Located in the Columbia Gorge near the town of Lyle, Washington, the Klickitat Trail is a rails-to-trails conversion that runs beside the Klickitat River, a designated Wild and Scenic waterway. The trail is a wide path with gradual elevation changes, so the riding is easy.
The scenery along the Klickitat Trail is breathtaking. As you depart from the trailhead at Lyle and begin riding upstream, the trail runs above the deep chasm carved by the Klickitat River as it flows into the Columbia. If you ride the trail during the fall you’ll see members of the Yakama Nation dip-netting for salmon from platforms built precariously along the cliffs above the river. In late fall and winter, keep an eye out for bald eagles in this stretch.
The first 1.6 miles of the trail is paved, but after that the trail is either crushed gravel or native dirt. After about two miles the river widens out and the trail runs along its bank. The spring wildflowers in this section are stunning. The surrounding hills are blanketed with oaks, ponderosa pines, and native bunchgrasses that are brilliant green in spring and a rich golden color in fall.
The trail follows the right-of-way of the old Columbia River & Northern Railroad, which ran from Goldendale to Lyle. Later the railroad was part of the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway, and more recently it was operated by BNSF. The rail line was in operation until the early 1990s, closing when the lumber mill in Klickitat shut down.
After that the railroad right of way was acquired by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which donated it to Washington State Parks. The trail is now managed cooperatively by Washington State Parks, the US Forest Service, and the Klickitat Trail Conservancy.
Today the Klickitat Trail runs along the river from Lyle to the town of Klickitat, where the route is interrupted by a washed-out trestle. On the other side of Klickitat the trail continues, veering away from the river and entering Swale Canyon, where it runs past basalt cliffs up to the Goldendale Plateau. The entire trail is about 31 miles long.
Only the 13-mile Klickitat segment of the trail between Lyle and Klickitat is open to horses. The Swale Canyon segment is not horse friendly, with many trestles and very rocky footing in places.
You can access the Klickitat segment of the trail from the Lyle and Klickitat Trail Access points. Hwy. 142 runs between Lyle and Klickitat so you can easily do a trailer shuttle. Leave one trailer at the Klickitat Trail Access, drive another to the Lyle Trail Access, and ride the scenic Klickitat segment of the trail one way back to your dropped trailer.
Note: Don’t confuse the Columbia Gorge rails-to-trails Klickitat Trail with the Klickitat Trail #7 out of Cody Horse Camp. The latter is a long-distance mountain trail in the Cispus River valley south of Randle and Packwood.
Getting There: To reach the Lyle Trail Access, travel east on Hwy. 14 from Bingen/White Salmon for 9.3 miles. Immediately after crossing the Klickitat River in Lyle, turn left on Hwy. 142 toward Klickitat. In 400 feet turn left into the trailhead parking area. To reach the Klickitat Trail Access, follow the directions above but continue on Hwy. 142 for 13.2 miles. Drive most of the way through the town of Klickitat and turn left into an old rail yard that has an information kiosk for the Klickitat Trail.
Season: Year round
Facilities: Lyle Trail Access has parking for 3 trailers at Lyle, plus a toilet and seasonal water fountain. The Klickitat Trailhead has parking for several trailers, depending on where hiker cars are parked.
More Information: The Klickitat Trail is covered in more detail in the “Day Rides in the Columbia Gorge” chapter of Riding Southwest Washington Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2016).
Reprinted with permission from Northwest Rider Magazine, December