Stampede and Tacoma Pass Loop
I’ve had this loop mapped out for about a year, and was finally able to ride it this weekend with my friends Andrew, Mark, and Rory. I’ve been wanting to find a ~50 mile loop with some high passes and good views that is pretty close to Seattle, and this one delivers. The weather forecast was close to perfect, with clear skies and a high in the mid-60s.
The route is so easy that it can be summed up to a few numbers: 54, 52, 41. Those are the uncreative names that the Forest Service has given to the roads in this area. You can also give it a couple of names: Iron Horse Trail, Stampede Pass, Lester, Tacoma Pass, and back to the Iron Horse Trail.
The 4 of us met at my house at 7:30, loaded up the car, and headed east on I90. Some unfortunate highway traffic gave us a good excuse to park and start the ride at Hyak instead of Crystal Springs Campground. The 9 flat miles were a nice warmup before starting the steep but fairly short climb up Stampede Pass. The climb wasn’t too remarkable as it weaves under the powerlines and gives occasional views of the I90 corridor. This part of the road is used pretty heavily and has some big washboard. As we approached the top we almost instantly moved from clear blue skies into thick fog that was rolling over the top of the pass. The ride down Stampede Pass felt very different from the climb as traffic died down and the tight switchbacks and steep descent provided for some exciting riding. The descent goes on for longer than the climb because the west side of Stampede Pass is about 1000′ lower than the I90 corridor that we started from.
The bottom of Stampede Pass is a fairly busy place for being pretty remote. Hunting season was starting soon, so trucks and RVs and campers were moving in with lots of provisions. A ranger was out making sure that everyone was following the rules and behaving properly. Roads head in many directions, some open to the public and some leading into closed watersheds. The ghost town of Lester is beyond one of those gates and you are allowed to walk into it, but not bike. It makes a nice diversion if you have the extra time.
We rode down a corridor of yellow trees and turned left onto FR52. We were immediately presented with a fork in the road and took the little used option to the right (our Garmin GPS indicated that they both lead back to the same place). Our fork dead ended at an old washout, but it made for a nice lunch spot next to a creek and by a railroad trestle. Rory went to explore beyond the washout to see if we could link back to the main road while the rest of us enjoyed a leisurely lunch. It turns out that he was a mere 20 feet or so from finding the shortcut to the road, but when you are bushwacking it can be hard to see thingseven when they are that close. We went back down our little spur and got back onto FR52.
FR52 one of the highlights of the day for me. This part of the forest has fewer users and we saw almost no traffic (a closed road sign and easily passed washout helped a bit with that too). The roads were in good condition and the turning color of the trees provided a nice backdrop. The fog had lifted over lunch and we just had pure blue skies above us. The road is pretty flat for a few miles, then started to climb back up to Tacoma Pass. On the climb up we ran into a couple of guys on motorcycles and one or two cars, but had most of it to ourselves. The valley that we climbed through was wide enough for great views, but narrow enough to feel quite and isolated. We took our time going up to Tacoma Pass, partially because I was feeling slow and partially because the views were so great that we all enjoyed the breaks.
Just after Tacoma Pass FR52 intersects FR41. Going left follows a ridgeline and another small pass that connects back to FR54 and Stampede Pass. Going right gives a long descent down to Easton, where we could take the Iron Horse Trail back to Hyak (adding about 15 miles to the route). We chose to go left, and that was the correct choice. For a little more climbing we got some great views looking north into the I90 corridor and a couple of nice views south looking at Mt Rainier. I love riding on ridgelines were you can look across and see the road that you’ll be riding on next. FR41 provided plenty of that.
Just as the traffic started to pick up again we found ourselves at the intersection to FR54, the Stampede Pass road. The descent down went very quickly and then we had the relaxing 9 miles flat miles back to Hyak and the car.
By 5:30 we were back in Seattle with the car unloaded and going our own ways. This was a great 10 hour way to say goodbye to summer and welcome in autumn.
If you’d like to go
Getting there is easy. The Hyak trailhead for Iron Horse State Park is located just past Snoqualmie Pass on I90. There is plenty of parking at this free trailhead. The drive takes about an hour from downtown Seattle.
A GPX file for loading the route onto your GPS is located here: GPX
The route map is here: route map
I’d suggest bringing a water filter. There are no sources of potable water on the ride, but many streams and creeks.
The route is about 50 miles and has a little over 5000′ of climbing. Plan on most of a day to complete the loop. You can make the ride almost 20 miles shorter by parking at Crystal Springs Campground (exit 62 of I90), but that doesn’t remove any of the climbing.
Date: October 3, 2010