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Originally published Thursday, December 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Walkabout

Klickitat Trail

Location: Lyle to Warwick, Klickitat County, in the Columbia River Gorge Length: Thirty-one miles Level of difficulty: Level-to-gentle...

Location: Lyle to Warwick, Klickitat County, in the Columbia River Gorge

Length: Thirty-one miles

Level of difficulty: Level-to-gentle, dirt/gravel surface (the Lyle trailhead has an initial quarter-mile paved loop that's wheelchair accessible). Note: The main trail climbs the hill past the paved spur to the river overlook. Trail can have snow in winter.

Setting: This rails-to-trails conversion is on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge (between White Salmon and Maryhill). In 1903, the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railroad built the original railroad linking Lyle and Goldendale (the rail line was abandoned in 1992). Starting at the edge of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area, the trail follows the Klickitat River, a nationally designated Wild and Scenic River, then travels south through rugged and remote Swale Creek Canyon. Lewis and Clark stopped near here at an Indian village near the confluence of the Klickitat and Columbia rivers, where the Klickitat River was noted as the "Cataract River."

Highlights: Print out a trail map from the Web site (listed below). At the Lyle trailhead, interpretive signs describe the area's early homesteaders and replanting being done to restore original habitat, which includes Garry oak and ponderosa-pine forests. The Klickitat River contains coho and chinook salmon and steelhead trout. In springtime, this is a great hike for wildflowers, and good birding opportunities are present year-round — including late fall/winter habitat near the Lyle trailhead for bald eagles feeding on spawning salmon.

Facilities: Vault toilets at the Lyle trailhead plus portable toilets at several trailheads farther east. No water available.

Restrictions: Leash law in effect; stay on the trail and close any gates on the trail behind you. In season, watch for ticks, rattlesnakes, poison oak and sand burrs (which can puncture bike tires). Swale Canyon is closed seasonally from July to September due to fire danger.

Directions: The southern trailhead is west of the town of Lyle. From Portland, take Interstate 84 east, cross into Washington at Hood River, and continue east on Highway 14. Just west of Lyle (before the bridge over the Klickitat River), turn left on Highway 142, go up the hill and turn right at the Balfour-Klickitat sign.

For more information: www.klickitat-trail.org.

— Cathy McDonald, Special to The Seattle Times

Renton-based freelancer Cathy McDonald, a former geologist, has written about science and nature travel for 20 years. She's currently a travel guidebook editor and researcher at Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door. Contact her: nwwriter@hotmail.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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