Wenatchee River Road – Mountain Biking and Camping
by Rob Mullins
The Wenatchee River Road north from Highway 2 at Chiwaukum Creek traverses an area of the Wenatchee National Forest that has become more pristine since it was closed to public motorized traffic twenty years ago. The road and route first climbs through mature forest (marked for harvest?), and then climbs a few hundred feet and traverses along a bluff with nice views of river and mountains. The route then crosses private inholdings at a large meadow, drops to the Wenatchee River, traverses along at the river’s edge, and becomes a singletrack route. For a mile now you travel close to the river, then head up and down a steep bluff section, and finally arrive at a high-bank meadow.
We enjoy quick bike rides, picnics, and swims on hot August days along this route. We also enjoy overnight camps, using our mountain bikes, in spring. To ride along the edge of the forest beside the fast-flowing Wenatchee River, with no human development visible, is very pleasing. Our chosen camp is on the high-bank meadow that is about 3.5 miles from Hwy 2. The camp is high enough to allay concern of the river rising and also seems to have enough continuous breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay, at least in May or June when we camp there. Our camp spot at the river edge allows nice views up and down the river. You can see the snowy rock bluffs of Icicle Ridge to the south, and green ridges of the Chumstick and Plain areas in other directions. If you ride past camp to the north, a rise in the road affords a nice view of the bright-shining, snowy Big Jim mountain to the south. In the meadow are wild strawberry — just a few berries are out now but more will come as the season warms. Directly across the river from high-bank meadow camp is a large Douglas fir, leaning out over the river on a rocky bluff. The top of the fir holds a large osprey nest. From camp, we look up and see the white heads of the osprey in the nest. About 100 yards higher up another large osprey sits on the limb of a large, bleached ponderosa snag, standing guard over the nest. During our first campout here a few years ago, one of the osprey frequently flew down, across, and over us while guarding the nest. The dominant characteristic of our overnight mountain bike camp at high-bank meadow is the muffled rasp of the fast-flowing Wenatchee River. Leisurely exploration around high-bank meadow and among the mature ponderosa pines and Douglas firs allows a relaxing break from the frenetic pace of daily life. There’s also history associated with this area. The east bank (across the river) was the site of Chinese gold mining and camps in the 19th century. One looks across at river bars and inviting camp areas and ponders the location of the Chinese camps — checking these out while on a hike along that side of the river is on my to-do life list.
At high-bank meadow, meanwhile, I have discovered signs of the crude log-mat bridge used to log the far bank in 1948 according to my old log-cutter pal, who is now 85 years old. Dave started cutting logs around here with a “misery whip” (crosscut saw) and described to me how, in 1948, cottonwood trees were cut and the logs “thrown down to make a bridge for the trucks to drive across.” Near camp are some mature Douglas firs with marks on the trunk from being wrapped by steel logging cable. Look across the river to the far bank and there’s an obvious large cottonwood stump that appears to have cable marks. Further inspection of the far bank reveals another Doug fir, just upstream, that has cable marks on the trunk. Near our camp and just behind the large cable-marked firs I found the cut ends of a loop of 1 3/8-inch galvanized cable buried as a deadman anchor which were probably used to anchor the log-mat bridge. A deadman anchor for logging is made by excavating a hole large enough to bury a large 16 ft. log used to loop the cable to create the deadman anchor. When I worked for the Swiss Skyline logging outfits around Leavenworth, we used such deadman anchors to secure one end of the suspended skyline.
The occasional disturbance to the peace of high-bank camp comes from passing trains on the the ridge above to the west. If one wishes to explore, road spurs go uphill from camp to the BNRR, which passes through a tunnel before crossing Hwy 2 at Winton.
Hiking some of the local ridges on old sheep trails is especially enjoyable during the wildflower season which is just getting started, but will fade quickly with the heat of summer. One hike to consider is back near the start of the ride: As you ride uphill from the start at Highway 2, just before the road crosses the bluff before the private property, there is an old trail up the ridge to the west. This trail is from the sheepherding days but has certainly been used by hunters and hikers ever since. The trail follows ridges through pleasant ponderosa pine and Doug fir dry forests.
The Wenatchee River Road from US Highway 2 at Chiwaukum Creek traverses mostly undeveloped forest land for a little over 4 miles before joining the paved Wenatchee River Road extending down the river from Plain. The portion of the road described here is closed to motorized use, except for the landowner of the private inholding at the meadow 1.6 miles from Hwy 2. About 0.5 miles past the private property, the road, which was formerly a Forest Service Road, was decommissioned by machinery during the summer of 2010. That makes part of the route to high-bank meadow a rougher, single-track ride than riding the former road. We found it to be an enjoyable mountain bike ride compared to what was formerly a fast bike dash on a dirt road.
The closure to motorized vehicles and now partial removal of the Wenatchee River Forest Road to the north of Highway 2 at Chiwaukum Creek has re-created a pristine area along the Wenatchee River. The area now allows solitude and a wild experience along one of the few remaining wild stretches of the Wenatchee River.
Gear Notes for Bike Campers. We use much of our backpacking gear for this kind of bike camping. The tent, cooking gear, food, cookstove, my personal gear and sleeping gear and my daughter’s sleeping gear are in a bike trailer. My daughter wears a light backpack with her clothes inside — she also has bike trunk over her rear bike wheel off of the seat post. As with all of our mountain trips, we have mosquito headnets, long sleeve shirts, pants, and mosquito spray. We didn’t need the bug protection on our most recent trip (mid June 2011). We took a backpacking water filter for our drinking water. On this trip my wife decided to strap her backpack to the rack over the rear bike wheel–this worked so well that she did not give up her sleeping gear to put in the trailer as she’s done in the past. I pulled the BOB Ibex trailer with my full suspension Cannondale Rush. When we bought the BOB trailer, we spent more on the Ibex model that has the shock absorber. In my view this was a good investment. On this trip, the bumpy trail may have caused a non-suspension trailer to be difficult to control and, perhaps, hazardous. I pulled about 40 lbs on the trip (including the trailer weight) and was easily able to ride the hills in low gear without undue exertion.
Keeping it Kid Friendly. If you do this route with kids, take your time, enjoy stops along the way, follow their lead as to what’s interesting. Bribes tend to be useful, too. Cooking hot dogs or s’mores over a fire is a hit with most kids. Post trip payoffs (like a milkshake at the 59’er Diner at Cole’s Corner) is another useful bribe.
This article was originally published on 6/17/11.