Trip report: Seattle to Spokane
submitted by Cascade member Larry Goerss
On a sunny morning last September, we left Seattle’s Green Lake with the intention of riding to Spokane, off-road, by linking a series of bike trails. The total length of the ride would be about 330 miles with close to 10,000 feet of climbing, and we planned six days to do it. Since much of the trip was on dirt roads and old railroad grades we were riding mountain bikes; I carried panniers, Neil (riding partner) towed a BoB trailer.
We left Seattle on the Burke-Gilman Trail, connecting to the Sammamish River Trail. In Woodinville we left the paved Sammamish Trail and rode the Tolt Pipeline Trail into the Snoqualmie Valley. After a short road segment we got on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, through North Bend, and up to Rattlesnake Lake. Here we picked up the start of the John Wayne Trail which we rode, with numerous detours, to near Lamont, Wash., where the ride ended because of time constraints. We had initially planned to connect to the Columbia Plateau Trail (a.k.a. Fishlake Trail) off the John Wayne Trail for the final ride into Spokane, but the ballast on the old rail bed was so large we had to divert to roads. Near Cheney, Wash. the trail is maintained and rideable, but we didn’t make it that far.
We rode through some spectacular country: The John Wayne Trail up to Snoqualmie Tunnel, along the Yakima River, followed by a 15-mile descent through the Yakima Training Center to the Columbia River at dusk. There was an unexpected oasis as we rode along Lower Crab Creek. We saw a lot of this state that most people never get to see. And we met some really friendly locals, nothing like loaded bikes to start a conversation.
Because of numerous tunnel and bridge closures there were some unpleasant detours onto I-90. These included riding I-90 up to Snoqualmie Pass and over the Columbia River at Vantage (the most dangerous part of the ride). Other detours make road riding required near Ritzville and Othello, but the roads are good and traffic is light. [Ed note: Snoqualmie Pass Tunnel is scheduled to reopen on July 5.]
There were numerous challenges planning this ride, mostly due to the lack of available information about sections of the John Wayne Trail. Permits are required for the trail sections east of the Columbia – and must be gotten in advance from either the State Parks or DNR depending on the section you want to ride. The army base also requires a permit but it is self-issued at the trail head.
Another issue is lodging/camping. There are good spots to camp along the trail between Rattlesnake Lake and the Snoqualmie Tunnel, and a few spots along Lake Keechelus. Then nothing until Wanapum State Park. On the east side of the Columbia, the trail is a narrow corridor through private land; the only legal camping spot is at the ORV park just east of Beverly. We ended up in motels in Othello and Ritzville.
A few other words of caution. Much of this trail is very isolated, most days we saw no one else on it. Cell phone coverage is limited. There are no bike shops between Ellensburg and Spokane so be prepared to be self-reliant. There are goat head thorns along the trail near Smyrna, Wash., with really no way to avoid them. Slime Super Thick tubes worked OK but regular Slime tubes just got shredded. There are also electric fences here, don’t try to leave the trail.
Water can be an issue too. We each rode with three-liter hydration packs and two water bottles and we carried a filter. It is good practice to refill whenever you can, especially east of the Columbia.
Riding on the rough rail beds in eastern Washington is slow going. Anticipate a pace of less than 10 mph, probably closer to 6 to 7 mph on average. But you’re on vacation, take your time and enjoy the ride.
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Are you a Cascade member with a bicycle trip report to share? Send it to me, and we’ll publish it on the blog.