Cool off in a tunnel and take a short walk back in time along the original Great Northern Railway, passing through a ghost town that was the site of America’s deadliest avalanche more than 100 years ago.
Follow route 2 to Stevens Pass. Turn on to the unmarked road on the north side of the highway, accessed just west of the Pacific Crest Trail overpass. There are signs warning of “rough road” but really the road is a mix of good pavement, good gravel, and some scattered potholes. Any car can make the drive, just take it slow around the potholes. Follow this road, a section of Old Cascades Highway, for about three miles. Watch for a small brown arrow pointing to the right and the tinniest “Iron Goat Trail” sign ever to mark the turn off for the trailhead.
Please note: This trailhead for Iron Goat opens later than the others because all of the snow plowed off of route 2 at the pass is piled up at the start of the access road and does not melt away until late in the season. You can access the Wellington area earlier in the season by hiking from either the Scenic or Martin Creek Trailheads. From Martin Creek, cut up the Martin Creek Crossover and follow the upper grade to Windy Point. From Scenic, climb up the mile long, 28 switchback, crossover to Windy Point. From Windy Point, hike east and it will be a little over two miles to the west entrance of the Wellington snowshed. The upper grade and trail from Windy Point to Wellington can be in rough shape early in the season from avalanches and rockslides so check conditions before you go.
All trailheads require a Federal Recreation Pass and have vault toilets.
All-Terrain Stroller Options:
Great for all-terrain strollers through the snowshed (about 1.5 miles round trip) and to the First Cascade Tunnel viewpoint (another .75 miles round trip). The trail is meant to be accessible all the way to Windy Point; however, it is too overgrown to push through more than a single wide stroller and even then, kiddo’s face would be full of plants.
Wellington Ghost Town and Avalanche Disaster Viewpoint:
Follow the trail to the right of the trailhead marked for the “Snowshed.” The east entrance of the snowshed is found a mere quarter of a mile from the trailhead. Along the way you may spot some small railroad artifacts and read signs describing the town that used to stand here. Note the white signpost with the number 1711. This is a recreation of the old mileage signs that marked the original rail line and means that you are standing 1,711 rail miles from St Paul, Minnesota. Each mile is marked in this manner along the Iron Goat Trail.
The trail enters the snowshed and follows along inside the length of it, about half a mile end to end. Unlike the snowsheds featured on the other Iron Goat Trail sections (or other rails-to-trails tunnels), this one is open on one side so it is not pitch dark or claustrophobic even though you cannot see the ends for much of your walk. It is still covered enough that it is cool, shady, and just a little spooky.
A long the length of the snowshed, more interpretive signs and an overlook detail the disaster that occurred here in 1910 which prompted construction of the snowshed. In that year, winter was especially bad with heavy snowfall and late season storms. On March 1st, two trains trapped by storms were waiting at the Wellington Depot when an avalanche 10 ft deep and half a mile long plunged down from Windy Mountain to the depot below. Both of the trains and the depot itself were destroyed. Ninety-six people died making it the deadliest avalanche in American history.
In October of that same year, Wellington was renamed Tye to ease fears of travelers through the depot and snowshed construction began. The snowshed was constructed to prevent a repeat of the disaster; however, the avalanches and rockslides in the area still proved too troublesome and costly. The Great Northern tracks were relocated to the opposite side of the valley with the construction of the Second Cascade Tunnel. The section of rail on which you are standing, and the town of Tye, were decommissioned in 1929 with the rerouting.
As you walk through the snowshed, note the trees that are growing in the half that is not the trail. Some of these are conifers originally destined to be hundreds of feet tall but here they are confined to the height of the snowshed. The kiddos will find the strange shape of some of these tree fascinating. Some have the bottom few feet of a tree much taller, and the top of a stunted alpine conifer. Some have twisted and contorted themselves to reach out between the columns to find sun and sky.
Another thing you may notice in the snowshed is the graffiti. It is sad that someone would venture up into the mountains to deface history and nature. I will admit that there were three very cool looking paintings towards the western end of the snowshed. Instead of tagging or writing so-and-so “was here,” they have created a series of images in the style of prehistoric cave paintings. I certainly would not encourage this and instead strongly encourage leave no trace, but as they are already there you might as well check them out.
As you exit the west end of the snowshed, notice that it was not originally the end of it. The trail diverts out of the shed just before a section in partial collapse with concrete chunks hanging down, suspended in mid-air on rebar. The right side wall of the snowshed is all that remains beyond that point.
The trail beyond the snowshed is supposed to be three feet wide and relatively accessible; however, when we were there it was so overgrown that even walking single file had us pushing through tall brush. It is doable, we’re not talking actual bushwacking here, but I would not try for it with a stroller so we backed it up and turned around, returning through the snowshed.
First Cascade Tunnel Viewpoint:
Go left from the trailhead and meander through sunny open areas, with wildflowers including Paintbrush, and shady forested areas. Here the trail follows along the Tye River with some peek-a-boo views and spur foot paths to view points. After less than half a mile you arrive at the end of the trail and a view of the First Cascade Tunnel. The trail used to go up into the tunnel but a flash flood a few years ago destroyed the trail and damaged the tunnel. Interpretive signs line this section of trail and the viewpoint. Read about the tunnel’s history and return the way you came.
The trail to the First Cascade Tunnel used to go into the tunnel itself but it was severely damaged by flooding a few years ago and there are signs warning to not enter the tunnel for your own safety.
If you are willing to push through the brush, you could continue past the end of the snowshed for a little over two miles to the Windy Point Overlook. According to the trail guide, you will see three timber snowshed backwalls on the way as you hike out to Windy Point. From there you could continue on to a large lollipop loop of the upper and lower grades. You can also skip the brush and drive to either the Scenic or Martin Creek trailheads to see more of the tunnels and snowsheds without as much work. Read more here: Iron Goat Trail
Deception Falls and the nature loop makes a terrific add on. Read all about it here: Deception Falls National Recreation Area
The Horseshoe Tunnel Trail starts from the north end of the Martin Creek parking area, past the collapsed ends of the Horseshoe Tunnel and two train trestles, which I’m told are no longer standing. It continues past the old tracks, connecting with the Kelley Creek trail in the Wild Sky Wilderness. I have not explored it yet and I have not been able to find out much about it. There is a trailhead sign but it does not give mileage or elevation. Has anyone else hiked it? It is on my list for later this summer.
Experience the Wellington avalanche disaster in The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America’s Deadliest Avalanche Paperback
If you don’t already have a shelf, or entire bookcase, full of local hiking guides and maps, here are some of my favorites featuring this hike and others in the area: