Swakane Canyon/Peak Loop-Point 4297

By Ray Birks

Riders descending a rocky Rattlesnake Springs Road.

This report is part of a series, written for Wenatchee Outdoors, to document some of the classic mountain bike rides within an hour’s drive of the Wenatchee Valley. They consist of more than just details on one trail but a series of trails that comprise a well-known route. What makes these routes classics? It’s a combination of local knowledge, trail quality, scenery, points of interest, and destination-worthy intangible awesomeness.

What makes this a Wenatchee Classic: 

The Columbia River and Badger Mountain.

Big canyon, valley and mountain views on good dirt roads that are less traveled by bikes make this ride a classic. There’s no single track on this loop but the dirt roads are good and the descent, although mildly rocky and occasionally sandy, is fast with big, meandering switchbacks and enough view to make you stop your descent to take it all in. The gates at the top and bottom of the descent keep motorized vehicles out so you can let ‘er rip back down to the canyon floor. This loop is a few miles north of town and a bit off the beaten path so it doesn’t get the attention that other local trails might get but the longer distance, amount of climbing and spectacular views make this loop one to keep on repeat every year. It also lends itself to being a good beginner bikepacking loop as there are many possible campsites and a water refill midway through.

Points of Interest:

  • Canyon Views – the first 9 miles climb up Swakane Canyon which is filled with wildflowers, ponderosa pines and free camping spots.
  • Terrestrial Views – Once you start to climb up the Entiat Ridge Road the views of the Wenatchee and

    The mouth of Swakane Canyon.

    Entiat Valleys and beyond start to really open up. As you start the descent the Columbia River and Waterville Plateau views come into play as does the quickly approaching canyon floor.

  • Swakane Peak often referred to as Point 4297 – a prominent peak that can be seen from town but is rarely visited. You can ride near the summit but it’s not easily accessible without an off-trail hike.
  • Chumstick Mountain – A short but worthy diversion just past halfway affords 360° views of the Enchantments to the west, Mission Ridge to the south and the Waterville Plateau to the east.

Trails: All trails in one location. Follow on Trailforks or download the gpx or kml file and import into your favorite mapping tool.

Trail by trail description (clockwise):

  • Start by turning off of Highway 97A just past Rocky Reach Dam and park in one of the large gravel

    A mountain biker ascends the first gentle climb up the canyon.

    pullouts at the mouth of Swakane Canyon or continue a few miles up the road to the kiosk where there is ample parking but a Discover Pass is required.

  • Climb past a few residences a few miles to the prominent kiosk. Stay right at the kiosk as going straight becomes private property.
  • Climb past the unofficial shooting range and take note of a gated right turn that heads back the opposite direction up Rattlesnake NF 5215. This will be your descent road unless you’re riding this loop counterclockwise.
  • Continue up the canyon for a total of 9 miles to the junction of Swakane and Nahahum Canyons.
  • Turn right and stay on the main dirt road for another five miles until you arrive at an intersection that has a brown forest service sign for Sugarloaf Peak. Turn right here.
  • Continue climbing, staying right at the occasional intersection, past the potable water source at Swakane Spring, until you get to an obvious four way intersection where the road flattens out and the views to the south open up. Going left here will take you on a side trip to the summit of Chumstick Mt.
  • Stay right and roll along the Entiat Ridge Rd for a few miles, again staying right at any major turns. You will encounter about a 3/4-mile climb and a closed gate before the final descent on Rattlesnake Springs. This is the only spot in the route where there are a few side roads that could be

    Columbia River views near Rattlesnake Springs.

    confusing, so keep your map at hand. Generally heading south downhill toward the valley floor will get you headed in the right direction.

Additional trails to consider to make your ride longer and more challenging include: 

  • There are a handful of unofficial campsites for bikepackers to use to make this a worthy overnighter. At mile 9, at the junction of Swakane and Nahahum Canyons, is a nice flat spot by the trees but you might have company. Beyond that at the junction with the Chumstick Mt. turnoff, mile 20, there is a nice flat spot with tremendous views. Even further along the route there are some hunting campsites which are close to the descent at about mile 22.
  • Chumstick Mountain provides an interesting quick side trip just past the halfway point and is a short one mile climb to the summit. Here you’ll find 360° views and a good spot for a lunch break.

Route Statistics:

Distance: 34.6 Miles

Direction Described: clockwise

Elevation Gain: 5,500 feet

A ridge of rocks – photo credit ©Mishlive82.

Technical Difficulty: (Advanced) Intermediate. This route is entirely on double-track but has a lot of climbing, close to 5,500 feet, and a somewhat rocky, occasionally sandy, descent to the canyon floor.

Suggested Bike: This route is most easily ridden on a mountain bike but a skilled rider could tackle the majority of it easily on a gravel bike. You may wish for your suspension and wider tires on the descent.

Endurance: 7 out of 10. This route is not technically challenging but does involve over 5,500 feet of climbing with a somewhat rocky double track descent.

Parking Access: No parking pass is required if you park right off the pavement where Swakane Canyon starts. If you decide to park up the canyon near the kiosk you will need a Discover Pass.

Big switchbacks and the canyon floor.

Route Description: The route described is ridden clockwise but it can be ridden in either direction. Base your riding direction on whether you want to climb the steeper rocky stretch and descend dirt all the way back to your starting point (counterclockwise) or do your climbing on nice dirt roads and finish on the rocky descent (clockwise).

When to Ride: This loop can usually be ridden late April to late November but best time to ride these trails is in May when the wildflowers are at their peak. If you’re riding in the summer, get an early start because the canyon can get hot in the afternoons.

Warnings:

  • There is potable water available that comes out of a PVC pipe at Swakane Spring just past the halfway point (18-19 miles) during the long traversing ascent up the Entiat Ridge Road
  • There is a pond around mile 8 where you can filter water
  • Beware of snakes in the warmer months
  • Beware of hunters in the fall and dress brightly
  • There is an unofficial shooting range within the first few miles of this ride
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