Dress for the temperatures in fall and winter and you can enjoy bicycle-friendly roads that often remain dry in the arid landscape.
YAKIMA — Wine country is great cycling country.
On the rural roads stretching through the Yakima Valley, traffic is light and the views are wide open, stretching from the surrounding foothills to the Cascades, with the summits of Mount Adams and Mount Rainier looking down from on high.
And if you dress for the sometimes-cold temperatures in fall and winter, you can enjoy bike-friendly roads that often remain dry in this arid landscape.
“The thing I like about riding here is that within 10 minutes, you can be out of the city and in the countryside,” said Lance Reese, owner of Bearded Monkey Cycling. “The accessibility is just awesome.”
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Along with Revolution Cycles, Bearded Monkey serves cyclists in the Yakima area with group rides and social events. At the rollicking Beardfest in September, for instance, Reese hosted a party in the parking lot at his bike shop with bands and food trucks. It’s all meant to create a bike-friendly vibe in the Yakima area, Reese said.
“I believe in cycling and what it does for a community,” he said.
For visitors, the Yakima Valley can be particularly attractive because of what happens after the ride: the wine tasting. And if you choose to explore the area during the weeks ahead, you can take part in one of the year’s best events: Thanksgiving in Wine Country (see end of this story for details).
From west to east through the valley, let’s begin our vineyard-heavy cycling tour.
When the word “heights” is part of your name, you can count on a hill climb as part of the ride.
“This is fairly typical of the riding around here,” said Zack Moss, an employee of Bearded Monkey, as he ground up the steep Naches Heights Road from the valley below. “You do a fairly big climb, then top out on a plateau with some really nice rural roads.”
The riding is scenic, passing by basalt cliffs on the way to an orchard- and vineyard-strewn plateau with views of the Cascade foothills. You’ll pass Naches Heights Vineyard and Wilridge Winery and eventually descend back to the Naches River Valley.
Another nice ride in the area that doesn’t have a major hill climb follows the Old Naches Highway as it heads up the valley to the town of Naches. There you can cross U.S. Highway 12 and return along the river on South Naches Road.
If you want to stay off roadways, the Yakima Greenway is a 20-plus-mile path from Naches to Union Gap that offers access to some attractive areas along the Yakima River.
This region near Zillah is particularly good for riding. The Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail organization offers three suggested itineraries, from short (4 miles) to long (25 miles) in the rolling terrain, passing many of the best wineries in the Rattlesnake Hills viticulture area.
All rides begin at Two Mountain Winery, 2151 Cheyne Road, a handsome and bustling operation.
“People ride here all the time,” said Matthew Rawn, winemaker at Two Mountain, who lives on site. “We’re right in the middle of things in this area, so it makes sense to start and finish here.”
This agricultural hub has some of the most interesting and attractive options for cyclists. You can ride the friendly streets of Prosser or head upstream along the Yakima River.
A good place to start and finish a ride is Vintner’s Village, a cluster of wineries just off Interstate 82. Among them is one of the best wine bars and restaurants in the valley, Wine O’Clock, at Bunnell Family Cellar.
“We see a lot of casual riders coming through,” said Susan Bunnell, owner of the wine bar and bistro. “They are getting out, doing a short ride through town and then coming here for some wine.”
Another spot to consider starting and finishing a ride is the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center. Named after the “Father of Washington Wine,” the educational and event center has a retail shop, tasting room and a spacious patio overlooking the Yakima Valley.
One of the very best rides in the Prosser area heads west along the Yakima River. It’s such a good ride that Chinook Wine’s owners, Clay Mackay and Kay Simon, who live in Prosser, do it dozens of times a year.
“We like that ride,” Mackay said of the 12-miler. “You can ride side-by-side on the road because there’s so little traffic.”
Leaving Prosser on Bennett Avenue, the ride crosses State Route 22, continues west and returns on Byron Road, along a scenic riverfront.
For those seeking a big climb, Gravity Hill is surely one of the strangest places in the state. Leaving Prosser north through the vineyard region, you eventually hit North Crosby Road and climb through remote landscape that crests a hill near a barn.
You will come to a section of road with the word “START” painted faintly on the pavement. If you put your car (or bike) in neutral, you will begin coasting, going what seems like uphill.
“The reasons given for this strange occurrence range all across the paranormal spectrum, from aliens to ghosts,” according to Atlasobscura.com. Or maybe it’s just an optical illusion, which you may be able to figure out better on a bike than in a car.
You can ride through some of Washington’s oldest vineyards in this prized growing region near Benton City. Red Mountain itself is ridable in a fairly tidy climb that travels past the mountaintop villa of Col Solare and also passes Kiona, one of Washington’s first wineries.
If you want to ride around Red Mountain, that’s possible too, but beware: It’s a major push. The 45-mile route is described in the section titled “Yakima River Loop” in the Benton-Franklin Council of Governments’ Tri-Cities Cycling Map.
If you go
Celebrate ‘Thanksgiving in Wine Country’
This culinary celebration in the Yakima Valley benefits area food banks associated with Northwest Harvest on Nov. 24-26.
Wineries will donate tasting-room fees and collect food for the regional hunger-relief agency. Most tasting rooms will offer food pairings with their pours, said Barbara Glover, of Wine Yakima Valley.
“It’s a way for the wine industry to give back to the community,” she said. The event will take place on the three days following Thanksgiving, not on the holiday itself.
At the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser, a special program tasting Washington wines against Chilean wines will take place on Nov. 25.
“We’ll be tasting some fun wines that weekend and we’ll have grab-and-go food available,” said Abbey Cameron, executive director.