Iron Horse Trail - South Cle Elum

Kim was free and we chose to head east for a wildflower hike. I end up on the old Iron Horse railroad grade more years than not. Time for another visit. We met in North Seattle at 7:15 am and headed east. A stop at the newly remodeled Safeway in Cle Elum and we headed over the river to South Cle Elum. The route follows the river, crosses back under I-90 and in .60 miles we pulled into the small lot. It was no surprise that we were the first car to arrive. The wind was blowing pretty hard as we packed up to leave. Jackets with hoods on were necessary. The forecast was for mostly cloudy with clearing later. It was very cloudy in the mountains but was all blue sky now. At 9:05 we were on the trail. I hoped that the wind would be blocked by trees lining much of the trail. That proved to be partly true. A few wildflowers right at the start like yellow violets and ballhead waterleaf. It has been a wet winter and spring and it showed. It is very green along the trail.

Fortunately we had a tailwind which helped. Wind does not help in photographing wildflowers unfortunately. One of the benefits of multiple trips on this trail is I have learned where to look for wildflowers. There is a wooden ramp across a ditch that is lined with Oregon anemone in flower season. Check, there they were. They were not yet fully opened however. Finding skunk cabbage was not hard. It was more profuse than I have ever seen it here. Lots and lots of it. For the most part, the yellow spathes were finishing up. There were a few still standing. The leaves were right at their peak. Lots of skunk cabbage smell too. When fir trees started lining the right side I looked behind them and found a blooming trillium. Just like I usually do. Right near the junction with the Teanaway River, we found a big patch of blooming Oregon anemone. These ones were fully open.

The Yakima River was running higher than normal and it was greenish brown. The Teanaway River was dark brown. Lots of dirt has colored the river. Where they met there was a line with one color on each side. Really interesting to see. The Teanaway River was as high as I have seen it. Not much farther we saw one then another raft going by. They were moving pretty fast. One first on this trip was finding a couple of what I believe were morel mushrooms. There were not many and they are not usually seen there. We could hear the wind but it was much less of a problem as we went along. Large cottonwood trees line the first part of the route. They have very colorful leaves in the fall. In the spring they were colored a light vibrant green. Pine and fir trees were mixed in.

There are three rest areas in the first 3 miles. The first two have one picnic table and large grassy spots. The first one has a good view of the river right below. The third one is bigger and I'll describe it in a minute. At about 2.5 miles the route moves farther from the river and a grassy area is off to the left. The route is in a canyon and the slope goes nearly straight up on the right side. Where it widens I start looking for more wildflowers. There is a good selection of balsamroot, spring beauty, ballhead waterleaf, lupine, and others to be found. The short trail down off the railroad grade is nearly overgrown with brush. I headed in to take a look. There are a number of arrowleaf balsamroot in bloom. The majority have not yet bloomed. One or two weeks until they reach their peak. No spring beauty are blooming yet. Some violets and ballhead waterleaf were in bloom. Not a lot of flowers in bloom so far but good quality examples of them.

The new bathroom can been well before reaching the third picnic and camping spot. I first noticed it last November. The site was significantly improved last year. There are now four campsites with tent spots and picnic tables to go along with the bathroom and a signboard with a map of the whole Iron Horse Trail. At the edge of the site are a bunch of blooming balsamroot. Many more than my usual earlier visited spot. Kim noticed a chocolate lily and soon saw half a dozen more. A few were big with three blooms. There were a few other flowers in bloom. This is also the only place where a short trail leads down to the river. The drop down in most spots is far and steep. Even at high water there was a small "beach" to sit by the river.

After a short food and water break we headed on. Next comes the powerline corridor. Four or five major towers carry many wires bringing hydro power to the rest of the state.  Across the river is a flat spot with farms. About the only flat spot as the canyon is fairly narrow on both sides of the Yakima River. The bright sunshine and views to the river and the green grass on the other side were pretty nice. Trains also run on the other side of the river. We saw ones go by about an hour apart. After that there is a steep cement channel that drains an irrigation canal above. It can be full of water in the spring. It's like a big water slide but without any people sliding. After recent storms that had the rivers high I expected a lot of water. It was virtually dry. That was kind of disappointing.

Soon after the water slide in one of my favorite spots. When I first hiked this route nearly 30 years ago there was a water wheel right on the other side of the river. It was in near perfect shape. Over the years it was begun to fall apart. I take photos each time to compare it's condition. Not much different than last year. The full wheel is now half a wheel. I stopped and added a few more photos. Brush has grown up to hide part of it now. We continued to see some more wildflowers but many, like lupine, have not started but will line the route with bright blue in a few weeks. There was a lot of Oregon grape in bloom. Tiny woodland stars showed up in many places but it was nearly impossible to photograph them in the wind. One last interesting site is what looks like columnar basalt rising up the on the right side. Some of it has broken off and piles of smaller rocks are below. We had come about four miles to this point. The next mile has no river views or interesting sites. Later on the trail breaks out along the river and is very nice as it heads for the tunnel. We were not going that far this day and so chose to turn around.

The wind had slowed down so it was not too bad heading into it. I did keep my jacket on all day until the last mile or so. Unusual on such a sunny day. Heading through the powerline corridor Kim and I looked for the apple trees where we had apples for lunch on our previous visit together. We found them, right below the trail. The trees are just leafing out. We took another break back at the camping/picnic site. Those are long picnic tables. I could lay on one and not come near the ends. We both took a short nap in the sunshine. This was not a race of a hike. It was one to enjoy the trip not a destination. The last three miles went much faster. Fewer photos were taken. We did take one last break at the final picnic spot to sit in the sun and watch the river go by.

We were back at the car at 3:55 pm. We spent 7 1/2 hours hiking 8 miles. Not too bad at all. For the day we saw a couple pairs of hikers in the first mile or so and four or five groups of bikers. That was it for 7 1/2 hours. Pretty amazing solitude right outside of Cle Elum. Just as it always has been on my visits. We met two bothers at the camping spot and engaged them in conversation. They started in Ellensburg and were riding to South Cle Elum where they would try to convince their retired dad to com pick them up. They were having a really good time. So were we. In conclusion, there are a number of wildflowers out though I'd recommend looking off the trail to find some. The show will get better for the next few weeks. We covered about 8 miles with 100' of elevation gain at most. This grade is nearly flat. Kim and I had another good time and found sunshine east of the crest.

Parking Lot
Starting Out
Skunk Cabbage
Yakima River
Leafy Trees
Yellow Spathe
Brown Teanaway River
Ballhead Waterleaf
Brown River
Rafters Go By
Snowy Peaks
Break Time
Arrowleaf Balsamroot
Bunch Of Balsamroot
Oregon Anemone
Bouquet Of Balsamroot
Green On Black
New Campsites
Iron Horse Trail Map
Down By The River
More Ballhead Waterleaf
Bee On Balsamroot
Yellow Violet
Two More
Chocolate Lily
Powerline Corridor
Bristol Flats
Dark Flower
Columnar Basalt
House On The Hill
Near Turn Around Spot
White Flower
Woodland Star
Three Chocolate Lilies
Pine Up Close
Oregon Grape
Rest Time
Perfect Balsamroot
Pink Flowers
Slew Of Balsamroot
Back At Teanaway Rvr
Green Green Grass
Kim At Last Break
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2017