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Iron Goat Trail

Whether a summer hike or a winter snowshoe, the former grade of the Great Northern Railway, and Seattle’s first railroad connection to the East, makes a pleasant mountain ramble easily accessible from either side of the Cascades.

More than 100 years ago, the Empire Builder railroad rumbled west from Minnesota through a narrow gap in the Cascades named for railroad engineer John F. Stevens. The trains are long gone, but the route remains, offering hikers the opportunity to walk in the path of this relic transit line and witness some of the artifacts of a mountain crossing railway — and visit the site of a 1910 disaster.

Beginning at the Iron Goat Scenic Trailhead and Interpretive Site, you have the choice of following the grade westward to the workcamp site known as Cornea or taking the Windy Point Cutoff to the upper grade. The Cutoff trail is only about a mile, but is very steep. If you’re snowshoeing, this trail can be difficult to navigate, so we recommend you skip the Cutoff in winter and take the normal route.

The grade westward to Cornea is never steep, as it was originally intended for trains, and hikers will enjoy the shady, thick forest that line the path.
Although the roar of Highway 2 never fully recedes, the forest is welcoming and pleasant.

Along the way, which is well signed, thanks to efforts from volunteers, you’ll quickly encounter impressive concrete retaining walls built to anchor snowsheds to the mountainside and replicas of mileposts marking your distance from St. Paul. Crumbling tunnels yawn invitingly along the route, necessitating more than a few side trips to peer cautiously into the darkness—but do not enter!

Just short of two miles from the Interpretive Center, give your brain a rest from digesting history, and enjoy a view up Deception Creek valley. You're nearly to the junction with the Corea Crossover Trail -- only a half mile to go! From the junction, the Iron Goat continues straight on to the Martin Creek trailhead, where WTA work crews have worked to improve the trail. Hike to this other end, or continue on to complete a loop hike that will end back at the parking lot you started from.

To complete the loop, you can turn right, passing a short spur trail (the Spillway Spur) to a reservoir. On the way, enjoy waterfalls, which run high and impressive in the spring. You can also bask in the views from overlooks of gorgeous nearby mountains. After hiking for nearly 4.5 miles, you will come to the junction with Windy Point Crossover Trail.

Take the Windy Point Crossover Trail back to your car, but don't forget to take a short side trip to Windy Point for more mountain views. This spur trail is only 0.25 round trip.

If the loop hike is too much, there are plenty of other options. With nine miles of trail and three different trailheads, the Iron Goat Trail has more than enough to explore. The trail sections between the Martin Creek Trailhead and the Scenic Trailhead and between the Wellington Trailhead and Windy Point are ADA accessible and stroller friendly in the summer months.
Driving Directions:

Take U.S. Highway 2 to milepost 58 at Scenic. Turn north on Old Cascade Highway, FR 67 and go 2.3 miles to FR6710. Turn onto FR6710 and go 1.4 miles to the Martin Creek trailhead parking lot and the Iron Goat Interpretive Site.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 90 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Iron Goat Trail-Stevens Pass-West — Nov 17, 2012 — snow Cat
Day hike
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A Wilderness Women's standard for off-season, the IGT was all ours today. Although the gate & toile...
A Wilderness Women's standard for off-season, the IGT was all ours today. Although the gate & toilets are locked until Spring, the trail is in excellent condition up to Windy Pass. There was negligible snow, but we turned around there to allow time to admire the new trail work happening below Martin Creek.

From the NW end of the Martin Creek parking lot, the new trail(s) drop down between a series of supports from the former RR trestle bridge across the gulley. It will eventually connect with the Johnson Ridge trail, thanks to many volunteer groups working under the collective title of Volunteers for Outdoor America.
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Iron Goat Trail-Stevens Pass-West — Nov 17, 2012 — meriwether
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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We started at the middle trail head and went out to Wellington. The trail had spotty snow patches a...
We started at the middle trail head and went out to Wellington. The trail had spotty snow patches after reaching Windy Point, gradually turning to full snow about 2 inches deep for the last mile and a half, with some sections of 4+ inches deep. There was rain mixed with snow, turning to very wet snow up at Wellington. Very enjoyable trail, and not difficult to walk in the snow. The snow made it really pretty. Privies are closed at the bottom, but one of the privies at Wellington was still unlocked.
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Iron Goat Loop — Nov 09, 2012 — BigButtDon
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail
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With a mere 35 F at the trailhead, "Geezer Patrol" minus 1 took off on this historic trail. More of...
With a mere 35 F at the trailhead, "Geezer Patrol" minus 1 took off on this historic trail. More of a walk than a hike, we managed to record "idle time" on the GPS because we were stopping to read every dang interpretive sign along the way. Do the same thing - they are excellent. After going 1 mile in the first two hours, we decided to pick up the pace a little. Our route took us past the Martin Creek TH in hopes of being able to see the u-turn tunnel but alas, that was not to be as the trail does not get you there. We immediately scrambled up the short but steep cutoff just east of Martin Creek TH only to find that there was also no trail back to the u-turn tunnel exit. We hope that gets built someday. The upper trail was as interesting as the lower. Snowshed walls and tunnels were really erie in our foggy/flurry weather and it was hard to imagine the intensive manual labor maintenance required to keep this rail working. The 1/4 mile walk out to Windy Point is also definately worth the effort. For 3 dork Boeing retirees, this was a very interesting historical venture and is easy enough for anyone in any condition to do some or all of. The hike down the switchbacks back to the Interpretive Site TH is very steep and a bit of a knee burner though. We also came across a fresh granite boulder completely blocking the lower trail - check out the pic below and note the dynamite drill bore on this "rock" which probably initiated the fracture. Only took it 115 years to decide to make a move. Spent 7 hours on the trail and covered about 8 miles with all the side trips.
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Iron Goat Loop — Nov 03, 2012 — TrailMex
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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Easy, pleasant hike despite that rain. The switchbacks on the way down were a little rough but only ...
Easy, pleasant hike despite that rain. The switchbacks on the way down were a little rough but only because we had our dog with us. He still has some puppy in him and pulls on the leash when he's excited but if you have a dog past his puppy years, it should be easy! Lots of neat history here!
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Iron Goat Trail-Stevens Pass-West — Oct 29, 2012 — HikerJim
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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Kim invited me to come along on Solo Steve's annual Halloween Hike. The Iron Goat Trail is one I had...
Kim invited me to come along on Solo Steve's annual Halloween Hike. The Iron Goat Trail is one I had not yet hiked. Sign me up. By 9:30 am everyone had arrived at the Martin Creek Trailhead. The old railroad grade is right next to Highway 2 where the Old Cascade Highway meets the newer highway. There is a trailhead and a caboose visible from Highway 2. The grade continues for a little over 3 miles to the Martin Creek Trailhead. It switches back and heads up to the abandoned tunnel under the Cascade Mountains. Our route was to hike three miles back down to Scenic first. From there a newer trail heads steeply uphill to meet the grade again about 6 miles from Scenic and a little more than 3 miles from the Martin Creek Trailhead. That uphill trail gains about 700' in just under a mile.

