William O. Douglas Heritage Trail: Yakima to Mount Rainier
The Washington State Heritage Trails project connects Eastern Washington to Western Washington through the William O. Douglas Trail, Cowlitz Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, and the Upper Nisqually Heritage Trail to create a multi-modal recreational system that recognizes the state’s cultural heritage, diverse natural landscapes, and scenic beauty. Combined, the trails tell the story of the significant role of historic paths in our state’s cultural heritage and how these historic trails have linkages that are important to this day.
The William O. Douglas Trail is an 80-mile recreational pathway which courses through the City of Yakima, traverses Yakima County, and reaches portions of Lewis and Pierce Counties, connecting to Mount Rainier National Park. It is named after influential Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, perhaps the most famous person to grow up in Yakima and the longest serving Justice in United States history. Stricken with serious childhood disease and in a weakened physical state, William O. Douglas frequently walked along the trail to strengthen his legs. As the most prolific author in the history of the Supreme Court, Douglas wrote several books about the historical, cultural, and natural features of Washington State.
This trail interprets numerous historic and natural sites that Douglas visited and wrote about. The William O. Douglas Trail connects Douglas’s boyhood home site to the Wilderness Area that bears his name by Act of Congress. Because of the Cascade Mountain rain-shadow effect coupled with rapid changes in elevation and precipitation along the 80-mile trail route, the Trail passes through 13 different ecosystems from steppe to forest to alpine zones, and contains some of the greatest biological diversity found in the U.S. over a comparable distance. The eastern portions of the trail near Yakima pass through a significant intact relic of the shrub-steppe ecosystem, including sensitive plant/animal species, carpets of spring wildflower fields, and sweeping scenic vistas. The trail is 95% complete based upon the linking of existing public trails and lands.
The William O. Douglas Trail will be open to all forms of muscle-powered users, including pedestrian, bicycle, equestrian, snowshoeing, and skiing. This Trail also follows many miles along the ancient Cowlitz Pass Indian Trail where thousands of moccasins have passed through the centuries across Yakima County and the Cascade Crest near Mount Rainier. The Mountain figures prominently in the state’s history and natural environment, serves as an icon of the region, and connects Eastern Washington to Western Washington.
The William O. Douglas Trail offers many ways to interpret the significant cultural heritage sites as related to Douglas himself and other individuals, communities, events, and Native American history. Trail users can learn about our heritage through interpretive projects such as trailhead signs, information kiosks, brochures, and a website. Students and teachers in the Yakima Valley are already using the Trail as a significant “on the ground” educational resource by integrating hiking with important aspects of natural history, literature, and social studies.