The North Central Washington
by Cyrus Desmarais
Route Description: The North Central Washington (NCW 250) is a 254-mile bikepacking loop, starting and ending at Pybus public market in Wenatchee. Although it can be completed in either direction, I always have envisioned completing the route counterclockwise, and considered the fast road descent from Mission ridge to be rather exciting finish. If this is the direction of choice, consider starting early in the day. Rock Island grade is steep, and those first 50 miles offer little shade.
The first miles from Wenatchee to Chelan capture the beauty of eastern Washington agriculture country—stellar views and wheat fields—and the route remains high on the eastern plateau, until descending sharply down McNeil canyon to the Columbia river. From there it travels along the Chelan lake shore, enticing you to lay your bike down and jump in. Consider a snack ‘n’ soak break, or several. Cherish those moments of flatter pavement. They won’t last long.
As you head NE towards 25-mile creek state park, look up to your left. This is the ridge system you ascend as you move into NCW high country. This next portion of the route will provide a stark contrast to eastern plateaus. This is mountain country.
Consider a stop by 250 mile creek state park before ascending NFD 8410 towards Slide ridge. This is your last option for food before Ardenvoir. This road follows along the Washington back country discovery route, with 360 degree views up high on the ridge before descending down Mud creek into the Entiat valley.
Consider in your trip planning calling ahead of time for Cooper’s general store hours of operation. It is currently closed on Wednesdays. As a second option, you can ride 6 bonus miles into the town of Entiat for a wider variety of food options. From Entiat river road turn right onto Mills canyon road (NF-5200), and ascend up towards Entiat ridge, and up to Entiat peak (5774’). This road follows a beautiful ridge system over to Chumstick mountain (5810’), which has some of the best views of the route. The enchantments stand at arms length away, and Glacier peak guards the north.
From Chumstick mountain, continue following NF-5200 out to Sugarloaf peak lookout (5814’), which offers more 360 views (there’s a theme here) of Lake Wenatchee and Glacier peak wilderness. Continue NF-5200 to Maverick saddle, and descend down NF-6101 and NF-6102 to Goose creek campground. Continue on to Chiwawa loop road to Plain. The road offers a short reprieve before turning onto Eagle creek road to climb 2600’ up above Derby canyon. Many of these forest service roads aren’t labeled at road forks. Head towards Nahahum canyon. This descent is a screamer into Cashmere, and a well deserved dinner at the local brewery might be necessary.
Pat yourself on the back a little before the final climb up to Mission Ridge ski area. The climb begins gradually up mission creek, traveling ~ 10 miles before a sharp right onto the East Fork Mission Creek (USFS-7100). Careful, this turnoff is easy to miss, and looks like a single-track dirt biking trail at first glance. Take this up to USFS 9172, and continue along beehive to pipeline trail. Pipeline merges with Lake Clara trail by the base of Mission ridge ski area. Be prepared for a short hike-a-bike. Descend the 300’ to the base area. Finish the route by descending Mission ridge road down to Wenatchee avenue and Pybus public market.
There are six primary refuel points:
- Waterville (~mile 39.5)
- Chelan (~mile 63)
- 25-mile creek state park (~mile 83)
- Ardenvoir (~mile 123)/Entiat (as a second option)
- Plain (~mile 181)
- Cashmere (~mile 217)
Towns like Chelan and Cashmere have more amenities available, whereas Ardenvoir contains a single general store.
Time needed: 2-6 days. Camping and overnight options are plentiful.
Difficulty: Depends on the individual. The route is 99% rideable, and the climbs are steep. I would consider the technical difficulty relatively moderate 4/10. The primary difficulty lies in the sheer volume of continuous climbing and descent.
Maps: See attached map and this link.
Gear recommendations: The route has been ridden on 2.0 gravel tires with a gravel bike. ~75% of the route is ridden on steep back country roads, which can be rocky and sandy. ~25% of the route is paved. Consider a bike with a decent climbing gear.
The second half of the route stays high on ridge systems, traveling between 4000 and 6000’. Due to the nature of the route, expect days to be warm, and night cool. Standard overnight gear recommended.
When to ride: Although this varies year to year, most of the route will melt out by mid to late June, and wildflower season is prime June through July.
Stats: Route length: 254 miles
Vertical gain: 24,381’