By Mike Lawson
The Iron Goat Trail near Stevens Pass is not your ordinary hike. It’s an adventure into the past, where one can enjoy the beauty of nature, and learn about the history of the railway crossing over Stevens Pass. This trail system was made possible by Volunteers for Outdoor Washington (VOW). Our hike on June 14, 2009 consisted of hiking a 7 mile loop, starting at Martin Creek, heading to the Iron Goat Interpretive Center near Scenic, up a crossover trail to Windy point, then returning on the upper trail back to Martin Creek. The lower trail is about 3 miles long with a 2.2% grade. The upper section is also about 3 miles long at a steeper 4.4% grade. The crossover trail between the Interpretive Center and Windy Point is fairly steep (700 foot elevation gain in 1 mile or 13% grade).
Our group from Wenatchee chose this trail for our “Hike of the Month”. Our common outdoor activity is geocaching (see http://www.geocaching.com for more information). We’re called the Cache-cadians, a local chapter of the WSGA (Washington State Geocaching Association). Some of us enjoy hiking while caching, so since the Spring of last year, we have organized and participated in once-a-month group hikes at locations such as Ancient Lakes, the Potholes, Lenore Caves, Twin Peaks near Wenatchee, Wedge Mountain near Leavenworth, Mission Ridge, Devils Gulch, and Palouse Falls. The Iron Goat Trail is our first hike as a group on the West side of the Cascades. This trail was quite a treat for us who live on the dry side. It’s quite a contrast between the sagebrush and lava fields we usually hike in, compared to the lush green ferns, moss, alder and cedar we enjoyed on this hike.
I highly recommend this hike for all hikers of any age. Our group today consisted of 12 hikers, the youngest was a 1-1/2 year old who enjoyed a ride in a jogger stroller.
We started hiking at 9:30 AM from the Martin Creek trailhead and headed east on the lower trail towards the Iron Goat Interpretive trailhead. There was a heavy fog that hung around for most of the morning. The lower trail is 5-6 feet wide and hard packed dirt or gravel. The VOW built nice foot bridges over the several creeks we crossed along the way. Halfway down the trail we came to a large landslide that occurred last year. The VOW had already repaired the trail and added a bridge over part of the slide area. Major historical structures seen on the lower trail include Twin Tunnels and several snowsheds. The snowsheds on this portion of the trail were built with a large retaining wall on the uphill side, and the wooden roof was supported by timbers on the downhill side. The wood is long gone, but the concrete walls remain. The longest snowshed on the lower trail was measured by the author using a GPS at 0.35 miles. We also learned that an Adit is a ventilation shaft bored into the side of the tunnel. Pictured below is a couple of young hikers from the group standing in front of the adit.
We arrived at the Iron Goat Interpretive Center at about 11:30 AM. We took a break and rested before tackling the crossover trail. Most of us enjoyed reading the Interpretive signs about the construction of the railway switchbacks in the late 1800s, the first train to cross the Cascades in 1893, the Wellington avalanche disaster of 1910, and the old town of Scenic with its Hot Springs at this site. After a short break, the youngest two and their Dad headed home. The rest of us began the uphill climb to Windy Point.
The one mile crossover trail to Windy Point consists of about 26 switchbacks for an elevation gain of about 700 feet. There are a few rest stops along the way to enjoy views of the valley below. When we reached the upper trail a sign there showed 3 miles east to Wellington and 3 miles west to Martin Creek. Before heading to Martin Creek, a few of us hiked over to see the view at Windy Point. From this vantage point, one can see US Highway 2 below as it winds its way up towards the summit. You can also see the west portal of the 8 mile long Cascade Tunnel which is still in use today.
The only wildlife we saw today (besides birds, caterpillars, and a few slugs) was here at the Windy Point tunnel (pictured below). Scurrying out of its rocky home was a Pika. I had never seen one this close (guessing 20 feet away). Pikas are cousins to the rabbit, and look like bunnies without the long ears. This one stood there for a couple of minutes, but not long enough for anyone to get a picture. Moments later it appeared further away and let out a high pitched squeal.
From here it’s a 3 mile downhill hike to Martin Creek trailhead. In my opinion the upper trail is more interesting than the lower trail. On this stretch we passed by four tunnels, several snowsheds, one of them completely wooden (although collapsed and decomposing back to nature). Approximately mid-way between Windy Point and Martin Creek there is an old reservoir and spillway, forgotten by man for many years and then re-discovered in 1991. The Volunteers for Outdoors Washington built a nice stairway for access to the top of a snowshed wall and from there a short walk to the wooden spillway. This discovery has been called The Crown Jewel of the Iron Goat Railway.
We completed the loop in the late afternoon at Martin Creek Trailhead. Before leaving we looked at the new trail being developed just west of the parking area. It appears to lead to the old railroad bridge that spanned across the Martin Creek gorge over to the opposite ridge where Horseshoe Tunnel is located. We’ll definitely be back when this section of interpretive trail is completed. By the way, we did find a few geocaches which added to the days adventure.
Iron Goat Trail Information:
Attractions: Several tunnels and snow sheds built in the early 1900s, an adit, scenic viewpoints, wooden foot bridges, creeks and waterfalls, and an old wooden spillway.
Near: Stevens Pass and Skykomish
Skill Level: 1=Easy Fitness Level: 2=intermediate
Distance: 7 miles round-trip. Elevation Gain: 700 feet
Best Seasons: Late Spring to Late Fall
Access: To access the Iron Goat Interpretive Center, take the Stevens Pass Highway (US 2) to Scenic, about 5-1/2 miles west of the Stevens Pass summit. To access the Martin Creek Trailhead, from the Interpretive Center, follow the Old Cascade Highway (USFS Road #67) to the Junction with USFS Road #6710. Turn right and proceed to 1.4 miles to the Martin Creek Trailhead.
Trip Instructions: Start hiking at either the Iron Goat Interpretive Center or the Martin Creek Trailhead. The crossover trail connects the lower trail at the Interpretive Center to the Upper trail at Windy Point.
Allowed (or not): Strollers and wheel chairs are allowed on the lower trail. Bicycles are NOT allowed on any of the trails. Stay out of the tunnels and do not climb on the remains of the wooden snowsheds.
Fees/Permits: A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at Martin Creek trailhead. Parking is free at the Interpretive Center near Scenic.Trip Reporter / Date: Mike Lawson, June 18, 2009
Map: The attached map was created using Delorme Topo USA my GPS track log. The green line is the lower trail, the orange line is the upper trail, and the purple line is the crossover trail. One can also continue on the upper trail to Wellington and the West Portal of the Old Cascade Tunnel. Distance from Windy Point to Wellington (not shown) is 3 miles.