Walking the John Wayne Pioneer Trail
Day 4: Roaring Creek to Easton State Park
The walk from Roaring Creek to Easton State Park was always going to be the longest. The signposts that mark the distance between trail-heads put the distance between Hyak and Easton at 18 miles. By my calculations, that made the distance from Roaring Creek to Easton State Park around 13 miles – not including the walk into the state park from the trail.
Racing the Summer Heat
Bonnie and I packed up camp at the earliest signs of light. I wanted to get an early start on the day. We had a long way to go and I knew that once the sun rose over the hills, the heat would set in and the walk would be brutal.
I took advantage of the early morning solitude to give Bonnie some much needed off-leash time. Leash laws in Washington State Parks are enforced and the fine is $87, so she has spent most of this trip on leash. There is nothing Bonnie likes to do more than run, and it is tough to get a good run in when you are stuck on a leash. Bonnie spent the first hour of the walk racing along the trail and then running back to me. Once she got the run out of her system, she settled into a comfortable trot that matched my pace.
I munched on a granola bar as the sun rose red into a smoke-filled sky. Washington state was in the middle of a drought and several wildfires burned on both east, and west sides of the Cascade Mountains. Whether by wind, or by worsening fires, the normally blue sky was a hazy yellow, and the sun had no intensity from behind the shroud of smoke. I was thankful for the smoky haze that blunted the worst of the Sun’s intensity.
Most of the trail from Roaring Creek to Easton State Park made for dull walking. It was surprisingly straight and the scenery was remarkably changeless. Gone were the mountain views – hidden once more behind the trees and the foothills. There were magical moments, even in the unvarying alternation of meadows and forests. A very pretty avenue of tall fir trees that came right up to the path breaking the light into droplets on the gravel took my breath away.
The Tunnel, The Bridge and the Park
The State Park Map showed the Whittier Tunnel (#49) near the half-way mark between Roaring Creek and Easton State park. I didn’t bother getting my head lamp out as the tunnel didn’t appear to be very long. About half way through the tunnel, I regretted that decision. While I could see the large portals at both ends of the tunnel, the 15 feet in the middle were pitch black. I felt my way through on my toes, staring into the thick darkness at the bright exit, just beyond the edge of blackness. Step by step, the light returned to the path.
The trail continued through forests and meadows, along the more modern rail line through Cabin Creek, before crossing the fast flowing Yakima River on a tall, foot-bridge.
I reached the turn off for Easton State Park shortly after 10:00. The Trail through the park (No horses allowed) leads through towering evergreen forest along a dirt path. I met a group of campers out for a walk with their dog. I was excited to reach my destination so soon. The dirt path turned to a road that wound a long the lake passing through the Full Hookup (trailers and RV’s ) campsite, past the little amphitheater, past the boat launch and around a butte before finally reaching the front gate and the tent camping area nearly three miles from the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.
Footsore, I wandered through the tent ground looking for the spot I’d reserved for the following night. It was vacant so I dumped my pack and went to talk with reception about getting it for two additional nights. After a lot of ‘round and round, reception suggested that maybe I take one of the hiker/biker spots. At only $12 per night they are a steal compared to the $20-$35 fee for the other sites. The only catch is they are non-reservable and first-come-first-served on a holiday weekend can be asking for trouble – especially since all of the other sites are likely to be reserved in advance. But this was the day after the holiday and the campground was quickly emptying. Both hiker-biker spots were available. Gene at Reception was incredibly helpful about helping me try to switch the reservation over so that I wasn’t paying twice, and before I knew it, I was happily installed in one of the parks most secluded sites.
A Celebration Feast
Later that evening, after an afternoon filled with napping and wading in the lake and ant catching (for Bonnie, anyways), Bonnie and I crossed the highway for a dinner of celebration. We’d intended to go to a place called “Parkside Diner” but before we got there the “Back Country Café” caught my eye. They serve all kinds of food, but their specialties are Ribs and Pulled Pork. I ordered the ribs and a beer and then took a seat outside. The staff brought Bonnie a bowl of water and a doggie treat.
When the food came I almost couldn’t contain myself. The meal was a perfect taste of the American West –ribs cooked to perfection with exactly the right amount of spice accompanied by potatoes, corn on the cob, and baked beans. Bonnie and I both dined like royalty on a meal I’m unlikely to forget any time soon.
P.S. Considerations – :
A note about water – there were no creeks or streams suitable for filtering water between Roaring Creek and the Tunnel (about 6 miles). Right after the Tunnel there is a nice little creek and there are plenty of water sources near the trail between the Whittier Tunnel and Easton, but be sure to pack enough water to get you to the tunnel.
There are two ways into the state park – they are about the same distance to the Hiker/Biker Campsites. There is a marked trail that leads from the north end of the lake through the RV area, Swimming Area, Recreation Area and past the main entrance to the Camping Area.
Alternately, you can stay on the John Wayne Trail which follows the south-west side of the lake to the Easton Trail Head. There, turn left and follow the road across the Yakima River. Just past the river, a small, restricted-access road will connect with a trail into the campground. The hiker biker spots will be right there, on your left.