Three Iron Animals and Their Northwest Trails

Iron Horse, Iron Goat, and Iron Bear–these are all names of popular Northwest trails. But don’t look for those animals on the trails. You won’t find them. The historic reasons for their names add to their appeal.

Iron Horse is the 19th century nickname for a railroad. Our Iron Horse Trail is the old railroad grade for the Milwaukee Road, traveling west through Montana to Seattle. The mostly level trail runs alongside Lake Keechelus, through a long spooky tunnel and then parallels I-90 down the Mountain to Sound Greenway. Hikers, cross country skiers, and mountain bikers enjoy its gradual ascent or descent.

IronGoatThe Iron Goat is also a former railroad grade, but the animal cited is the signature Great Northern’s Rocky Mountain goat. That Great Northern Railroad crossed the Cascades along a route what is today’s Stevens Pass Highway 2. The trail contains a number of old tunnels and snow sheds. One area above Scenic is the site of the infamous Wellington Slide in 1910, which killed 98 passengers. Although the trail has the gradual grade of a railroad, there are steep scenic overlooks and left -over relics of railroading days next to old snow sheds. This trail was restored with the help of the volunteer members of Volunteers of Washington.

MountStuartCIron Bear is not a former railroad grade. It was named for two Teanaway area creeks-Iron Creek and Bear Creek, whose headwaters originate on a steep ridge near Mt. Stuart. Its trailhead is reached from Highway 97. The trail switchbacks up the ridge through fields of flowers to a high pass with an overlook. Continuing on another mile to the highest point, hikers find themselves staring straight across at close-up views of Mt. Stuart and the Stuart range. Steep dry rockslides along the way contain tiny blossoms of pink Lewisia, looking like little waterlillies in an incongruously dry setting.

The Iron Horse, Iron Goat, and Iron Bear trail historic references are mostly unknown or forgotten today, but hikers can enjoy knowing about the history they spring from.