The clip-clop of hooves on gravel and pavement. Breathtaking views from converted trestle-bridges hundreds of feet high. Towering trees, both evergreen and deciduous, give year-round interest. There is only one trail in Lewis County that affords the horse rider all of this – the Willapa Hills Trail.

“No Road is long with good company,” goes the Turkish Proverb. So, saddle up and hit the 56-mile trail from Chehalis to Pe Ell that was formerly the Northern Pacific Railway line.

Willapa Trail is a great place to ride. Photo credit: Jennifer Brown.

This railroad track turned trail is great for all-weather riding, perfect for rainy southwest Washington. It’s open to pretty much anything non-motorized, including horse riders, biking, walking and inline skates. It’s wide enough to be perfect for driving, except for the polls the county has put up to prevent people from driving vehicles on to the trail. However, you can contact them for a key to drop them, if you wish to drive your buggy down this historical trail.

You can enter and exit the trail in numerous places along the route, but be sure to scout it out beforehand as not all of them have room for a truck and trailer. The trailhead in Chehalis is at the end of SW Hillburger Road, past the Chehalis-Centraila Railroad & Museum, and it has room for trailer parking. Other access points include Adna at mile 5, Ceres Hill at mile 10.6, Meskill at mile 18 and Pe Ell at mile 22. There is one other access point at Rainbow Falls State Park, which does have a small horse campground. However, the park doesn’t allow for day use parking. Some riders have had luck parking there anyway, after speaking to park officials, but check before you do this.

Rivers, grass, flowers, trees, wildlife and fun old buildings are just some of the things you’ll see traveling along the old railway. Look for an old car in the hill by the Chehalis trailhead. The bridges you cross are spectacular and varied. The one at the Chehalis trailhead was made in 1898! The bridge east of Pe Ell was converted into a majestic concrete bridge, high above the water – really high. Those who aren’t fans of heights may not enjoy this trail but for the daring, it’s a great ride. It’s especially ideal for our many rainy months when the rest of the parks are closed. Take a ride through history, you’ll be glad you did.

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