Keechelus Lake via John Wayne Pioneer Trail
This is not a "Hike" as GAIA wants to call it. I am writing this review to point out the error they are making. I did indeed take a trip on the segment of the John Wayne Trail as noted, but it was in February, when the trail is covered with snow, and is groomed FOR SKIERS by a contractor using a $300,000 snow grooming machine, paid a hefty sum by the State of WA. They do this strictly for the purpose of CROSS COUNRTY SKIING, NO HIKING IS ALLOWED DURING SKI SEASON! The only exception is that at the West end of the segment, starting at Hyak Snow Park, snow shoes are allowed to be used to travel out along the outer edge, or adjacent to the groomed surface of the trail. And, at the East end of the segment at Crystal Springs Park and Ride, where people are allowed to ski with their dogs. You could see some amazing ski jour people zipping by with their wonderfully trained dogs eagerly pulling them along! But whatever you do, do not come to this segment of the John Wayne Trail in winter expecting to hike!
Now, all that said, please do come here with your cross country skis! The John Wayne Trail is an old railroad trail, and this segment is almost completely flat. The groomer grooms the snow every day but Tuesdays and Thursdays, and seems to begin his run with the grooming machine at Crystal Springs at about 9 am, or maybe 11. He runs it all the way to Hyak (about 8 miles) grooming one side of the trail, then grooms the sledding hills there, and returns to Crystal springs around noon, or 2 if he got a late start, grooming the other side of the trail. But if you get there in the morning around this time slot, you are likely to meet the groomer somewhere along the way and get to ski on freshly groomed snow. I find it an excellent workout, and with the absence of hills or curves, it gives you a chance to work on your classic skiing or skate skiing technique, lapsing into a meditative state as you focus on the repetitive motion of your skiing. The trail is groomed with classic tracks on each side, and a wide skating platform in the center.
While the trail does follow the lake shore, sometimes passing through narrow canyons and pretty woods on both sides, you will be aware that off in the distance across lake that you can see and barely hear I-90. Though not wilderness, it is pretty close to it. The total distance I skied this day was 15.5 miles, skate skiing at a leisurely 6.5 mph. It was a tremendous workout.
One bonus of this particular trail is that Hyak Snow Park has what I consider to be some of the best public bathrooms I have ever seen! No kidding! There is a separate building with 8 private, lockable, heated bathrooms, each with plenty of space, a toilet, and sink. One or two of the bathrooms even have wheelchair accessible showers! These bathrooms are well used, since the parking lot is mainly filled with families with children using the sledding hill.
One caution about coming to the Hyak Snow Park is that it may fill up by 9 am on snowy winter weekends. In that case, go to Crystal Springs and access the John Wayne Trail from that end.
And, also be aware that you need to buy a "Snow Park Pass" in order to park your car in any snow park, and in addition, since the Hyak and Crystal Springs snow parks both access special groomed ski areas, you must also buy an additional sticker on your Snow Park Pass in order to park in these particular snow parks. You can buy daily snow park passes for this purpose at a booth at the entrance to the Hyak Snow Park. But if you plan to do this often, or plan to go to other snow parks, you should go to the state's website and buy an annual snow park pass, and groomed area sticker if needed. The pair costs $80 for your car, for the entire ski year, and covers all the skiers you can stuff in your car. That is about the cost of a one day lift ticket for one person at a downhill ski area.
As explained above, the Hyak Snow Park is designed for families with children, mostly for sledding. But if you outfit your kids with skis, then this is a great option since there are no hills to contend with.