Finding the Iron Goat Trail West
Date of Adventure: September 8, 2014
Since we were already in the area to check out the ghost town of Wellington, we researched other points of interest. That led us to the other section of the Iron Goat Trail. We had seen it referred to by multiple names. When we actually did our on-the-ground recon trip, we saw none of those names posted. So to keep it simple we decided to call this portion Iron Goat West.
Before heading for the Iron Goat Trail we wanted to see if we could find the new Cascade Tunnel. Heading west along highway 2 from Wellington we turned right onto the other end of the Old Cascade Highway. Less than a mile up the road we caught sight of it. This one is still in use.
From highway two there are two options to get to the parking lot for the western part of the Iron Goat Trail. We opted to turn off the highway at the Iron Goat Interpretive Site. This spot has lots of great information about the railroad and area. The highlight is a real caboose from the Great Northern Railroad that is being restored by volunteers.
We read there was a trailhead here, but we couldn't find it. So after getting our fill at this location we got back on the road. Instead of going back to highway 2, we turned right onto the Old Cascade Highway. Then we turned right onto a gravel forest service road, heading in what we hoped was the right direction. We passed a pit toilet and widened area of the road, but kept going, as no signs indicated this was the trailhead. It was only after another mile of bad conditions that we turned back. At this point we figured this must be it and got out to investigate.
From the looks of the Iron Goat map we had in our hands, this was a loop trail that wound through multiple tunnels. We were stoked! Our hopes were dashed very soon as you will see.
We decided to begin the loop on the left or west side of the parking lot. We missed the trail at first, as on the side of the road was a massive timber crib structure that looked to be the remains of a bridge.
Backtracking we saw a small information board and trail leading down from the road.
We hopped on that and wound through massive concrete blocks that once held a railroad trestle.
Then we got to a signpost that made no sense. Why were there multiple trails to choose from when NONE of the information for the area indicated this? Even more annoying, none of the trail options listed distances, so we had no way of making a sound choice. In the end we chose to go with the option that seemed to match up best with the map, and would lead us to the tunnel.
We continued down the switchbacks. At the bottom of the switchbacks we crossed a stunning bridge over an equally stunning creek.
Then it was back up another set of switchbacks. We hadn't planned on this type of elevation gain and loss, since it wasn't stated in the trail materials, but no matter - we were going to walk through a horseshoe tunnel!
Then we got to another confusing trail sign. Again no match-up with the trail materials or website, and no mileage. We again kept on the path that would lead us to the tunnel.
At the top of the switchbacks, what was our reward? Nothing. Well, there was a small interpretive sign that indicated the tunnel used to be there, but was now caved in. And the trail just ended at this point.
We felt mad and disappointed. We had lost time on a wild-tunnel chase that seemed like a sure thing. We trudged back to the car. We had not budgeted time for this type of trip. The existing information had led us into a false sense of predictability.
We had just enough time for a fast walk to the Twin Tunnels, if they even existed. Since the part of the map we just followed was bad, who knew if the rest was accurate. Over by the pit toilet we found this trail area.
Luckily, the tunnels did still exist. We were able to walk through the first tunnel, and see more timber crib framing in between the two tunnels.
The second tunnel was off limits for good reason. The inner framing was totally unstable.
By the looks of the map and the actual trail, there is more to see between these tunnels and the snowsheds at Wellington. But we ran out of time. Perhaps someday we will get back there, but with so many cool places to explore this spot is not high on our list.
Thank you for reading about our adventure to the Iron Goat West. If you choose your own adventure to Iron Goat West, drop us a line. We'd love to hear about it.