[Guest post by Matt Pawelski]
Welcome to the first installment of our series concerning accessibility to trails and outdoor recreation in Snoqualmie Valley!
You may have heard about the official opening of Camp Brown day-use area off the Middle Fork Road. It is a beautiful place for families to visit but possibly most notably includes a half-mile trail loop constructed in adherence to ADA trail standards.
This is the most recent development demonstrating the increasing consideration for accessibility in building new and renovating old trails and parks. This is an excellent moment to start an ongoing conversation and series to catalog accessible areas close to home and provide perspective on accessibility challenges.
Speaking with folks local to the area, planning and investigating is critical to safety and success when indulging in nature.
Richard Lamb, a long time Valley resident, trail explorer, and avid Flight Simmer who uses a powered chair, says, “In regards to path surfaces, it all depends on the capabilities of the wheelchair. Deep gravel and mud are the worst.”
Despite his chair having ATV-like tires, he “can and has gotten stuck.” This is a major consideration, especially in the Snoqualmie Valley, where flowing water runs through ground and gravel alike for most of the year.
Similarly, caregiver Nancy Lamb finds that many trails aren’t suitable for very long, and without proper upkeep and maintenance, they can become damaged or inaccessible. She says, “the trails should be wide enough and level enough so that the wheelchair rider can handle most on [their] own, but also safe enough so that someone helping can help.”
For example, she highlights difficulties managing mud in the locally-known Silent Creek Trail through Snoqualmie Ridge: “They need to fill with fresh dirt covered by enough bark that a wheelchair can get through.”
On the other hand, similar paths near Silent Creek, such as the packed gravel and paved trails by the YMCA, are ideal. Richard loves these trails and says, “the more hard-packed the surface, the better.” He says that “range is everything” when considering trips along the trails, so close-to-home trails that are well-maintained are easier trips.
Richard offers the following essential guidance for all planning a trip out, “My biggest advice to other disabled wheelchair drivers is to be very careful about exploring unknown paths. Getting stuck all alone is no fun at all. Stay conservative in where you go and enjoy being outside.“
Overall, a lot has to be considered when heading out regardless of destination, sometimes even locally, as Nancy said regarding busy area parking, “To go to the North Bend Bar & Grill or Rio Bravito, we park down the street and roll a block or two. Sometimes, a tax-paying resident can’t leave their house; other times, if they leave, they can’t access local stores, let alone trails.“
She says seasonal issues arise too. “The other problem is snow days. The city plows the streets, the sidewalks are not passable, and the city and many shop owners plow the snow into the disabled access lanes or curb cutouts.“
While many hikers and outdoor enthusiasts consider damaged roadways, bridges, or drainage failures to be part of the experience, regular wear and tear can render a known accessible trail as completely inaccessible.
Nancy’s overall perspective is that so many little things can go wrong it is often a complex effort.
How does Snoqualmie Valley accessibility compare to other regions? To quote Richard again, “The Valley is VERY accessible. No town is perfect, but the valley is great”. However, Richard is quick to point out it really depends on the terrain and type of chair. In Green Lake, Seattle, for example, even the sidewalks are crumbling and difficult to navigate. He says the lake trail is lovely, though (paved and hard-packed gravel). He offers the bricks at the Pike Place Market as an example of a chair with difficulty in what may seem like a very accessible location.
There are many factors at play for accessibility, including degradation. The fact is that no area is permanently accessible. Accessibility must be maintained. One example is the Lower Snoqualmie Falls Park. Run by Puget Sound Energy, construction is currently underway, prohibiting the general public from using the boardwalk to access the lower falls pool trail.
Being a hydroelectric power station, restriction is paramount for safety. So untimely visits from tourists and locals alike may disappoint by the lack of accessibility. Now imagine if all of your outdoor activities were subject to this? Broken bridges, too much water, questionable pathways, debris, and roots can bring similar disappointment and pose a sudden danger on otherwise pleasant pathways.
Another example of a well-known accessible trail that could use work is the Gold Creek Pond Trail near Hyak at Snoqualmie Pass. Nancy reports that the bridge is rotting and not worth the risk to wheel over.
An indicator of the substantial community seeking accessible trails, local adventurers Ellie and Summer confirmed reports from Nancy of bridge degradation during a recent outing to Gold Creek Pond. They post on social media, “The bridges did need some work, but they’ve put some boards over the holes, so it was no problem getting around today.”
With these considerations in mind, everyone needs to be aware of the difficulties others may face when enjoying the outdoors. Sometimes we can take for granted throwing on some shoes and heading into the forest.
It’s just not that easy. Maybe though, at a bare minimum, we can help provide some initial guidance and inspiration. There are also likely some actions we can all keep in mind to make this easier on others, which we hope to highlight further in another installment of this series. To the point of guidance and inspiration, much of the list of trails below was sourced from the chronicling of the adventures of Valley locals Ellie and Summer on Instagram @findingmountains. Previously featured on KING 5, this duo persistently pursues accessible adventure all over the valley and beyond. Check out their account for ideas, inspiration, or an instant smile. Even the Mountains to Sound Greenway point folks to their account for ideas!
The following is a shortlist of similar trails in and around the Snoqualmie Valley. There are also some additional and very local resources worth checking out. The list includes areas not officially designated for accessibility or constructed to ADA standards. As with any outdoor adventure, be sure to prepare before leaving for a trip, always tell others where you’re going, have a plan, and confirm the area’s accessibility if possible.
Trails with Accessible Segments:
- North Bend Way Historic Railroad Trail (paved)
- Snoqualmie Historic District Railroad Trail (paved)
- Meadowbrook Farm (paved, bridge sections)
- Snoqualmie Falls Trail (paved with ramps)
- Centennial Park (paved with ample parking, wooden bridges, connects to paved Meadowbrook Farm)
- Tollgate Farm (packed gravel, bridge sections, park with water and restrooms)
- Rattlesnake Lake (paved and gravel perimeter trails and main TH connector)
- Snoqualmie Ridge Trails (Gravel and Pavement near YMCA)
- Gold Creek Pond Trail #1250 (paved, bridge sections)
- West Tiger Mountain: Around the Lake/Bus Trail (gravel,dirt)
- Squak Mountain: Thomas Interpretive Trail (packed gravel)
- Tiger Summit Barrier Free Trail (packed gravel)
- Mount Si Interpretive Trail (packed gravel, narrow at times and VERY short (.1-.2mi))
- Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Areas (multiple along FR56: packed gravel, dirt, paved)
- **NEW** Camp Brown, Middle Fork Snoqualmie
- CCC Trail (Middle Fork lot end, packed dirt trail, hazards)
- Cedar River Trail (packed gravel)
- Snoqualmie Valley Trail (packed gravel)
- Iron Horse Trail – Cedar Falls to Hyak (gravel and loose dirt sections)
- The Mountaineers offer an event on wheelchair hiking (search website for current and seasonal offerings)
- WA State Park ADA Recreation Search Map
- Mountaineers Books: Accessible Trails in Washington’s Backcountry
- https://www.alltrails.com/ offers searchability by accessibility.
- On Washington Trail Association’s website, a keyword search may present some options like this but confirm accessibility.
Do you know of great spots in the Valley for accessible adventures? We hope to grow the list over time and welcome comments and suggestions of your favorite spots. Thank you for reading this initial installment on a series dedicated to this topic. We’d love to hear from you and highlight your experiences!
[Author Matt Pawelski is a North Bend resident who volunteers and advocates for trails and outdoor lifestyles. You can find him running, riding, fishing, or climbing all over the Valley with his lovely fiance and two canine companions. He also enjoys delicious coffee and beer.]