I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on the Iron Horse Trail in North Bend (recently renamed the Palouse to Cascades Trail) recently, because it’s a good place for Stuart the puppy (age 14 months) to practice leash walking. There aren’t many other people and it’s basically flat so his pulling isn’t as big of a deal. I’ve often not had this trail on my radar, except as a bike ride or access point for other hikes like Twin Falls or Cedar Butte. It’s great for those purposes, but this section makes for a really nice hike! I’m describing a one way hike here, from the Homstead Valley Trailhead (exit 38 off I-90) to the Cedar Falls Trailhead (across the road from the Rattlesnake Lake trailhead), which is about 5 miles and has a short bit of climbing up to the trail but then is flat the whole way, with a short drop down to the parking lot again on the other side. Technically, it’s not flat, in this direction it’s slightly downhill, but it appears flat. It’s also wide, free of obstructions and graveled. You can also do this hike round trip from the trailhead on either side. This would also make a great bike ride (either one way or round trip).
Is the Iron Horse Trail in North Bend right for me?
The Iron Horse Trail in North Bend is an excellent beginner hike or one for people with disabilities. You could even take a wheelchair on it if was suitable for going off pavement, to do that you’d want to start on the Cedar Falls side because the access trail on the Homestead Valley side is steeper and narrower. I’ve met several people along this trail using support devices such as arm braces. It would also work for a stroller (again I would start on the Cedar Falls side). It’s also helpful that there aren’t any particular destinations (unless you are using it as an access trail to one of the other trails linked above), so you can go a longer or shorter distance if you start on one side and return to that same side. This gives the opportunity to get into the forest and away from the city while not encountering uneven or steep terrain. This is good place to take visiting family, especially if they are new to hiking or walking.
When is a good time for the Iron Horse Trail in North Bend?
The Iron Horse Trail in North Bend is great anytime of year! It’s cool and shady and less crowded than surrounding hikes in summer, and the graveled, wide trail stays mostly free of the worst mud during the winter. Usually it’s snow free, though there could be times when lowland snow brings snow to this area. This is under an hour from Seattle, so it’s another good summer after work hike, or a short winter day hike, or a half day any time of year.
Where is it?
The Homestead Valley Trailhead is just off Exit 38 on I-90, just east of North Bend and West of Snoqualmie Pass. The Cedar Falls Trailhead is in North Bend, right next to the Rattlesnake Ledge parking lot. The Iron Horse Trail was recently renamed to the Palouse to Cascades Trail, which is owned by Washington State Parks and goes from the Idaho border to North Bend! The route described below follows the final five miles of this statewide trail.
Here I’ll describe starting from the Homestead Valley Trailhead and going to the Cedar Falls trailhead, which is about 5 miles and drops about 300 feet in elevation (except for getting up and down from the trail it feels flat). If you start on one end and go out and back, keep in mind that it is slightly downhill, so if you start at Cedar Falls, you’ll be going slightly uphill and then slightly down. When I did this round trip from Cedar Falls, it took me about 5 minutes longer to go out than back, so it’s not a big difference, but keep that in mind.
Starting at Homestead Valley, you’ll go up a short (less than a quarter mile) access trail to the Iron Horse trail. Once on the Iron Horse trail, you’ll mostly be going through the forest, which is very picturesque and classic Pacific Northwest (watch out for Sasquatch!).
You’ll pass the Mt Washington Trail on the left, then the upper Twin Falls Trail, then an electrical substation. At this point, the noise from the freeway is fairly loud, but that will begin to fade and fades completely in about a mile. You’ll also see some views across the valley to Little Si and Mt Si.
After about two miles, you’ll cross over a high trestle from the old Milwaukee and St Paul Railroad, with a pretty waterfall.
Continuing on through the forest and over numerous small bridges over creeks, you’ll pass a trail on the left and then your trail winds around to the right and back to the left and you’ll pass the Cedar Butte trail on the left. Soon after you’ll cross a bridge over Boxley Creek and at that point you’ll about a mile from the Cedar Falls Trailhead. You’ll see the old railroad Cedar Falls sign next to the trail and after that there’s a wide trail down to the right, which you take to go down a quarter mile to the Cedar Falls Trailhead.