International borders are beginning to open back up in Australia. So, if you're looking for a holiday full of riding, why not check out the North-West of USA... Words & Pics: The Bear.
As I write this it looks as if we can Travel to the USA as long as we are fully vaccinated. Let’s be honest, the US is one of the great motorcycle destinations in the world. But if you’ve done Route 66 and the California coast, the North-West is just as good, if not better…
The Pacific North-West, and specifically the Columbia River Valley, is popular with American riders but they somehow keep it from furriners. You’ll hear, “aw, man, it rains all the time” and similar complaints, but they’re just trying to keep the roads to themselves. If it’s raining near the coast, just go inland. Inland crops are irrigated for a reason: rain mostly stays on the seaward side of the Cascades.
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If you’re coming from Seattle, take Interstate 5 (the locals just say “five”) and turn east to Camas then follow the river. From Portland, take 84 east. In both cases you will find yourself in State Parks quite quickly. Turn off 84 to Corbett, where you can pick up the Historic Columbia River Highway which will take you past various waterfalls. It re-joins 84, but turn left at the Bridge of the Gods and cross the river to Stevenson. The road on the northern bank of the Columbia is less busy than 84.
Just past Stevenson there is a detour to the left to Carson and Wind River Highway. By a few back roads this will take you up to Mount St Helens, the volcano that blew its top a few years ago. Just follow the signposting. The view is spectacular.
“By a few back roads near Carson this will take you up to Mount St Helens, the volcano that blew its top a few years ago. Just follow the signposting. The view is spectacular.”
Staying by the river on State Route 14, you will have some wonderful views across to Oregon and the cliffs of the Columbia Valley. Near Maryhill, take the detour to ‘Stonehenge’, a replica of the real thing set high on a bluff over the river. Double back a little and you can take US Highway 97 north through the Horse Heaven Hills in the Yakama Indian Reservation, to Toppenish with the amazing Northern Pacific Railway Museum.
I suggest cutting back to Sunnyside and taking 241 north up to Vantage where a reasonably direct run will take you through Soap Lake and Coulee City to the Grand Coulee Dam. Coulee Dam, a small township on the way to the bridge below the dam, looks straight out of ’Leave it to Beaver’ with its tidy houses and gardens. Stay across the river at Coulee House and you’ll be able to catch the wonderful nightly historic display projected onto the dam wall after dinner at the 12 Tribes Casino.
“The Grand Coulee Dam is the “Mightiest thing ever built by a man”, according to Woody Guthrie (who got paid by the hydroelectric people for writing this) this truly is impressive.”
You now have a dilemma facing you. One way or another, you need to get back to the western side of the mountains. But there are two roads, and either way you will be crossing the Cascades. Each of the roads, State Highway 20 to the north or US Highway 2 to the south, is as spectacular as the other – and neither is freeway, so the riding is spectacular.
To reach the former, head north through Colville Indian Reservation to Omak and then south, where you can pick up 20. From here it’s a roller coaster ride through Twisp and Winthrop across to Concrete and Burlington on 5. It’s hard to describe just how amazing the road is; keep in mind that the Cascades are steeper than anything short of Warragamba Dam in Australia.
It’s hard to describe just how amazing the road is; keep in mind that the Cascades are steeper than anything short of Warragamba Dam in Australia.
Should you want to see a little more of the Columbia River, ride back across the bridge and take the road to Bridgeport. From here you can follow the river south all the way to Wenatchee, a relatively uninviting place with expensive accommodation. The trouble is that here you are in the prosperous irrigation country which can afford the prices.
Leave the Columbia here and head west for Cashmere and Leavenworth. “Although Leavenworth is the No.2 Bavarian Village in the United States, it has absolutely no connections to Bavaria… it was once known as Icicle Flats, a small logging town in the Cascade Mountains” says the promo; in line with an American tendency to copy things, it is in fact as fake as fake can possibly be, and expensive as well. Worth a look if you’re into weird, but don’t stay there.
“Absolute minimum, take a week to discover the North-West but you will miss a lot of worthwhile trips. Maximum? Three weeks. Of course, you can always head north into Canada…”
The ride across the Cascades through Skykomish is less exciting than the northern route, but it’s still a wonderful experience. Instead of continuing to 5, take the turnoff to the left on 203 to 90. Yes, eventually you end up on a freeway anyway, that takes you back to where you have to return the bike.
How long is this trip? Absolute minimum, a week but you will miss a lot of worthwhile side trips. Maximum? Three weeks, say. Of course, you can always head north into Canada, and that could take the rest of your life…
- The cities to start from are either Portland, Oregon (PDX) or Seattle, Washington (SEA). Both have regular and frequent air connections to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
- The best airline to fly is Alaskan, which codeshares with Qantas.
- Recommended motorcycle rental in Portland is MotoQuest
- EagleRider is a good option in Portland and Seattle.
- In Portland, I recommend staying at the NW Portland Hostel
- I have not stayed in Seattle near the airport, but I would suggest Motel 6