Need a break from cool and wet? Head for Chelan and Wenatchee for five great bike rides.
I needed a change. A break from pedaling too many months in a row through the dark, damp Western Washington winter. (Spring, too). I needed to get my dry on. My sunny and warm, too.
So I headed east across the mountains to the roads and trails in the swath of cycling nirvana known (to me, anyway) as Chelanatchee: Chelan and Wenatchee. (Guess it can also be Wenatchelan.) A land of low-traffic roads, smooth cross-country trails and a sky-high golden orb radiating warmth.
It’s an area many Wet-side cyclists take to when they’re itching to ride sans layers of rain gear (before real summer arrives sometime in July).
“I love the varied terrain of nice flats and the tons of good climbs within 10 to 20 miles,” says Bellingham’s Brian Ecker, an elite racer who recently trained in Chelan to get ready for the 520-mile Race Across Oregon.
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“You have to plan around the wind a bit but you can usually create a route tailored to the conditions,” he said.
With all the options in Wenatchelan, you also need to decide which bikes to take. On my recent five-day pedaling adventure, I took a road bike for all that was paved and a cyclocross bike for what wasn’t.
Here’s where I rode:
From downtown Chelan, I headed east on Highway 150 along the north side of Lake Chelan toward Manson. After 1.5 miles, I turned right onto Boyd Road and began climbing up and away from the lake — from much of humanity, too — through a mix of vineyards and orchards, and stunning vistas that Winthrop rider Karla Segale once told me would “make you think you’d died and gone to Europe.”
I wound my way up and down these rolling hills, exploring mostly deserted canyon roads such as Purtteman Creek and Swanson Gulch roads, eventually making my way above Manson via Wapato Lake Road.
Several of these hillside roads show up on the Chelan Century Challenge (www.centuryride.com), a 100-mile organized ride taking place June 23.
Also that same day is the wine-themed and mostly flat 30-mile Chelan Cycle de Vine (www.cycledevine.com), on which the riders carry wine cards that get punched at each winery they visit.
Wine aside, a true highlight is the 10-mile out-and-back along Woodin Avenue and South Lakeshore Road, which hugs the lake.
I got my climb on by heading five miles east of Chelan to upward-tilting McNeil Canyon Road, across from Beebe Bridge Park.
This notorious hill serves as the centerpiece of the Chelan Century Challenge and climbs 2,200 feet in five miles — crazy steep!
There are few trees along the road and if it’s warm and/or windy, it will likely seem magnified on the way up. Like most big climbs, McNeil rewards the rider with huge views — far down the Lake Chelan gorge to the snowy Central Cascades beyond — and makes whatever huffing and puffing it takes to reach the top more than worth it.
Like Ride 1, I began by pedaling up Boyd Road, but because the Echo Ridge trails were my destination, I rode my cyclocross bike (a sort of heavy-duty road bike with beefier tires for off-road use.)
Ten miles from Chelan, after turning right onto Cooper Mountain Road, I reached Echo Valley Ski Area, where the pavement ends. Two-and-a-half miles of gravel road climbing brought me to the Lower Trailhead of the way-fun Echo Ridge trail system.
Cross-country ski trails in winter, Echo Ridge features 30 miles of well-signed, mostly smooth trails that are terrific for off-road riders who aren’t looking for technical terrain. They’re cyclocross bike-ready.
Following multiple map kiosks, I leapfrogged from trail to trail, eventually making my way up the Outback Trail to almost 4,000 feet.
There, the panoramic vista took in all of Eastern and Western Washington at once — from dry plateaus flat as pool tables on one side to icy, snow-covered peaks on the other, with the sparkling waters of a 50-mile lake running down the middle.
After driving 40 miles south to Wenatchee, I jumped on the paved Apple Capital Loop Trail aboard my cyclocross bike.
Along with riding the Loop, I wanted to spend a few hours slaloming the smooth, flowy Sage Hills trails just west of downtown.
The 10-mile, mostly flat Loop trail is a marvel, tracing both banks of the Columbia River through a mix of wide-open public parks on the Wenatchee side, and wilder wetlands on the East Wenatchee side.
Access points include Wenatchee Confluence State Park, Walla Walla Point Park and Wenatchee Riverfront Park.
After pedaling the entire loop, I headed west (up) on Wenatchee’s Fifth Street, which eventually becomes Number 1 Canyon Road. At Sage Hills Drive, I turned right and in about a quarter-mile reached the trail system. (If you drive there, park at the small gravel lot at the corner of Sage Hills and Number 1 Canyon.)
Here, I contoured up and down across foothills via smooth dry, nary-an-obstacle-in-sight trails; like Echo Ridge, they’re tailor-made for a ‘cross bike.
Note: With little tree cover, Sage Hills can be hot. But that openness also means you’re treated to stunning views of the Columbia River Valley with every pedal stroke. Including views of …
Back on my road bike, I followed the Loop trail to East Wenatchee and upon exiting at the well-signed 19th Street trailhead I got my climb on, part two.
I headed up 19th, turned left onto Eastmont Avenue (which becomes Badger Mountain Road) and some seven miles and 2,400 feet of climbing later, found myself at the top of the vast Badger Mountain ridge.
It was directly across the valley from where I’d ridden the day before, and the breathtaking views included everything from Sage Hills to Tronsen Ridge to the Wenatchee Peaks and more.
The best part: It’s all downhill back to town.
Mike McQuaide is a Bellingham freelance writer and author of the newly published “75 Classic Rides: Washington” (The Mountaineers Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog is mcqview.blogspot.com.