by Ray Birks
The ride to Lion Rock is a great adventure for intermediate riders or beginner riders that don’t mind some climbing and rocky roads. It delivers staggering views of the Kittitas Valley, the Enchantments, Mt. Stuart, Mt. Rainer and Blewett Pass. This ride can be done on a cyclocross bike but the second half is pretty rocky and slow-going with some moderate climbing. So unless you are looking to shake loose a filling or two on the descent, a mountain bike is recommended. From Swauk Pass this ride is just over 20 miles round trip. From the halfway parking area described below it’s 10 miles round trip.
From the top of Swauk (Blewett) Pass turn into the large parking lot on the south side of the road, gear up and get ready to ride. Riders who want to shorten the adventure can drive up NF-9716 about 3.75 miles, turn left on NF-3530 and drive an additional 1.5 miles to the signed junction for Haney Meadows and Lion Rock. Park here and you’re at the halfway point of the ride. You don’t
need a high-clearance vehicle to drive to the halfway point.
Those who ride from Swauk Pass will enjoy a fantastic dirt road that climbs gently, passing the Swauk Forest Discovery Trail in less than 0.5 miles that includes another giant parking lot and a porta potty. Parking here requires a Northwest Forest Pass. Continue climbing the main road as it winds up, flanked by territorial views and plenty of trees for shade, for another three miles to the junction with NF-3530. There is signage here pointing you toward Haney Meadows and Lion Rock to the left.
From here the road climbs a bit more intensely another 1.5 miles and the views toward Swauk Pass and the Enchantments becomes increasingly spectacular. The road grinds up through a massive talus field but don’t worry, the surface is very nice. At the top of the climb you’re at the junction with Liberty Beehive Road. Turning right (south) will take you to Lion Rock but other diversions to the left include Mt. Lillian and Haney Meadows, both worthy adventures.
Follow the sign toward Lion Rock and get ready for things to get rockier. The views ahead are worth a few jolts so get ready to ride. In 0.1 miles there is a left turn down Naneum Meadows but continue right/straight on what is now NF-3500 Rd. You’ll encounter 2-3 moderate climbs that will challenge beginning riders in the remaining five miles to Lion Rock but keep your eyes on the prize and press on. At the top of the first hill is a great view to the right of Blewett Pass off toward Cle Elum. This recent burn area also draws out a lot of mushroom hunters and car campers looking for a sweet spot with a nice view.
Along this stretch you’ll also pass a handful of trails branching off mainly to the left and heading down toward Naneum Meadows. They include Owl Creek and the Naneum Meadows Trail, both of which are included in this write-up. Three miles from the previous junction you’ll get to a large turnout on the right with amazing views looking south and west. Take a break and soak it up, knowing you’re in roaring distance from the Lion. Look up to the left at this viewpoint and you can see the final destination.
Back on the rocky road for another 0.6 miles and you’ll hit the junction for Lion Rock to the right. An additional 0.6 miles puts you squarely on the Lion’s mane. During this last stretch you’ll pass a porta potty and the First Creek Trail #1374 to the left that descends four miles and 1,800 feet. But we’re interested in the views at this point and they will not disappoint. Take it in, grab a snack, shoot some photos and get ready to retrace your route back to the car.
There are no surprises on the way back. The road is still rocky at the start but gravity is on your side this time and the road surface improves with every revolution.