The Willapa Hills State Park Trail runs east to west from Chehalis to the river town of South Bend near the ocean. The 22 miles between Chehalis and Pe Ell and the first five miles from South Bend to Raymond are fully developed for hiking, cycling and equestrian use.
Beginning in urban Chehalis, the paved trail heads west through the farmlands of Adna. Restored bridges take travelers over rivers and streams before the trail enters the cool, forested Willapa Hills. Tired hikers and horses will find a welcome camp spot at Rainbow Falls State Park, 17 miles and a world away from I-5.
The Chehalis – Pe Ell route can be accessed at several points – Chehalis just west of I-5, Adna at mile 5, Ceres Hill at mile 10.6, Rainbow Falls State Park at mile 16, Meskill at mile 18 and Pe Ell at mile 22. The developed trail ends at the tiny town of Pe Ell.
The Willapa Hills Trail is one of five long-distance rail-trails managed by Washington State Parks. Willapa Hills is a key element of State Parks’ long-term plan for a cross-state trail network from the Idaho Border to the Pacific Ocean.
The Lewis County segment of trail west of Pe Ell is scheduled for completion by 2017, while sections of trail in Pacific County remain undeveloped. State Parks will be seeking funding to complete the remainder of the trail in Pacific County.
In the late 1800s, the Northern Pacific Railway used the line as a spur track for logging. Train tracks once crossed more than 2,000 miles from Willapa Bay to Lake Superior, but freight traffic declined in the late 1950s, and the Willapa Hills route was abandoned in 1990. State Parks acquired the railroad right-of-way for use as a trail in 1993.
The railroad brought rapid change to the land around Willapa Bay. Small communities, many with sawmills, rose up to process lumber. Newly cleared acreage was converted into farmland. Crops were loaded onto railroad cars and carried to markets throughout the American West. Railroad bridges and trestles were also added, spanning big and small waterways along the route.
With the rise of automobiles, passenger service along the route ended in 1954. Freight traffic declined during this period as well, and the route was abandoned in 1990. The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission acquired the railroad right-of-way for use as a trail in 1993.