Squilchuck – Wheeler Reservoir Loop
Journey to Somewhere
by Andy Dappen
Over the past decade, Squilchuck State Park has emerged as a locally appreciated mountain biking center with many miles and styles of nested trails where cyclists can hone their skills or build their fitness. For some of us, however, these forested trails have one overarching problem: They don’t really take you anywhere. As happens with so much of life, the trails have you chasing your tail around and around in circles.
Which is why the pedal (or walk or run) from the state park to the Upper Wheeler Reservoir is a welcomed addition to the Squilchuck quiver. This route climbs steadily out of the state park to reach the highest cherry orchards in the Stemilt Basin. These orchard lands looked like Mordor as they were being installed in 2023, but they will be agreeable agricultural lands in the near future as they grow up and green out. After skirting the orchards, the dirt roads of the route enter open forests and stately ponderosa stands before reaching the ‘expansive waters and exhilarating beaches’ of the Upper Wheeler Reservoir.
These claims about the reservoir are made with tongue planted firmly in cheek. In spring when the reservoir is full, the reservoir’s sparkling waters and positioning below the backcountry skiing slopes of the Stemilt Basin are, indeed, pretty. But by fall when the reservoir has been severely tapped for irrigation purposes, the remaining puddle is more likely to illicit a ‘meh’ than a ‘wow’.
Still the ride has brought you somewhere and you can sweep your eyes uphill at the open slopes leading to the skyline. You can think about venturing here in winter to snowshoe or ski those slopes. And you can think about finding a place along the reservoir’s shores to skip stones.
Then, of course, there is the return trip back to the car to think about. Using the purple route on our map, lower the bike seat and get ready to hang onto your brakes. This downhill plunge is neither as flowy nor as engineered as the trails within the state park, but it still delivers plenty of kick.
Attractions: Since 2015, Squilchuck State Park has worked steadily to re-invent itself as a mountain biking hub. Other guidebook entries discuss rides within the park, but this post offers an interesting ride (or run) leaving the park. Located a few thousand vertical feet higher than Wenatchee itself, these lands are nicely wooded and surprisingly cooler, making them a good hot-weather escape. Finally following the roads to the Wheeler Reservoir provides views of the surrounding hills that you won’t get down in the state park itself.
Activities: Mountain biking, hiking, and trail running.
Nearest Town: Wenatchee.
Skill Level: 2 (intermediate)
Fitness Level: 2 (intermediate). Of course all fitness levels can enjoy the area by walking as far as energy allows and returning when you’ve had enough.
Recommended Season: spring, summer, and fall.
Elevation Gain: 1,400 vertical feet of gain to the Wheeler Reservoir.
Distance: 7.5 miles loop as shown on our map.
Map: By downloading the PDF map below into the Avenza App, you’ll have a geo-referenced map that works on your smartphone.
Park use. In summer the group camping area at Squilchuck State Park is rented to private parties and driving access to this part of the park is closed. Also, be aware that when the gate allowing entrance into the park is closed, you can still walk or bike here by parking in the gravel lot beside the entrance gate and biking/walking from there. At such times there is no access to bathroom facilities inside the park. When the park is operating, the gate is open from 8 a.m. to dusk.
Access: Follow the Squilchuck Road, leaving from the south end of Wenatchee, seven miles uphill to Squilchuck State Park. If the park is open, drive 0.35 miles up the entrance road and pull into the big parking lot on your right that is roughly 150 yards below the lodge. If the main gate into the state park is not open, park your vehicle in a small gravel lot beside the gate. A Discover Pass is required to park in the upper lot as well as in the gravel lot beside the entrance gate.
- Starting from the main parking area inside the park, bike uphill along the paved road leading past the old lodge. In a quarter of a mile, the road forks to form a camping loop — stay right and go counter-clockwise around the camping loop.
- In another 150 to 200 yards, the paved loop bends sharply to the left. Leave the paved road here (Waypoint 1) on a dirt road that climbs uphill 30 yards before turning left and leveling out. Go about 100 yards on this dirt road looking for a trail that takes off on your right and climbs straight up the fall line of the drainage (Waypoint 2). Note: You’re likely to find two trails in the same general area, one that climbs uphill in a southwesterly direction on a gentler traverse and one that heads south and climbs more steeply up the fall line. Take the steeper trail.
- Climb steeply uphill for a few hundred feet until the trail you’re following merges with an old double-track road. Stay on the road now as it travels 0.6 miles uphill to an intersection with a larger dirt road (Waypoint 3).
- Turn left on this new road, which is relatively flat. Follow the road 0.7 miles to another intersection where high elevation cherry orchards come into view (Waypoint 4).
- Turn right and follow the larger gravel road that skirts around the western edge of these orchards. Initially the road is fairly flat. After about 0.5 miles, the orchards end and the road re-enters forest lands and starts climbing steadily again. Stay on this road as it heads in a southerly direction for another 1.25 miles until it reaches the Upper Wheeler Reservoir (Waypoint 5). You’ll pass a few spur roads along this portion of the trip. Ignore them and keep going straight on what appears to be the best-travelled road.
- Once at the reservoir, travel along its right (northern) side, following a small road for 0.2 miles. At an old metal, weather station that is no longer in use, turn right off the road onto a faint trail heading uphill. In a few hundred feet you’ll pass some signage tacked onto a tree, Shortly past the signs you’ll intersect another road (Waypoint 6). This is the high point of the trip.
- Fade right here and start following this new road downhill in a northerly direction. The road drops steadily and reaches a fork in 0.6 miles (Waypoint 7). Stay left, taking the smaller of the two roads.
- This smaller road is rocky and undulates up and down for 0.2 miles before it starts dropping seriously. Hang onto the brakes and drop another 0.3 miles before you intersect a larger, flatter road (Waypoint 8).
- Turn right here and follow this larger road 250 to 300 yards to another intersection.
- You should recognize this intersection – you passed through here much earlier (Waypoint 3). Turn left and return to the car (1.1 miles) by plunging down what you previously labored up.
Land Ownership: The roads along this route all allow public access. The lands bordering these roads belong to Washington State Parks (at the start), private owners (adjacent to the orchards), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (beyond the orchards), and Chelan County (adjacent to the reservoir).
Dogs are allowed on this route but must be leased at all times within Squilchuck State Park.
Posting Date. September 2023.
Leave It Better Than You found It. This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull noxious weeds along your route, scoop your dog’s poop, don’t travel off road or off trail….
Important Disclaimer: Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Things change, conditions change, and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or may fail to give complete information. You are still responsible for yourself and your actions. If you can’t live with that, you are prohibited from using our information.