In summer the Methow Valley, with its diversity of dirt roads, single-track trails, low- and high-elevation routes, has become famous for its mountain biking. This tends to eclipse the road riding available here, which is a shame because the combination of sun, dry weather, quiet roads, and diverse scenery (from low-lying ranches to mountain passes) make the Twisp/Winthrop/Mazama area a fabulous place to bring a road bike. Perhaps even better is to visit the Methow Valley with a cyclo-cross bike so that you can stitch together dozens of long rides that combine paved roads with dirt roads.
Supporting both road and cyclo-cross rides in the Methow Valley are the many eateries found in the local towns. There are also a few bike shops in this part of Okanogan County offering bike service, repair parts, bike clothing, and riding advice. These shops include Winthrop Mountain Sports (Winthrop); Methow Cycle & Sport (Winthrop), and D-Tours (Mazama). Finally the apres-riding scene in Winthrop and Twisp is quite lively throughout the summer.
Some of the better road rides in the Methow Valley include:
1) Chewuch Loop. This 14-mile loop using paved roads is fairly easy, quiet, and scenic. There are some short climbs of moderate steepness but generally the terrain undulates. The route takes you away from Winthrop on the West Chewuch Road and returns you to town on the East Chewuch Road. Of course, you can reverse the route to make it seem completely different.
Stronger riders with cyclo-cross bikes can add mileage by continuing up the Chewuch Road and the Chewuch River to Andrews Creek (over 20 miles from Winthrop). As far as amenities are concerned, you’ll find bathrooms at a number of forest campgrounds passed along the way.
Finally those who feel there is no gain without substantial pain, can add Boulder Creek Road (a moderate climb on dirt road) or Falls Creek (a 7.5-mile climb on dirt road with a very steep start) to the mix.
Map 1 (refer to map 1 attached) or Map 2
2) Sun Mountain Ride. Strenuous climbing (18 miles roundtrip). This ride takes you from town right up to the airy site of the Sun Mountain Lodge.
From the Highway 20 bridge across the Methow River immediately east of Winthrop, follow the Twin Lakes Road for 3 miles and then turn right on the Patterson Lake Road and follow this for a little more than 6 miles to the Sun Mountain Lodge. There are a few strenuous climbs along the Patterson Lake Road
The best views of the valley are from the Sun Mountain Lodge. You can also get snacks (or a meal) at the lodge. It’s a fast return trip to Winthrop but the paved descent can have swaths of gravel. Pay attention to the condition of the pavement on the climb so you know what to expect and where to throttle back on the return.
Map 1 (refer to map 2 attached) and Map 2
3) Winthrop to Carlton. Below we’ve quoted information from the Winthrop Mountain Sports website:
“Carlton Loop. Easy (43 miles, round trip) (3-4 hours). An easy terrain ride, but a reasonable distance, taking you from Winthrop to Twisp and then on to Carlton. This can be done as an out-and-back by riding on East County Road, East from Winthrop and then taking the Old Twisp Carlton Road to Carlton.This way you avoid the busier traffic on Hwy 20 and Hwy 153. The shoulders South of Winthrop on Hwy 20 are variable and often poor so it’s your call. The back roads are quieter and much more pleasant. As you ride towards Carlton you will be riding along the banks of the Methow through varied farmland. Food stops are plentiful in Twisp- Twisp bakery is always popular, but 2 Bee’s, The Fiddlehead and several other espresso and sandwich places are available. In the summer the Twisp Saturday market is on- leave time in your schedule to wander (just remember it closes at 12:00 pm).”
4) Wintrop-Mazama Ride. Easy (30 miles roundtrip). This is a rolling ride up the Methow Valley using Highway 20 if you only have a road bike. Obviously, Highway 20 is busier than most side roads but the shoulder of the highway is good here. Visibility is also good along this stretch of the highway. You’ll ride west of Winthrop along Highway 20 for 9 miles; then turn right on Goat Creek Road and follow this for 6 hillier miles into Mazama.
If you own a cyclo-cross bike, you can avoid most of the highway by using Wolf Creek Road (see our map) until you hit Hwy 20. Turn east (right), ride about a mile along the Highway 20, turn left on Goat Creek Road, and follow this 6 miles into Mazama.
Those who want a longer ride still can carry on from Mazama up the Lost River Road for another 6.5 miles before the road turns to gravel.
At the Mazama Store, you’ve got lots of options (sandwiches, soup, pastries, coffee) for gaining back any calories you lost during the ride.
The return trip can be the reverse of the outward trip. Be forewarned: There are often afternoon winds blowing down valley by noon (especially in spring). This is good news if you’re ready to return to Winthrop and brutal if you’re still headed to Mazama.
Map 1 (refer to map 3 attached) and Map 2
5) Washington Pass Road Ride. Winthrop Mountain Sports states of this ride:
“Strenuous (60 miles round trip from Winthrop, 30 miles round trip from Mazama) (4 -5 hours). A fairly strenuous climb that is well worth the effort for the outstanding views and epic descent! This is the defining ride of the valley, following the rolling Mazama ride out on Hwy 20. However, stay on Hwy 20 and pass by Mazama (or stock up on some food while passing…). The climbing starts at about mile 15 and is fairly relentless the whole way to the top. Shoulders are good, restrooms are at the lookout at the top. Take plenty of water, food, and some layers of clothing. While it can be really warm in the valley, the summit of the pass can be pretty frigid — especially if the wind is blowing! If you are visiting the Methow Valley and have a few miles in your legs, you should give this a go. To shorten the ride, start at Mazama or the Freestone Inn.”
OkanoganOutdoors Tip. Every spring as the Washington State Department of Transportation is plowing Highway 20 for the springtime opening of Washington Pass and Rainy Pass, there is a window of time lasting several days (sometimes even a week) when the Highway is still gated closed to motorists on the west and east ends yet cyclists are allowed to use the road. This is a wonderful time to bike the pass – it’s downright spoiling to have two lanes of pavement available entirely to the two-wheel crowd. Take a day off of work to enjoy this ride at this time. Monitor this window at the DOT’s site.
This post was originally published on 5/21/15.
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