Chelan Butte/Highway 97A Loop

by Ray Birks

Climbing up Chelan Butte Road can be a brute. It’s a mostly steep and relentless adventure and the single-track coming down toward the lake is good, but not great. It’s not a destination ride for the average rider who doesn’t enjoy some suffering. But it’s very beautiful and will bust your legs and lungs in a good way. Thankfully there are ways to soften the blow. This

Pictured is Ray Birks, the man behind the mountain bike.

alternate adventure on dirt and paved roads only involves some of the hard stuff and offers some less often seen views of the Columbia River, plus it makes a nice cyclocross route (or mountain bike). I’m labeling this route the Chelan Butte/Highway 97a route.

To start the route you have to find a place to park in Chelan which can be a chore on busy weekends. You can park anywhere along the route since it’s a loop but obvious starting points would be Lakeside Park which is right across the street from Chelan Butte Road. On a hot summer day it will be crowded but luckily there is street parking or other nearby parks that will have room, and climbing this on a hot summer day would be, well, hot.

Start this route by climbing up Chelan Butte Road. It’s moderately steep but you can always take breaks and peek over your shoulder at the ever expanding views of Lake Chelan as many times as you like. After about 3.5 miles you’ll come to a junction where Butte Lookout Road heads left and Chelan Butte Road goes right. If you’re looking to get in some single-track you can continue climbing left and take Chelan Butte Ridge back down toward the lake. The single-track runs down the ridge, pretty directly at times and can be rocky. Downhill-oriented and shuttle riders will enjoy the challenge. Here is a route description from Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance.

Our route turns right and as the road crests it starts to descend gently toward the Columbia River. In about ¾ mile you’ll hit Downie Canyon Road which I don’t recall being signed. Turn right here and continue traversing across the hillside. Along this stretch enjoy the views of the Columbia River and the Waterville Plateau because soon you’ll be rocketing down toward the pavement. Stay on Downie Canyon Road for the rest of the dirt portion of the ride which is about six miles, the last few of which are a fast descent to Highway 97a. When you hit the highway turn right and continue downhill on a broad shoulder toward the lake and find your way back to your car. 

The entire loop is roughly 23 miles depending on your starting location with approximately 2,700 feet of climbing. About 3.5 miles are at an average grade close to 8.5% and are all from the bottom of Chelan Butte Road to the junction. Overall the ride will take intermediate riders anywhere from 2.5-5 hours. This route is best done after the snow melts in April or May or before December. I’ve ridden it as late as mid-November. If you ride in the summer, start early and bring ample water.

Here is a partial route on MapMy Ride during which I got picked up by my patient family before I could quite finish the road miles.

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