Walking the Iron Horse Trail with the Kids

If you're a local yokel here in Western Washington, hitting the John Wayne Pioneer Trail from the Hyak trail head in Iron Horse State Park is a really fun way to spend the day with the kids.  Although, the time before the tunnel closes for the season is nigh.  I think it's sometime in early November, but I wanted to get my thoughts down while they were still fresh.  Definitely worth earmarking for the spring, or heading out to beat the cabin fever on a rainy fall day in the next few weeks.

bring layers - it gets COLD in the tunnel
My husband did a Mountains to Sound supported bike ride along the John Wayne Pioneer Trail starting at the Hyak trail head out to Rattlesnake Lake.  It's an absolutely perfect trail for bikers and walkers, as well as a very popular Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon.  He's gone back to bike it a few times and while I was in Bend, he took the kids there for a flashlight walk through the tunnel.  Needless to say, I wanted to get out there and see what all the fuss was about!

The best way to enjoy your flashlight walk is to park at the Hyak trail head and less than a quarter of a mile from the parking lot is the beginning of the tunnel.  Headlamps, as well as flashlights, are a big hit with the punks.  We're contemplating glow sticks, necklaces, etc. for our next visit.
all set with her headlamp (best thing everrr) and her 'smartphone' 
Now, I've been told several times about how dark it is in there, but you kind of have to see it for yourself.  I must say, I have a touch of claustrophobia, so it was a tinge stressful for me - not gonna lie.  
maybe 25-30 feet in? DARK!
I also experienced a bit of vertigo, looking at the pinpoint of light that is the light at the end of the tunnel - two miles away!  I kept thinking it was another walker or a biker and learned quickly that if you can only see one light ahead, it's the end of the tunnel.  We were most certainly passed from both directions by bikers and lots of other families out for a walk.  Once my littlest is a proficient bike rider, I'm sure we'll utilize this trail more for biking.
made it to the other side!
Once you exit the tunnel, there are lovely views of the cascades and a few picnic benches as well as a bathroom.  We brought sandwiches along with us and ate while listening to the crickets and enjoying those views.  
bringing binoculars on a hike is always a good idea
After taking pictures, trying to catch those crickets and picking wildflowers, we were ready for the journey back through.  We had a bit of fun letting the kids run ahead and then we'd turn off our flashlights and sneak up on them.  Or we'd all huddle together in the middle and turn off all our lights to experience the utter darkness.  There are also numbered doors along the length of the tunnel, making for easy math fun with the seven year old.  How many more doors until we hit 20, and the like.  Lots of of fun and hi jinks to be had.

The kids still talk about it all the time and I'm sure they'll be chomping at the bit to go 'tunnel hiking' in the spring.  
requisite family photo



  1. My daughter and husband have been on this trail, but it sounds fun to do with the whole family! Will definitely check it out.