Note: This is a 5 Star Route, meaning that it is a highly curated, premier riding route.
This route is a fascinating blend of history, environment, and stunning views; it includes a river-hugging, rocky trail that uses an old railroad bed (no whining!), rolling farmland, and a rip-roaring paved downhill with a bird’s eye view of the Columbia River. Some of you will love it, some of you will hate it. It all depends on how well you can tune out the rocky sections and focus on the amazing scenery.
To fully appreciate the route, we hope you study up: good ole Lewis and Clark on one of their famous expeditions bumped into about 700 Klickitat Indians living in this area during their 1805 expedition. There was the Klickitat Pop Company which made carbonated beverages … and then, of course, the railroad (now the trail) that was put in during 1903.
This is a must do ride for the history and beauty, but it is not a ride that we would venture out onto more than once every several years due to the rough texture.
Adventure / Gravel Route
Terrain & Technical Riding Difficulty[what this means]
The most demanding parts of this ride are the rough railway shale rock bed in areas, a bit of single-track, and a few re-built rail trestles with a semi-narrow riding section. Along the way, expect to encounter other bikers and some hikers.
The Swale Canyon section does not have an easy bailout. It is one way in, one way out. Thus, a major mechanical in this area can make for a hike-a-bike of several miles to a major road.
When we like to ride this …
Mid-spring thru early summer when the flowers are in bloom, and the rivers and creeks are running full. The Swale Canyon section is usually closed mid-June through October due to fire danger.
Klickitat trailhead in Lyle, WA. Flush toilets, water.
Lat / Long: 45.696619, -121.290136
For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.
Miles 0 to 28 / Klickitat Trail / Gravel Double-Track & Single-Track, and (some) Pavement
The first 28 miles of the route are along the Klickitat – Swale Trail, a non-motorized multiple-use trail that follows an old railroad corridor that once linked the towns of Lyle and Goldendale. The gently graded trail starts in the town of Lyle, Washington, at the confluence of the Klickitat and Columbia Rivers, follows the nationally designated Wild and Scenic Klickitat River 13 miles through oaks and pines(Micro-video) to the old mill town of Klickitat, and then after a few paved miles, turns up Swale Creek at the Wahkiacus trailhead into the remote and beautiful Swale Canyon,(Micro-video) ending in the high, open ranch country of the Goldendale Plateau.
The Wild and Scenic Klickitat River
The lowermost 10.8 miles of the Klickitat River, from Wheeler Creek to the confluence with Columbia River, are designated as a Wild & Scenic River. This stretch of river begins as a broad canyon with rolling hills that drops at a steady gradient of 26 feet per mile before cascading into a Class V gorge around river mile 2 with an unrunnable entrance feature.
The Yakama Nation have been dip-net fishing continuously in this area for generations to catch salmon and steelhead. Please share the river with respect. [US Forest Service]
In 1903 the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railroad built the original railroad linking Lyle and Goldendale to transport crops, lumber, and livestock. Passenger service existed for several years during the 1920s between Portland, Oregon and Goldendale, Washington. Lumber was king, and the railroad was an important part of its transport until the 1980s. It was discontinued in 1992 following the decline of the lumber mill in the town of Klickitat and the mill in Goldendale. The railroad right of way was purchased in 1993 by the national Rail-to-Trails Conservancy…. [Kiosk at the Wahkiacus trailhead]
Klickitat Mineral Springs
Several miles north of the town of Klickitat, carbonated mineral water bubbles to the earth’s surface through mysterious concrete pillars. You can identify the site by a strange, old stucco building on the east side of the river. The Klickitat Indians used the water from these springs for healing and sweat lodge ceremonies. In 1902 a summer bathhouse and resort was built here that soon failed. In 1908 a soda bottling plant was built with drinks like “Klickitat Mineral Water”, “Klickitat Pop” and “Mineral Ale”. But the business failed during the Great Depression. [Kiosk Wahkiacus trailhead.]
Miles 28 to Finish / Centerville Highway / Paved
The next 15 miles are along the Centerville Highway, a quiet country road. The first 5 miles undulate and climb an additional 500 feet. At mile 33, the route turns downhill with some undulations at first, but by mile 38.3, it is straight downhill — a 5% average grade for 5 miles.(Micro-video)
At the sweeping s-curve at mile 42, there is a small pull-out that is worth the stop. If you look up the canyon, you may get a glimpse of slackliners tightrope walking high above the river on a fine thread of rope. And, looking to the south, there is a majestic view of the confluence of the Klickitat and Columbia Rivers is backdropped by Mt Hood.
Food & Water
The town of Klickitat at ~ mile 13.
Recommend a red blinky light for the Centerville Highway section.
Personally, we recommend 50+ mm tires due to gnarly railroad grade gravel. But … we have heard of people doing it on 40 mm also.
Please note that most of the land adjacent to the trail is private, and it is important to respect private property by staying on the trail. Adjacent landowners have poultry and livestock, and there is open-range grazing of cattle and sheep, especially in the section from the Fisher Hill Trestle to Pitt and in the Harms Rd.
If you’re looking for something a bit longer, check out Swale Canyon 80 on OMTM. We would still suggest using the Centerville Highway connection versus Highway 14.
The highlight of this route is the Klickitat Trail. If you’re looking for a way to give back (time, talent, or money), and we hope you are, take a look at the Klickitat Trail Conservancy.
- April 2021 / Ridden by DF Team. Updated to 5 Star. Added more route details and added more detail to the map.
- March 2021 / Original Post as a Development Route.