written by Paul Letourneau
When the pandemic hit the United States in early 2020, the scourge forced offices to close, fitness facilities to cease operations and public transportation to pause. People were left to their own devices to navigate the pandemic-era of fitness and transportation. Bikes—bikes of all kinds—became the antidote and the hottest commodity of the year.
Sales of bikes and bike gear soared 75 percent year over year from March to June, according to a report from NPD Group, a New York-based data and analytics firm. Within the report, sales of lifestyle and leisure bikes, mountain bike and road bikes far outpaced an already strong 2019 year of sales.
If anything good has come from the pandemic, it’s that many more Americans now have bikes. Now what?
If you’re one of these bike consumers in Washington, you’ll be joining the world-class network of mountain bike routes, gravel trails and road rides throughout the state. “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride,” President John F. Kennedy reportedly said. Even less compares to a bike ride along the pastoral paths of Washington.
We put together a slew of our favorite rides across the state to inspire your next ride. We focused on the three main categories of road, gravel and mountain bike trails for this piece and for your enjoyment.
Puget Sound Pedaling
This urban ride puts Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood and the picturesque Elliott Bay front and center. In a moderate 16-mile lollipop ride that begins and ends in downtown’s Pike/Pine corridor near Monorail Espresso, one of Seattle’s earliest coffee carts and now a walkup window at the corner of 5th Avenue and Pike Street. This ride heads west to the famed Pike Place Market, then meanders north up the waterfront bike path with Elliott Bay and views of the Olympic Range in the distance. This ride loops around the Magnolia neighborhood and the border of hiker-friendly Discovery Park.
Bike: Road bike / Location: Seattle / Rating: Moderate / Distance: 35 miles / Vertical: 900 feet / Style: Loop
Rails-to-Trails Round Trip
One of the better urban examples of the rails-to-trails movement, Burke-Gilman Trail begins at 11th Avenue in west Ballard and follows the Lake Washington Ship Canal east between Chittenden Locks and Lake Union before turning north and east to Bothell. The 18.3 miles are paved for cyclists and accommodate sight-seeing cyclists to pure-carbon roadies. This is a Seattle (or Bothell) rite of passage!
Bike: Road bike / Location: Seattle-Bothell / Rating: Moderate / Distance: 18.3 miles / Vertical: N/A / Style: Out-and-back or point-to-point
San Juan Islands
Lime Kiln Point State Park
Lavender, Lime and Whales
This 18-mile rolling ramble takes cyclists through farm country and beneath views of the Olympic Range, before ending at Lime Kiln Point State Park and one of the best shores from which to spy orca, minke, humpback and grey whales. The namesake lime kiln around which the 42-acre park was built is a 1919 relic of its lime-producing era. Bring a pack and hit farmstands to make your own San Juan Island-sourced dinner back at your digs.
Bike: Road bike / Location: San Juan Island / Rating: Moderate / Distance: 18.3 miles / Vertical: N/A / Style: Out-and-back or point-to-point
Vertical Velo with Views
For a roadie mini Alpes D’Huez challenge of your cardiovascular constitution, meet Mount Constitution on Orcas Island. This steep, 5-mile, 2,409-foot summit takes its victors through many switchbacks and up to the highest point on the San Juan Islands and an observation tower. The Cascades band the sky to the east, the Olympics to the west and Canada to the north. In the greater Moran State Park lie miles more terrain for road and mountain biking.
Bike: Road bike / Location: Orcas Island / Rating: Difficult / Distance: 5 miles / Vertical: 2,900 feet / Style: Out-and-back
Olympic Discovery Trail Adventure Route
The Breakthrough Gravel Route
Get your gravel (or mountain bike) on at this newly connected 25-mile singletrack point-to-point dirt trail through the Olympic National Park. Beginning 7 miles west of Port Angeles, the Olympic Adventure Trail, or OAT, heads west through a verdant forest draped with moss to its western terminus at Lake Crescent. This route has 3,793 feet of vertical in it, but, aside from the first few miles, you may not notice it.
Bike: Gravel, mountain bike / Location: Olympic Peninsula / Rating: Difficult / Distance: 25 miles / Vertical: 3,793 feet / Style: Point-to-point
Quinault Lake Loop
A Ramble Through the Rainforest
Ride this one counterclockwise, beginning at Quinault Lake Lodge and circling southwest along the perimeter of Quinault Lake. This mixed-surface route is best done on a gravel or mountain bike. Start at the Quinault Lake Lodge and get ready to feast your eyes on the Quinault Rainforest and the Rain Forest Resort Village, where you can hit the General Store for snacks. Though it’s 30 miles, the Quinault Lake Loop is not difficult for moderate riders.
Bike: Gravel, mountain bike / Location: Olympic Peninsula / Rating: Moderate / Distance: 30 miles / Vertical: 1,647 feet / Style: Loop
Bear Creek and Balky
Figure Eight Until You Eat
We’re going to recommend that you start and end this awesome gravel ride in Twisp for two culinary reasons—Tappi Italian restaurant and Linwood, an upscale pan-Asian restaurant. Everything in between—the riding—is eye candy. Winthrop has its own merits if that is where you’re staying. This ride is essentially a figure eight with ascending loops around Winthrop and Twisp and connected by the Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road. Early to midsummer are the best times to catch the explosion of meadow wildflowers.
