The Great Northern Railway, which ran from Saint Paul, Minnesota, to Seattle, Washington, is considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century. The difficulties of navigating the snowy Cascade Mountains surely factor in to what made the endeavor so impressive – and what caused the former town of Wellington gain a certain notoriety of its own. In 1910, an avalanche struck Wellington’s railway depot and killed 96 passengers and employees onboard two trains that were stuck there waiting out a blizzard: the deadliest avalanche in U.S. history.
What Makes It Great
Today, however, history buffs and nature nerds can hike alongside this abandoned railway grade via the Iron Goat Trail (so named because the railway’s logo was a mountain goat). There is a 6-mile loop that passes several old railway tunnels and scenic viewpoints, and an additional three miles that connects the loop to the area that was Wellington (the town was eventually abandoned and the remnants burned down), making for a total of nine miles of trail. The paths are reachable from three trailheads: Martin Creek, The Iron Goat Interpretive Site, and Wellington. The loop is comprised of a wide, gravel, ADA accessible lower path, while the upper route is a rougher hikers-only trail. The trail between Wellington and Windy Point is moderately difficulty but also ADA accessible. Getting to Wellington from Martin Creek or the Interpretive Site, however, requires a short, steep hikers-only segment. The Iron Goat Trail passes through lush forests and ferns as well as artifacts from the route’s industrial past, with plenty of informative signs scattered along the trail to help you understand what you’re seeing. For even more information about the Great Northern Railway and the Wellington disaster, check out Gary Krist’s The White Cascade.
Who is Going to Love It
Iron Goat’s ample interpretive signs, which tell the stories of the tunnels and timber that made up the railway as well as the people who actually built it, will fire up anyone who likes to geek out on history. Plus, anyone who’s hiking options are limited due to physical challenges will love the lower trail between Martin Creek and the Interpretive Site for being wheelchair accessible.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The three trailheads – Martin Creek, The Iron Goat Interpretive Site, and Wellington – each have a parking lot. All trailheads are accessible from the Stevens Pass Highway/U.S. 2 via different exits. See directions to each trailhead on the Iron Goat Trail website.