Generally when I hear about a rails to trails conversion, I think of all the experiences I have had. Trails like the Banks Vernonia Trail, Northern Rail Trail in NH, or maybe the Rockingham Recreational (AKA Massabesic) trail from Manchester to Newfields, NH. The Klickitat Trail was something I had read about awhile ago, but the surface type and condition of the trail was relatively unknown to me.
From the pictures I had seen, I knew it would be a bit more “rustic” and that basically there was no pavement on this trail. I also wanted to do the full 31 miles out and back for a nice long day of riding.
The weather on Saturday cooperated perfectly. Rain all week turned into puffy white clouds and temps maxing out in the low 70’s. As we enter deeper into the fall here in the PNW, I knew that days like this are going to get rarer.
Since I wasn’t exactly sure of the trail conditions, I figured the Niner RLT would be a gamble, the Cannondale F29 would be fine and probably the fastest choice, but I opted to make the journey a bit more challenging and took the Trek Farley. Nothing like pushing 5″ tires for 60 miles! It was definitely a fun choice for the day.
I took off from home pretty early since I knew that this was going to be a 5-6 hour day of riding. I’m a subscriber to the theory of the sooner we get going, the sooner we are done! There were only 2 other cars in the parking lot when I got there and 1 of them was two guys going for a road ride up route 142.
The first 3-4 miles are more or less crushed stone suitable for most cyclocross sized tires and larger. There are a couple of road crossings and a nice wooden bridge too.
Between miles 5-13 the trail varies between rocky, crushed gravel, even a bit of singletrack, all as it parallels the Klickitat River.
You ride through the town of Klickitat at mile 13. I counted two convenience stores and a restaurant…..that was about it.
There is a bridge out across the river that requires a detour onto route 142 for 3 miles before resuming on the rail corridor. All the way you are climbing at a steady 2% grade. So while there are no big hills, you are constantly going up, gaining just shy of 1500′ in total.
After turning back off the pavement you enter the Swale Canyon section of the trail. Leaving behind the Klicktat River and following the seasonal (and aptly named) Swale Creek. It also gets a bit more rugged at this point and having a mountain bike vs a gravel bike was a better choice for several sections. Not that it was technical or anything, but there was some large and loose rock in sections, plus a few washouts.
The trail ends (or starts depending on your perspective) in Warwick, WA. You started back in the Columbia River Gorge with trees and forest and end up in the grasslands and farms.
There is the option to turn this into a loop instead of an out and back. From the eastern end you can take the paved Centerville Highway 17 miles back to Lyle and make it a 47 mile option instead of a 60 miles option. I opted for the out and back since the fat bike would have been less fun on a paved road.
Heading back the same way I just came also allowed me to take advantage of the 2% downhill grade. I made it back to the car almost 30 minutes faster then what I did heading out. I also took advantage of one of the stores in Klickitat on the way back to grab some food and drink and take a bit of a breather. People in the town were super friendly and I think everyone who came in and out of the store commented on the “huge tires” on the Farley.
What a great way to spend such a marvelous day of nice weather. I was also psyched to finally get to check this trail out. While I don’t see myself doing it multiple times a year, it turns out to be a great way to get in some long, easy miles with minimal traffic.
If the distance intimidates you, there are lots of trailhead options that would allow you to ride different segments. you could also spot a car in Lyle and start up in Warwick to take advantage of the elevation loss for a one way 31 mile ride.
That is about it for now.
Thanks for reading,