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Snake River - Columbia Plateau Trail
The trail pierces the basalt scablands of the lower Snake River country and crosses the rimrock country of the Columbia River Plateau. It tracks through coulees cut by the Great Missoula Floods of 16,000 years ago. Settlers first used the route in the 1850s when wagon train master John Mullan surveyed a wagon road roughly following the same track we hike today. A half century after the first wagons rolled along the route, the surveyors for the railroad plotted the course that's still used--but not by trains--today. The section described here goes through some of the most rugged, scenic country along the entire route.
Leaving the parking area, hike upiver (northeast) to enjoy incredible views up the Snake River. The scenery is almost beyond belief. Desert country? No! You're traveling through dry environments, but this is a rich ecosystem, teeming with wildlife, large and small. Mule deer the size of small elk range throughout the area. Coyotes as big as timber wolves prowl the canyons. Even a few cougars prowl the canyons, keeping the deer population from exploding out of control. Raptors soar on the thermals rising over this sun-drenched canyon, while swallows and sparrows flit and flutter around the cliffs. On the ground at your feet, Hungarian partridge, chukar, and quail dart through the brush.
The trail follows the old railroad bed, but along this 4-mile stretch, a good part of the old dirt wagon road parallels the railbed, and that old dirt track is easier to hike--it lacks the rough crushed rock ballast that covers the railway.
Hiking east along the north shore of the Snake River provides ample opportunities to enjoy the sparkling waters of the river and the plethora of birds and other animals that are at home in the area. It also immerses you in the human history of the region. You'll be thrilled with the old telegraph poles that dot the route--some with old glass and ceramic insulators in place and wires strung between them.
The side canyons and sagebrush forests along the walls create interesting patterns around you, especially if you are hiking here early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the low angle of the sun casts the interesting topography into sharp relief and heavy shadows.
Hikers can travel as far up the Snake River as they like, but a good turnaround point is the mouth of Burr Canyon, where the trail crosses the Burr Canyon Road.
From US 12 near Pasco, take the Kahlotus exit. Drive the Pasco--Kahlotus Highway about 24 miles before turning right onto Snake River Road. Drive down the steep, winding Snake River Road through McCoy Canyon. At 28.8 miles, stay straight at the junction to reach the end of the road (5 miles from Pasco--Kahlotus Road). Park by the railroad grade trail or down by the river at the Snake River junction. No facilities are available here.
Recent Trip Reports
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There are 3 trip reports for this hike.
Snake River - Columbia Plateau Trail — May 02, 2011 — Mr. Pays-Bas
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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I was curious for hiking along this railroad corridor. The historical significance of railroads for ...
I was curious for hiking along this railroad corridor. The historical significance of railroads for opening up to the west made me checking out this part of the corridor.
Following the advice in the desert hiking guide I took the track next to the railroad grade. This made hiking very comfortable. After a while I got a bit bored: just a river, just a trail, just no change in the landscape ...
I climbed up to the railroad track and started on my way back. It made it more interesting when I came across old rusty railroad nails left in the gravel bed. And hiking along the old telegraph poles I realized the efforts in building the railroad. It gave me some feel for the way the West was won.
(photos will be added when I get home)
Snake River/Columbia Plateau Trail — Feb 23, 2005 — M&S
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Continuing on with doing a few hikes from the new guidebook ""Best Desert Hikes Washington"" by Ala...
Continuing on with doing a few hikes from the new guidebook ""Best Desert Hikes Washington"" by Alan L Bauer and Dan A. Nelson during a short Tri-Cities area stay, I did hike #67 Snake River/Columbia Plateau Trail. This is NE of Pasco at a place alongside the mighty Snake R. called Snake River Junction, which you come to at road's end after driving thru delightful McCoy Cyn. From the parking area next to an old jeep track that parallels the old railroad grade alongside the Snake, I headed north on another boring clear sunny eastern WA morning. The vista is just breathtaking as the blue waters of the wide Snake flow thru yet another wide canyon enlarged by the many enormous floods from tens of thousands of years ago during the last ice age.
Snake River/Columbia Plateau Trail — Jun 27, 2004 — Coyote
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Growing up in Eastern Washington, I took the desert for granted. It was, or so I thought, barren an...
Growing up in Eastern Washington, I took the desert for granted. It was, or so I thought, barren and ugly. What a fool I was.
We left the Martin Road trailhead at 2:00 PM, and headed down the trail. The air was hot and humid, dark clouds filled the sky and we expected rain to start at any moment. The trail is straight as a string and climbs almost imperceptably The old railroad grade cuts through basalt as it heads towards Cheney. Several times we were startled by rabbits bounding across the grade and disappearing into the weeds and sagebrush. In one cut, I saw something move, but didn't get a clear look at whatever slithered into a pile of rocks.
As the trail approaches Amber Lake, a few clusters of trees appear here and there where a source of water exists. The terrain gets noticeably greener and each miles eastward increases the precipitation. We saw occasional deer, bounding away from us. We saw evidence that the deer use the trail as a path for their travels. There were a few wildflowers left, but they appear to be well past the peak.
We returned to our truck at exactly 9:01 PM, about 10 minutes after sunset. This is part of the State Park system, and in theory the park closes at sunset. We worried that someone would lock the gate and we would have to spend the night. Its hard to understand the thinking of the people who administer the park, as this would be a great hike by moonlight.
This walk is hot and dry, so take plenty of water. Don't listen to those who say that that Eastern Washington is ugly. Take a chance on this or one of the other railroad grade hikes. If you keep an open mind, there is a big payoff.