Once old acquaintances were renewed and new folks, like me, were introduced we were underway. There are a lot of deciduous trees along the grade. Great fall leaf colors. By the end of October many leaves had fallen already. this provided some good color on the trees and more on the grade itself. Being a railroad grade the descent was very gentle. The old grade had a number of tunnels and miles of snowsheds. The wooden sheds have long since collapsed or been taken down. All that remains is a tall cement wall along a good part of the hiking trail. There are numerous signs posted along the way to impart knowledge of the old route. Many of the old tunnels had "1914" and "1916" dates embedded in the cement. It has been nearly a century since they were built. The first tunnel was opened in 1900. The lower and longer current tunnel was opened in 1929. The old tunnel and route have been abandoned for 83 years.

The first section of trail may have been the most photogenic. Lots of leaf color and plenty of old tunnels and sheds. The day started out cloudy. Cloudy as in we were walking in the clouds. The mist added to the mood. I was hiking alone at one point when I heard a pecking sound. A downey woodpecker was right above the trail. I managed half a dozen blurry photos as it would not sit still but did manage one acceptable shot. I caught up with most of the folks in our group at the Scenic Trailhead. Several big boards with lots of history provided. After a break we headed onward and upward. They newer connector trail takes hikers up to the Windy Point viewpoint in just 1 1/4 miles. Via the long gentle grade it would be five miles longer each way. With the shortcut it is now a reasonable day hike to get all the way to near the old tunnel.

The shortcut has many short switchbacks as it climbs. It is not an overly steep trail. It is just very consistent as it climbs. It did not take long to reach the grade. We headed right for the last quarter mile to Windy Point. There is a toilet just off the trail that would provide quite a view on a clear day. I'll have to come back to see just how good. There was plenty of room for our whole group at Windy Point. The rain held off and the wind was very light. There was no view but the conditions were otherwise great for a long lunch break. Steve makes sure these hikes are well catered. There was plenty to eat and drink. A good time was had by all.

In time the clouds even parted, at least a little. The new tunnel entrance was now in view down below. Scenic and near the Surprise Lake trailhead were in site too. Although we were at 2900' there was no trace of the recent mountain snowfall. We could see some well above us to the south and east. I arrived at 12:20 pm and we stayed for nearly an hour. Our return route was on the upper grade back down to the Martin Creek trailhead. For the full 8 mile hike we had just under one mile uphill and all the rest downhill or flat. I stopped at most all the interpretive signs to learn more about the old grade. A little less leaf color on the upper grade but still some fine color.

At one point there is a series of steps that lead up to the top of a snowshed wall. I followed the trail to a creek. Above that is an old wooden wall that contained a reservoir. The sign explained that water was impounded to help with fire fighting. The old pre diesel trains had a habit of kicking out embers that started fires. At this spot we ran into a group of half a dozen hikers. One of only a handful of hikers seen all day. I guess the dreary weather and late season kept folks at home. That was doubly enjoyed as we sailed along Highway 2 through Sultan with no slowdown on the way home.

There are two crossover trails that drop down to the lower grade. The second one is the trail now. The old grade made a long turn to switch back down the valley. It is now buried under brush. The second crossover comes out very near the Martin Creek parking lot. I'll have to explore the switchback at a later date. I also would like to hike beyond Windy Point The grade goes on to Wellington, the site of the worst avalanche in American history. About 100 people perished when an avalanche swept a trail off the tracks and down the mountainside. The old tunnel is a little farther. The tunnel is not open to hikers.

I had a fun time finally hiking the Iron Goat Trail. My thanks go out to all the volunteers who have spent many hours reclaiming the grade and providing both a great hike and a history lesson. I will return as I have more to see farther down the trail. Also thanks to Steve and all the others who were on this hike. I had a great time.

I have posted 36 annotated photos on my website located at: http://www.hikingnorthwest.com. Go to "Trips - 2012" on the left margin.
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iron goat trail hiker steve.JPG
WTA worked here!
2010
Location
Iron Goat Trail (#1074)
Central Cascades -- Stevens Pass - West
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Skykomish Ranger District
Statistics
Roundtrip 6.0 miles
Elevation Gain 700 ft
Highest Point 2800 ft
Features
Rivers
Mountain views
Ridges/passes
User info
Dogs allowed on leash
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Green Trails 176S: Stevens Pass

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Red MarkerIron Goat Trail
47.7120293 -121.1622797
  • Trail Work 2010
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