Embrace the rain, I tell myself. Keep moving. As the wheels on my mountain bike go round and round, stunning scenery streaks by on the left and right in a green blur. I ride through a puddle head on, sticking my tongue out hoping to taste just a little of the mud I feel splattering my cheeks. Ah, the taste is sweet. As I shift into high gear, I can’t help but pity my friends back in Seattle trying to fend off their winter blahs by reading on the couch. As I round another curve, a startled grouse waddles out of my way, obviously perturbed by my sudden incursion. I must be doing 30 miles an hour. Life is good riding high above farms and forests on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail (SVT).
Stretching from Rattlesnake Lake in North Bend to McCormick Park in Duvall, the SVT is a favorite of everyone from grandma power walkers in search of fresh air to equestrians out for a pastoral cantor to mountain bikers like myself seeking a snow-free wintertime training ride to put the old cardiovascular system to the test. Gaining less than 500 feet in elevation over its 36-mile course, the dirt-and-gravel double track trail is easy enough that you could even bring the spouse and kids along. But why would you, especially when you could drop them off at Remlinger Farms nearby where they can whoop it up like Old McDonald while you inhale lung-full after lung-full of air cleansed by the myriad trailside alder, maple, cedar and Douglas fir trees.
One of a series of rail-trails scattered throughout the greater Seattle area, the SVT traces the route of the long-abandoned Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad line, winding through rural countryside and second-growth forest as it crosses high above several salmon streams. No one has to tell me that this area once served up some of the biggest trees in the Cascades, given its fertile soils, low elevation and soggy climate.
Weyerhaeuser, which still owns a good chunk of land adjacent to the SVT, maintains a short nature trail showcasing what the region must have looked like before it was decimated by logging and turned over to farmers during the first half of the 20th century. But today the resilient forest appears to be making a comeback, thanks no doubt to the protected status afforded by King County Parks and the habitat restoration efforts of environmental groups working in the region.
Standing atop the trestle over Tokul Creek enjoying a well-deserved rest from my toils on the bike, I can hardly believe that loggers ever penetrated the primeval forest below. This unique vantage point, dozens of feet above the tree canopy, yields surreal views of epiphytes jostling with branches and leaves in a photosynthetic orgy, with the gurgling shoestring of Tokul Creek bobbing and weaving down below.
While I could stay here forever, I decide that the time is nigh for some espresso, so I mount my trusty titanium steed and make a break for the Salish Lodge, less than a half mile from the trail where it crosses under the Tokul Bridge near State Route 202. Grabbing a window table in the Lodge’s Attic Bistro, I sit mesmerized by the pulsing waters of Snoqualmie Falls as they plunge 270 feet below over a sheer cliff face. Indeed, espresso never tasted so good. Before I know it, a good 20 minutes have melted away, and I decide I’d better get back on my bike if I want to make it to my car before nightfall.
Perhaps it’s the double shot pulsing through my veins, or just the sheer exhilaration of moving fast through the forest, but I feel like I’ve never rode my mountain bike quite this fast before. Within an hour, I’m disappointed to be back at my car already. While I wish the ride could’ve lasted forever, I console myself with the knowledge that the SVT will be there for me next time I need to shake loose — winter, spring, summer or fall.
Snoqualmie Valley Trail, 36 miles between Duvall and North Bend, with either terminus about a half hour drive from downtown Seattle, https://www.duvallwa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/500/Snoqualmie-Valley-Trail-Map; The Attic Bistro at the Salish Lodge, 6501 Railroad Ave., Snoqualmie, Washington 98065, tel. 425.888.2556, http://www.salishlodge.com/attic.php; Mountains to Sound Greenway, http://www.mtsgreenway.org.
To start at the southern end of the trail at Rattlesnake Lake, drivers can take Exit 32 off Interstate 90, then head south on 436th Ave SE, which becomes Cedar Falls Road SE in about a half a mile. The road dead-ends at the trailhead near Rattlesnake Lake in just under three miles. Evening riders beware: the main parking area at Rattlesnake Lake is locked up at night, but parking in the small trailhead lot outside the gates is AOK. To access the trail from its northern terminus at Duvall’s McCormick Park, take I-405 south until exit 13B. Follow the NE 8th St. West ramp, then turn right onto 112th Ave NE, and then left onto NE 12th St. Many trail veterans shave some about half the distance off their route by starting in the town of Carnation at Nick Loutsis Park on 356th PL SE and then ending up at Snoqualmie Falls.
The idea for the SVT proper was born in 1977 when King County used $400,000 from its Forward Thrust bond initiative to acquire 20 miles of the retired rail route from the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. But dozens of dilapidated trestles coupled with a depleted public kitty meant that the trail remained unusable until 1986, when funding from AT&T — which needed a good line to run fiber optic cable — allowed King County to undertake repair work and open a 20 mile stretch of the trail to the public. Additional mileage was added in 1996 and then again in 2000, completing the route of the SVT we know and love today.
Originally conceived as a key link in the Mountains to Sound Greenway, the SVT and surrounding protected lands play an important ecological role as both watershed and wildlife habitat — salmon, bears and cougars, not to mention the occasional ruffled grouse and other curiosities of nature, have been spotted by observant trail users. A 2004 effort by the non-profit Snoqualmie Watershed Forum allowed for the installation of educational signage and student artwork at select spots along the SVT so users can learn about the importance of regional open space in countering the devastating environmental effects of ever-expanding development.
Currently, ambitious equestrians or mountain bikers can extend their adventures on either end of the SVT by picking up the Iron Horse Trail or the Tolt Pipeline Trail. Planners are still working on ways to connect the SVT with Snohomish County’s Centennial Trail, and dream about creating a continuous right of way for non-motorized travel between the Snoqualmie Valley and Whatcom County.
Seattle Magazine, November 2006