The Willapa Hills Trail is a 56-mile rails-to-trails conversion that runs from Chehalis west to South Bend. Some of the trail is unappealing for equestrian use because it is either paved or covered with track ballast rock. However, the segment that runs past Rainbow Falls State Park has fine gravel tread, creating nice all-weather footing for horses.
You can ride the Willapa Hills Trail from Rainbow Falls State Park.
The trail is bordered by pleasant woodlands, pastures, and working farmland. Because it follows an old railroad bed, the route is flat and mostly straight. In the summer there are undoubtedly more exciting places to ride, but in winter when other trails are muddy and slick the Willapa Hills Trail starts to look pretty appealing.
This segment of the Willapa Hills Trail has great all-weather footing for horses as it runs past woodlands, pastures, and working farmland.
The Ride: Park at Rainbow Falls State Park and pick up the access trail in the horse camp next to horse site #1.
Rainbow Falls State Park has a small horse camp.
The access trail will take you to Leudinhaus Road in 0.1 mile. Cross the road, go around the steel gate, and follow the gravel road straight ahead for 0.2 mile to the Willapa Hills Trail. With the winter 2015/16 re-opening of the Dryad and Spooner bridges, the trail just got a lot longer. If you head west from Rainbow Falls Park you can ride all the way to Pe Ell, about 7 miles one way. (There’s a parking area on Front St. and E. 4th St. in Pe Ell that’s big enough for horse trailers!) If you head east you can ride to the Adna Bridge, about 9.5 miles one way. The Adna bridge is scheduled to reopen in the spring of 2016, which will provide access all the way to Chehalis. (Note, though, that the first five miles of trail out of Chehalis are paved, and the graveled surface of the trail between Chehalis and Adna is rough in some places.)
Trail Statistics: With the reopening of the Dryad and Spooner bridges, this segment of the Willapa Hills Trail is now about 16 miles long (one way), with elevations of 250 to 300 feet. The riding is easy. Hoof protection is recommended. There is no stock water on the trail.
Getting to Rainbow Falls State Park: From I-5, take Exit 77 (Chehalis exit) and go west on Hwy. 6 for 17.3 miles. Turn right on Chandler Road, and in 0.3 mile turn right on Leudinghaus Road. Follow it for 0.8 mile and turn right into the park. Just inside the entrance, veer left and follow the sign that says “Day Use.” The horse camp sites are on your immediate left. For day-use trailer parking, continue past the horse camp and the group camp. Per park officials, you can ignore the sign that says “No Horses Beyond This Point” and drive to the gravel lot adjacent to the picnic area, then ride back along the entrance road to the Willapa Hills Trail access point. Be sure to pick up your manure and leave no trace of your presence so these informal parking privileges won’t be revoked.
You can park in the gravel lot adjacent to the picnic area, just past the park’s horse camp.
Season: Year round
Parking Facilities: Parking for several trailers (depending on where other park visitors’ cars are parked), toilet. No fee for parking. Day-use parking is not permitted in the horse camp.
More Information: The Willapa Hills Trail is covered in more detail in the Rainbow Falls State Park chapter of Riding Southwest Washington Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, Ponderosa Press, 2016).