Riding an abandoned road connecting Squilchuck State Park to the Stemilt Basin.
by Andy Dappen
“OK,” you ask, “Is this about loop routes between Squilchuck State Park and the Wheeler Reservoir or about two-wheeler bike loops in the general Squilchuck State Park environs?”
Good news. We’re gonna give you both. One of these routes is, indeed, best suited for the two-wheel crowd because about half of the distance follows dirt roads that are longish and wideish. The second loops is, shorter, more scenic, and an excellent option for hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers.
Attractions: Squilchuck State Park is re-inventing itself as a mountain biking hub. Other posts in our guidebook discuss rides that are strictly within the confines of the park while this post offers two outings that start and end at Squilchuck but that head out of the park into the Stemilt Basin. These outing take you through shaded forests offering protection from the heat of hot summer days and along grassy hillsides with beautiful views of the Wenatchee foothills. Located seven miles from Wenatchee but 2,200 feet higher, the park is nicely wooded and surprisingly cooler, making it nearby hot-weather escape. From the eastern border of the park, you can follow old, abandoned roads leading to the Stemilt Basin and Wheeler Reservoir, enjoying good views of the surroundings as you climb. Upon reaching the Stemilt Basin this post describes the way to the Wheeler Reservoir, but there are also many miles of dirt roads crisscrossing the area that can be explored on future outings.
Activity: Mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and horseback riding.
Nearest Town: Wenatchee.
Skill Level: 1+ to 2 (advanced beginner to low intermediate)
Fitness Level: 2- (low intermediate) for the shorter loop and 2 for the longer loop. All fitness levels can enjoy the area by simply walking as far as energy allows and turning around when you’ve had enough.
Recommended Season: spring, summer, fall.
Elevation Gain: 1,300 vertical feet of gain to the Wheeler Reservoir (long loop) and 800 vertical feet for the short loop.
Distance: 8.75 miles for the loop to Wheeler Reservoir (long loop), 5.25 miles for short loop.
Park use. In summer the group camping area at Squilchuck State Park is sometimes rented out to private parties and public access to this part of the park is closed. Also, be aware that when the gate allowing entrance into the park is closed, you can still walk or bike into these trails by parking in the gravel lot beside the gate (immediately uphill) and walking of biking from there. At such times there is no access to bathroom facilities inside the park. When the park is operating, the gate is open from 8 a.m. to dusk.
Access: Leave Wenatchee on South Mission Street. This merges with the Squilchuck Road. Follow Squilchuck Road 7 miles to Squilchuck State Park (4 miles before the Mission Ridge Ski Area). If the park is open, drive 0.35 miles up the entrance road and pull into the big parking lot on your right that is roughly 150 yards below the lodge. If the main gate into the park is not open, park next to the gate (on the uphill side) in a small gravel lot and enter the park on foot or on bike. A Discover Pass is required to park inside the park and at the entrance gate at the bottom of the park.
Instructions for Short and Long Loops
- Starting from the main parking area inside the park, head to the very lowest portion of the parking lot and walk across the entrance road to find the trailhead (waypoint s1). Initially the trail climbs fairly steeply and takes you in a southerly direction. After a half mile, the trail flattens out a little, hooks around, and starts heading north. For the next half mile a number of spur trails will intersect your route and have you questioning which way to go. Here’s the rule of the road for this half mile: If a spur trail on the right intersects your route, stay left; if a spur trail intersects your route on the left, stay right.
- One mile from the start, you’ll reach waypoint s3 where a small spur trail branches off to the right. Look carefully and you’ll see the back of a sign. The front of the sign reads “Entering States Parks Property.” Take this spur trail and head out of the park. The start of this trail is a little braided and confusing but go straight on the flattest spur, avoiding braids that climb. In about 75 yards you’ll reach an old, abandoned road bed that climbs steadily but not overly steeply in a northeasterly direction. Follow this road.
- At waypoint s4 (2 miles from the start) the road bends around and contours to the southeast. If you keep following the road it will start showing evidence of more use and of motorized vehicles (motorcycles and high-clearance vehicles). Hikers might consider turning around here and returning the way they came. Those who want to complete a loop, however, will follow the road as it widens and, after 0.7 miles, come to an intersection (waypoint s5) with an even larger dirt road that is part of the DNR’s green-dot road system. Green-dot roads are, technically, the only roads open to motorized use.
- Turn right onto this larger road and follow it in a southwesterly direction for 0.65 miles to waypoint s6. This is the dividing point for the long vs. short loop.
- The long loop goes left at waypoint s6 and heads south (mainly uphill) to reach the Upper Wheeler Reservoir in 1.75 miles. There are a number of intersections with smaller roads but reach waypoint s9 at the reservoir by either taking the obviously larger road, or the road with green-dot signage (a vertical white slat showing a green dot), or the road heading south. From the reservoir, retrace the roads back to waypoint s6; then follow the short loop directions.
- The short loop goes right at waypoint s6 and heads west. In a few hundred yards, reach a white gate — go around it and continue on for another 0.6 miles to a less conspicuous intersection with an overgrown road bed at waypoint s7. Here, turn right off the the larger road bed and head downhill on a narrow, sandy trail following the old road bed (easy walking and intermediate biking). Over the next half mile the trail heads south, makes a big bend, and heads north. At waypoint s8 you’ll re-enter the state park and pass another sign reading, “Entering state park property.” Stay on the trail and in another 200 to 300 yards you’ll intersect the paved road servicing the group camping area. Follow the paved road downhill for 0.4 miles and you’ll return to the start.
Land Ownership: Washington State Parks and Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) if you head into the Stemilt Basin.
Related Articles: Kids at Squilchuck.
Dogs are allowed in the park but must be leashed at all times.
2013 Update. Budget cuts affected Squilchuck and the park was temporarily mothballed. Although the park was not officially open and had no amenities to offer, the public could still park outside of the gate and walk/bike the routes described above (a Discover Pass was required to park).
2015 Update. Lots is taking place to re-purpose Squilchuck State Park as a mountain biking destination — read the history of these developments. More details about trails within the park.
Reporter and Date. Andy Dappen, June 2008. Updates in 2009 and 2013. New, expanded route information was added September 2015.
Leave It Better Than You found It. This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull noxious weeds along your route, etc.
Important Disclaimer: Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Things change, conditions change, and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes, or may fail to give complete information. You are still responsible for yourself and your actions. If you can’t live with that, you are prohibited from using our information.