Exploring the Eastside is an occasional series spotlighting the Eastside's special places. If you've got a suggestion, send it to east@seattletimes.com or call us at 425-453-2130...

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Exploring the Eastside is an occasional series spotlighting the Eastside’s special places. If you’ve got a suggestion, send it to east@seattletimes.com or call us at 425-453-2130.

In the summers of her childhood, Isabel Jones would walk the railroad tracks from the family farm in Carnation to swimming holes on the nearby Tolt River.

She and friends would have contests to see who could walk the farthest while balancing on one of the rails. When a train approached the covered bridge crossing the river, she would scamper onto a small bench inside the bridge and feel the roar of the steam engine and wheels on steel.

“That would shake and rattle, and that train made so much noise and we’d think, ‘Oh we’re not going to do that again,’ ” said the 81-year-old.

The trains have long since gone to scrap and rust. The rails have been pulled up. The local depot, where the depot agent used to hand off the mail to the passing train, was moved and turned into a house, Jones said.

But Jones still follows the old railbed to the bridge over the river. Now, she walks along what’s called the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, which snakes through the valley along the bed of the defunct railroad.

“That has lots of memories up there,” she said.

If you go

What: Snoqualmie Valley Trail

Traveler’s tips: The trail is relatively flat and smooth, like a narrow, well-maintained dirt road. No motorized vehicles are allowed, but bikes and horses are. Some good places to start are Tokul Road east of Fall City, where it’s a short hike to a bridge passing high over Tokul Creek, and Carnation, where it’s a very flat stroll. For bicycles, don’t bring a bike with really narrow tires. The trail should be snow-free all year, except for the occasional storm.

More information: www.metrokc.gov/parks/trails/trails/snoqv.htm

For people not steeped in the history of this valley, there is little sign on the trail of the past that made the route possible. But people still find plenty of reason to travel it.

The wide gravel trail offers a trip through the back yard of the Snoqualmie Valley. At its northern end, the trail strikes out from Duvall, winding through farmland. After passing through Carnation it gradually rises up the hillsides before making a dead end at Tokul Road, a short distance from Snoqualmie Falls.


A small stream flows next to the Snoqualmie Valley Trail just east of Fall City. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the trail, but bikes and horses are.

Ambitious trekkers can take a paved route at that point and rejoin the trail a short distance later until it merges with the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, which climbs over Snoqualmie Pass. The valley trail is 36 miles in all, according to its owner, King County.

The section between Carnation and Tokul Road rides along the fringe of civilization. Trailgoers cross bridges spanning rushing streams and pass through groves of birch, maple and pine. Yet massive suburban homes occasionally loom over the trail. Rusting old cars squat in overgrown back yards. Often the hum of car tires on Highway 203 is audible.

The smooth path rises and falls gently. Built to ease the burden of laboring trains, the shallow inclines now do the same for the thighs of cyclists, runners, walkers, horses and even unicyclists.

Martha Hutton comes to the trail nearly every day to walk with her two Labrador retrievers, Murphy and Axel. On her walks Hutton has seen coyotes, hawks and the hind end of a cougar as it retreated into the woods.

Her favorite days are the rainy ones, when she can take a long walk without encountering anyone. “On the weekends it can get really busy,” she said.

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It’s far less crowded, however, than urban trails like the Burke-Gilman. On a recent weekday, Hutton was the only person encountered during a two-hour trip. Intermittent drizzle fell on the moss-covered branches of maples. The last of the fall foliage clung to the trees. Periodically, small trails emerged from the woods to join the main trail.

What’s now a recreation destination was once a vital artery of commerce. The rail line was a branch of the Milwaukee Road, built north from Cedar Falls to Monroe in the early 1900s. For remote rural towns like Carnation, then called Tolt, it was an economic boon. Trains pulled away enormous logs hauled out of the surrounding forests, or dairy cows raised on farms. The railroad stocked general stores with goods previously brought by riverboat.

But the line eventually gave way to roads and the cold arithmetic of business. Jones said she didn’t recall people feeling a great loss when the trains stopped running in 1949.

“Really I don’t think it made that much of a difference to people because they were getting more mobile,” said Jones, a member of the Tolt Historical Society. “They just thought it was one of the things that had to go.”

From the end of the trail near Tokul Road, another vestige of that era is visible: A large smokestack rises up from the closed Weyerhaeuser lumber mill. The county is negotiating with Weyerhaeuser to extend the Snoqualmie Valley Trail across the company’s land.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com