Washington State may be most famous for America’s deadliest volcano, but it’s also a place of stark natural contrasts. So venture out of your comfort zone, it’s time to take a ride on the wild side to Washington, the Evergreen State.
For anyone outside the USA, Washington State shouldn’t be confused with Washington DC. One is the country's capital, and the other is home to the capital of grunge. The initials DC refer to the District of Columbia, home to the Whitehouse, which you can find in the top right-hand corner of the US. Almost in the exact opposite corner on the Pacific coast, is Washington State, the capital of which is Olympia.
With bands like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and the Foo Fighters, however, Washington's largest city Seattle, has more than earned its title as the capital of grunge. So, if we’re heading to the Pacific Northwest for our biking jollies, what can we expect to find? Just like our recently featured biking-friendly state Colorado, Washington is refreshingly liberal.
Recreational marijuana, same-sex marriages, and abortion are all legal. Don’t go buying a bump stock for your favorite semi-auto though or you’ll be going straight to jail without passing go.
Once again, regarding geology, this is a fantastic state of contrasts which makes for excellent biking roads. The Cascade Mountains more or less split the state in two, vertically, and locals will refer to the west as the wet side and the east as the dry side. You will find no less than seven active volcanoes here, and the daddy of them all is Mt. St Helens, the deadliest volcano in US history.
Seattle to Portland
For our first trip we’re going to head due south from Seattle to Portland, which technically takes you over the border into Oregon, but only just. You’ll have to take the I-5 to get out of Seattle, but don’t panic, before you get white line fever, you’ll be heading east on the 164.
This road takes you south-east away from the I-5 heading towards Enumclaw. According to some, the town’s name in Native American means ‘place of evil spirits’. It marks the start of the Chinook scenic byway, gives access to the areas wine country, and Mt Rainier National Park.
Before you get too comfortable though, watch out for the 410 which continues the course east. Big sweeping bends, good quality road, and the stunning backdrop of Mt Rainier National Park will keep you entertained.
Before you venture too far east, however, you need the 123 to head you back south. Catch up with Highway 12, four miles north of Packwood heading west, and if you look real carefully, you'll see Mt St Helens to the south.
Anyone traveling along this route on May the 18th, 1980 would have been riding underneath the 40-mile wide, 15-mile high mushroom cloud of ash kicked out by the volcano. They would also have been hit by a blast from the explosion, strong enough to fell entire forestfuls of trees eight miles away.
Riding due west on Highway 12 through Randle and Mossy Rock, you will once more hit the I-5 just south of Chehalis. With around 50 miles of Interstate before arriving in Portland giving you plenty of time to contemplate the ride.
If you don’t want to do the interstate, look for the WA-503. This route will take a meandering tour around Lake Merwin before looping back towards Battleground.
It’s got to be worth the detour as before you join back up with the interstate for Vancouver just north of Portland, you get to go through Minnehaha. Literary buffs out there will know that Minnehaha is a fictional Native American woman who came to a tragic end in Longfellow's poem, The Song of Hiawatha. The name translates as waterfall, laughing water or rapid water.
Set over to the south-east of the state on the border with Idaho, the next road is a comparatively short one, at less than 50 miles long.
This route is enjoyable north to south or vice versa depending on which way it’s approached. For example, supposing you’re starting off in the north, head west out of the university town of Pullman through the rolling grasslands that border the 194.
The 194 sounds a bit sterile, so let’s call it by its local name, the Wawawai Road. This road takes you due south until it bends back on itself, skirting the Wawawai County Park before meeting up with Snake River.
From here, the Wawawai follows the river southeast, treating riders to a good view of the river valley as it meanders towards Clarkston. If you’re in the mood, pass through the town and head for the 95 north around Lewiston, why? That’s easy, apart from riding over award-winning tarmac; the 30-mile detour gives travelers the opportunity to boast that they've taken a ride through Moscow. It's childish I know, but ever since riding through Bagdad FL. on the way to New Orleans I’ve been hooked.
Ride the Sweeping Bends of the Wind River Road
This next road is a great Sunday afternoon ride, and the twisting sweeping bends of the Wind River Road are just what the doctor ordered for blowing away the cobwebs.
If you start in the north, you’ll be riding through one of the oldest national forests in the US. Take your time passing through here and plan on stopping to enjoy the views provided by no less than 18 rivers and creeks or the 21 major lakes.
The route will take you south towards Carson and within spitting distance of the St Martin mineral hot springs, just the job for saddle-weary butts.
It wouldn’t be the same without mentioning the motorcycle events in the state, and although there are no real monster events in this neck of the woods, there are still plenty of unique local ones.
A number are one-day events, such as the Washington Vintage Motorcyclists Club’s Northwest Motorcycle Classic in April. You’ll find it in the picturesque and distinctly Dutch style town of Lynden.
This scenic part of the Pacific Northwest and a mere conrods throw away from Vancouver. Apart from a host of vintage beauties on display marking their spot with exceptionally clean 10/40, there’s also a swap meet and a bike auction.
Next up is the weekend-long 16th Annual Inland Northwest Motorcycle show in the east of the state.
The Spokane County Fair Ground and Expo Center will feature a stunt show by the Seattle Cossacks, swap meet, and the highlight of Saturday, the ever-popular beard and mustache contest. This competition is open to everyone, so come on guys and gals, get out the mustache wax!
There are some other enjoyable rides in the area worth experiencing too. These routes include the Coeur d’Alene Lake Loop to the east or the Riverside State Park to the north. You can even head towards the Coulee Dam to the west and feast your eyes on one of the most significant concrete structures in the world.
Washington’s Largest City
Last but most definitely not least, is Seattle. As Washington’s largest city, it deserves its own special mention and in particular, the Georgetown district, the oldest neighborhood in town. Formerly a city in its own right incorporated to fend off the stipulations of Prohibition during the early 1900’s.
Surrounded by industrial areas, the neighborhood fell out of favor with the townies. Recently though, it had a shot in the arm, with businesses occupying the old brick built industrial units, getting a cool vibe on the way.
The first Wednesday of every month sees club members shake, rattle, and roll their way to the Last Chance. If your love of bikes extends beyond plastic-wrapped scud missiles, this is the place for you.
Continuing with blasts from the past, Seattle is another music icon, which we can’t overlook.
If you traveled to the city from any of the scenic routes to the north, east or south (the western side of town backs onto Puget Sound), then there’s also one more stop you should make.
Seattle’s Favorite Son
Head the five miles north from Slims to Pike and Pine, and you can tip your hat to one of Seattle’s favorite sons, James Marshall Hendrix. There’s a bronze statue of the string bending legend, giving his strat hell, courtesy of local artist Daryl Smith.
Whether the artist meant to create a spliff-friendly mouth on the statue is open to debate. Don’t be surprised to find a half-smoked joint dangling from Jimi’s top lip thanks to some tourist/herb-loving fan.
Washington State offers some of the best scenic highways around. The weather may have a big say in your riding pleasure, but the roads are generally well maintained and pleasurably rider friendly.
Although some of these routes go rural in a big way and lack the type of roadside amenities favored by some riders, meandering through un-spoilt wilderness brings its rewards. So, it's time to venture out of your comfort zone , it’s time to take a ride on the wild side to Washington, the Evergreen State.