Spanning the gravelly corridor between the tiny towns of Lyle and Warwick, Washington, this new-ish addition to the Columbia River Gorge has a complicated backstory with as many turns as the trail itself. After the Burlington Northern Railroad ceased operations here in the early 1990s, national conservancy group Rails-to-Trails purchased the 31-mile stretch of abandoned track from the state for $3.1 million, stripped away all the rails, and transformed it into a mountain biker’s playground—a process that took more than 10 years, owing to ongoing battles over land rights with local landowners. Since it opened in 2003, the gentle ride through prairieland has quickly become a favorite of locals and Portlanders alike.
ROUTE: The route kicks off near Lyle and follows the Klickitat River for about 16 miles along a slightly rugged and bumpy trail. If you’re lucky, you’ll spy the tribal fishermen of the Yakima Nation’s Klickitat tribe dip-net fishing for chinook and coho salmon at Lyle Falls, just two miles from the trailhead. Where the trail departs from the river, the landscape begins to fade from the familiar fir-flecked Gorge scenery to the sparse grass hills surrounding Swale Canyon. While it’s sometimes closed in summer because of fire danger, this stunning stretch of sunburned land offers 12 miles’ worth of reasons to make a return trip in the fall. Maps:www.klickitat-trail.org.
DIRECTIONS: Take the Hood River Bridge to Washington’s Hwy 14 and go east for almost 11 miles. The trailhead is on your left.