Cross Country Skiing Crystal Springs to Lake Easton on the Iron Horse Trail

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Whittier tunnel opening on the Iron Horse Trail
Exiting the Whittier Tunnel on the east side. You’ll need to remove your skis to walk through the tunnel

I looked all over to try to find information about skiing Crystal Springs to Lake Easton on the Iron Horse trail, but there wasn’t much information to be had! I’ve been wanting to try going through this route for awhile, but have been deterred by a lack of information about this section of the trail. Luckily some adventurous friends were game to try it out with me. After a lot of map studying and some scouting on both ends of the route we set out! We had a great time, but it is definitely adventurous and probably not for beginners! (for some great outings near Seattle for beginners, look here) The entire route (11 miles) is almost completely flat, but most is ungroomed (or at least without a set track), and there is a tunnel to walk through, a small stream to cross, a half mile road walk and a climb through a gate, so definitely a few obstacles! We were careful to bring lots of extra food, water, clothing, headlamps and a good map.  We got a drop off and pick up on the other side, which is definitely necessary since the whole trip was about 11 miles. With those disclaimers in mind, here’s a bit about the trip.

Starting from the Crystal Springs Sno Park, the first mile is through the forest on a groomed (but not tracked for skis) trail to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Crystal Springs is really busy, with lots of skiers, skijorers, dog mushers and snowmobilers. There are other groomed and tracked trails on the east side of the parking lot (right where you drive in), then snowmobiles in the middle, and then access to the John Wayne trail on the far (west) side of the parking lot.

Ski trail in Crystal Springs sno park
Ski Trail in Crystal Springs sno park

Once you reach the John Wayne Trail, turn to the left (east) and there are a couple of miles of trail that are groomed and tracked for skis. After that point (crossing Stampede Pass Road), the trail becomes mixed use with snowmobiles, and there is no longer a track for skis. The middle of the snowmobile tracks makes a nice surface for skis (as long as it’s not icy!). Despite this being a busy snowmobile area, we only saw three snowmobiles (in one group) along this stretch of the John Wayne Trail (and only a handful of other skiers).

shared use sign Iron horse trail
A shared use section of the trail beyond Stampede Pass. We saw only two snomobiles and no other users in this section

After about four miles, you’ll come to the Whittier Tunnel, which you’ll have to walk through with your skis off. After this point, we didn’t see any other skiers or anyone else until we got to Lake Easton Sno Park.

Entrance to the Whittier Tunnel on the Iron Horse Trail
Entrance to the Whittier Tunnel

On the east side of the tunnel, we saw one set of classic and one set of skate ski tracks from earlier, though after that point we saw no other people

Two sets of ski tracks on the Iron Horse trail east of the Whittier Tunnel
Solitude on the Iron Horse trail east of the Whittier Tunnel

After that, the most of the rest of the journey to Lake Easton Sno Park is through a lovely forest looking somewhat like this (and involved a short stream crossing-not deep but you need to take your skis off-that I managed not to get a picture of)

Iron Horse Trail between Whittier Tunnel and Lake Easton
More of the Iron Horse Trail between the Whittier Tunnel and Lake Easton

After 8.5 miles, the trail dead ends (merges, really) onto a road, which is a little disconcerting, but if you take off your skis and walk along the road for about half a mile (parallel to the train tracks and possibly a private road owned by the BNSF railroad), you will find the trail again. When you do, there’s a gate across a bridge over the Yakima River. If you cross through the gate and across the (ungroomed, be careful!) bridge, you will end up at Frozen Toe point at the far end of the groomed ski trail in Lake Easton Sno Park.

yakima river bridge iron horse trail lake easton
Bridge over the Yakima River entering the Lake Easton Sno Park on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Make sure to research the snow level at Easton in case it is unusually high and you can’t get past this point. Normally the snow pack here is not super deep, but it would be good to check as it would be a long way to go back. You could get out on the railroad road and connect to a forest service road if necessary.

Now you’re back on the groomed ski trail and a little over 2 miles from the parking lot.

Groomed ski trail in Lake Easton State Park
Groomed ski trail in Lake Easton Sno Park

We got dropped off in Crystal Springs and picked up at Lake Easton, but you could also do this with a car shuttle. I want to emphasize that in order to undertake this long and remote trek, you’ll need to be ready to walk a bit in your ski boots, have extra food and water, tell someone where you’re going and be ready for the darkness (headlamp or flashlight). It’s always important to carry the 10 essentials, but it’s extra important if you undertake this particular outing.

Here’s to winter exploring!

A snow covered tunnel on a trail
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Jennie Flaming
Jennie Thwing Flaming, Chief Adventure Officer: Jennie's life has been a continual quest for adventure (of the non-adrenalin inducing kind) from birth till now. Professionally, she pursues adventures in teaching, counseling and working to obliterate institutional racism for students in our region's public schools and also works as a tour and hiking guide. Previous professional adventures include working in schools in Seattle and Alaska, leading tours and managing tour guides and presenting traveling science shows and lessons with Pacific Science Center. She believes in sharing her beloved Pacific Northwest home with visitors. She likes to be outdoors and spend time with the people she loves. Jennie is born and raised in Seattle and has also lived in Alaska and the Netherlands.