Bike: Gravel bike / Location: Methow Valley / Rating: Moderate / Distance:
35 miles / Vertical: 2,763 feet / Style: Figure eight
Buck Mountain trails bring riders a classic overlook of the rolling hills of the Methow Valley and the North Cascades in the offing. Riders rave about the Buck Mountain loop for its flowers and flowing descents on singletrack. Because that won’t be enough riding for one day for many riders, add on the nearby Rendezvous Loop for another showy 11 miles of trail with 2,500 feet of climbing.
Bike: Mountain bike / Location: Methow Valley / Rating: Moderate / Distance: 14.5 miles / Vertical: 1,400 feet / Style: Loop
Puget Sound Pumping
Getting pumped up on the Puget Sound is pretty easy when you’re bombing Chuckanut Mountain on a mountain bike or downhill mountain bike. Banked turns with steep, flowing singletrack will get your adrenaline pumping. All in, Chuckanut Mountain has twenty-nine trails of varying difficulty, but the showpieces are the advanced downhill trails. This is a wonderland of lakes, streams and waterfalls in Larrabee State Park and with views of Mount Baker and the San Juan Islands.
Bike: Mountain bike, downhill mountain bike / Location: Bellingham / Rating: Moderate to Difficult / Distance: 29 trails / Vertical: N/A / Style: Park and ride
Tour de Whatcom
The Great Northern Farm Ride
This is a 22-mile out-and-back easy road bike cruise with only 575 feet of elevation gain along the way. This ride will dazzle you with green as it trails out of the city and follows the contours of the Nooksack River north. Before you know it, you’ll hit the midpoint turnaround in farm country on Douglas Road. End your ride back in town at the Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro for a spacious indoor or covered outdoor local craft beer.
Bike: Road bike / Location: Bellingham / Rating: Easy / Distance: 22 miles / Vertical: 575 feet / Style: Out-and-back
Lewis River Trail
The Lewis River Flow
The Lewis River in the southeastern shadow of Mount St. Helens is one of Washington’s sparkling treasures. The singletrack Lewis River Trail along its banks makes this one of the most spectacular riverine rides with the lower, middle and upper falls for added majesty. This 28-mile out-and-back trail takes you through the old-growth forest of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and, for those old enough to remember, the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980.
Bike: Mountain bike / Location: Southwest Washington / Rating: Moderate / Distance: 28 miles / Vertical: 2,700 feet / Style: Out-and-back
Silver Creek Trail
Mount Rainier Therapy
Getting away from the crowd is not always easy at Mount Rainier, but now it’s imperative. Silver Creek Trail is a less-trafficked alternative to the popular Mount Tahoma Trail System. South of Mount Rainier and east of Ashford, Silver Creek Trail along Silver Creek is accessible for most riders. The views of Lookout Mountain are good. Farther on, the vistas of Mount Rainier are better. If you make this ride in midsummer, bring a bag to harvest huckleberries, which line the trail in different spots.
Bike: Mountain bike / Location: Southwest Washington / Rating: Moderate / Distance:
11 miles / Vertical: 1,300 feet / Style: Loop
The Columbia River Gorge
Mount Adams Loop
Double Mountain Passage
This awesome ride begins in Trout Lake, 17 miles north of White Salmon on the Gorge. This ride takes you on a roadie delight, with lots of climbing and thrilling descents, with most of this playing out on scarcely traveled blacktop forest roads. Old-growth forests, waterfalls and views of Mount Adams and Mount Hood make this a rite of passage for cyclists. Take note though—this is remote and challenging with a couple of short sections of gravel, so be prepared for extra time and tubes.
Bike: Road bike / Location: Trout Lake /
Rating: Difficult / Distance: 52 miles /
Vertical: 4,433 feet / Style: Loop
Want to feel the Columbia River Gorge and the adjacent remote canyons? Klickitat Trail, beginning in Lyle, is a 31-mile mixed-surface on-ramp for that journey. For the first 13 miles between Lyle and Klickitat, riders will be spoiled with views and sounds of the Gorge. After Klicktat, as the trail turns east toward Goldendale, the ride (and cell phone service) is more stark in the Swale Canyon. Depending on the time of year and time of day, rattlesnakes can be spotted. Nonetheless, this 50-mile out-and-back is a Western gravel classic.
Bike: Gravel bike / Location: Lyle / Rating: Difficult / Distance: 50 miles / Vertical: N/A / Style: Out-and-back
Camp Sekani / Beacon Hill
Mountain Bike Mecca
For a mega-network of mountain biking in Eastern Washington, hie thee hither to the Camp Sekani and Beacon Hill complex just east of Spokane and along the Spokane River. This area boasts sixty trails rated from beginner to very difficult. If your crew has riders of varied experience, this will be one place where everyone can be happy. Plan for a full day on the month’s-worth of trails here.
Bike: Mountain bike / Location: Spokane /
Rating: Beginner-Difficult / Distance: 30 miles / Vertical: N/A / Style: Park and ride
Centennial Trail is a two-state, 63-mile National Recreation Trail between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Named not for its length but for its construction birthdate—at Washington’s centennial of 1989—Centennial Trail was designed for multiuse by all people. Paved its entire length, it is best addressed on a road bike, or a cruiser for shorter rambles. This path is well used and highly engaging as it follows the Spokane River east of town through Riverside State Park and Nine Mile Falls into Idaho and Coeur d’Alene. Commandos can plan this as their long ride and as an out-and-back from Spokane, or shuttle a car to the Coeur d’Alene Resort and make a pampered landing there before driving back to Spokane.
Bike: Road bike, cruiser / Location: Spokane / Rating: Beginner / Distance: 63 miles / Vertical: N/A / Style: Out-and-back, shuttle