information about the trail and trail conditions.

the Washington State Parks website has a general map of the trail including intersecting hiking trails, tunnels, trestles, and distances between trail heads

The Mountains to Sound Greenway website has an interactive map of the area as well as organized events along the trail.

John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association plans annual rides (horseback and by wagon) across the state of Washington.

The National Recreation Trails website gives details about trail access and the permitted activities and fees along the way.

Washingtonclimbers.org has information about rock climbing along the trail.

You can also read my write-ups from my Summer 2015 trip: Rattlesnake Lake to Alice Creek, Alice Creek to Cold Creek, Cold Creek to Roaring Creek, and Roaring Creek to Easton State Park.


Happy Trails!

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