3 Not-to-Miss Scenic Routes to Ride or Drive
Looking for a great ride that’s a little out of the ordinary? But one that captures the unique variety and beauty of Washington landscapes? We picked three of our favorite roads to ride or enjoy a scenic drive.
Among the many beautiful roads in the Evergreen State, the following three stand out. Each is a bit off the beaten path but accessible for a day ride or as part of a longer tour. Together they highlight Washington’s diverse landscape while still giving riders the tight corners and fast sweepers they crave.
Riding near Hurricane Ridge. Photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau.
The Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway
The Pacific Northwest is home to the Olympic Peninsula. This rural area contains both the Olympic National Park and the Olympic National Forest, covering over 1,442 square miles that range from old-growth forests and stunning coastline to soaring glacial peaks. For those lucky few who make the ride, the northern edge of the peninsula holds a special surprise. The Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway, also known as State Route (SR) 112, is a 61-mile Zen-like experience that runs from Port Angeles west to Neah Bay.
Start in the seaside town of Port Angeles, the largest community in the northern peninsula. While in Port Angeles, check out the Olympic National Park main visitor center and take a ride to Hurricane Ridge. The 18-mile access road packs plenty of turns and a spectacular view at the top. Riders can also hop the Black Ball Ferry across the strait to explore Victoria, British Columbia, and Vancouver Island, although, for now, the border with Canada remains closed because of COVID-19. Check for updates online.
Leave Port Angeles and head west on Highway 101. A few miles out of town, turn off toward Neah Bay to follow the Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway. The best of the Pacific Northwest fills the senses as the road passes through lush green landscapes, showing off water views and taking in ocean breezes. Canada is a mere 14 miles across this busy shipping channel connecting the ports of Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, with trading partners around the world.
Look for the Elwha River Bridge that stretches across a gaping canyon with the river below.
Stay on SR 112 at the junction with SR 113 to enter the Makah Indian Reservation, riding through Clallam Bay to Neah Bay.
This last stretch of the byway is perhaps the most exciting and picturesque on the route, with the feel of a remote access road to the northernmost corner of the state. Keep an eye out for Shipwreck Point Beach, an expansive open beach ideal for whale sighting, bird watching and exploring tide lands.
The road ends at Neah Bay. Head back toward the junction with SR 113 and then take U.S. 101 to ride south on the west side of the peninsula.
Note, however, that the Makah Reservation and Neah Bay will remain closed until at least Oct. 1 due to COVID-19. The Makah tribe promises to provide updates when the situation changes.
Riders on Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway. Photo by Philip Buonpastore/Alamy.
Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway
Sometimes a ride along a scenic river is the most effective way to refresh. The Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway, also known as SR 821 or more simply as Canyon Road, offers just that along a twisty 25-mile stretch between Ellensburg and Selah. Start at the Canyon Road exit off Interstate 90 in Ellensburg; or from the south, look for the Selah and Yakima Canyon exit from U.S. 97.
The meandering path along the Yakima River is an easily overlooked road that motorcyclists won’t want to miss. Originally built in 1924, the roadway was moved closer to the river in 1967 and proclaimed a scenic byway. The well-maintained pavement tempts riders with tight curves, esses and sweepers that demand complete attention in places and leave the canyon a blurred backdrop.
Natural beauty is everywhere in Yakima Canyon. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, visitors come here to fish, raft and camp. Sparse cottonwoods and fir trees color the otherwise arid golden hillsides that are so common in eastern Washington. Slow down to take it all in. Look for river rafters cooling off from the heat, or anglers casting from slow drifting skiffs. And don’t overlook the wildlife, particularly the eagles, falcons and hawks that nest in the many crevices along the canyon wall.
There’s more than wildlife and river watching here. The Canyon River Ranch offers accommodations with breathtaking views and an upscale restaurant serving lunch and dinner. About 13 miles north of Yakima, the Roza Dam diverts water to fields in the valley and feeds electricity into the local power grid. The suspended foot bridge over the river at Umtanum Creek Recreation Site makes a great spot to snap a selfie.
All in all, the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway is a local treasure you don’t want to miss. With Ellensburg and I-90 on one end and Yakima and U.S. 97 on the other, it’s not hard to work this road into a ride.
SR 14 near along the Columbia River. Photo by Rosemary Behan/Alamy.
Lewis and Clark Highway
Rivers are a vital part of Washington State, flowing from the peaks of the Cascade Mountains into fertile valleys and lakes below. Of those, the Columbia River is the mightiest. It originates in British Columbia and flows south through Eastern Washington. Along the way the river gathers strength from the Spokane River, the Yakima River and its other tributaries before turning west to form the state’s southern border with Oregon as it flows to the Pacific Ocean. The Lewis and Clark Highway, or SR 14, follows the winding river for roughly 175 miles across the state from Interstate 82 near Plymouth on the east, all the way west to Washougal just north of Portland, Oregon.
Motorcyclists may overlook the Lewis and Clark Highway in thinking that it lacks twists and turns. Truth be told, the 80-mile eastern stretch between Plymouth and Maryhill offers almost non-stop river views, but is otherwise pretty uneventful. Most prefer to ride the 90-mile section between Maryhill and Washougal that takes in views of the Columbia River, Mount Hood and fields reaching to the horizon. This segment is also the most twisty.
The small town of Maryhill serves as a useful landmark to begin this ride. It’s near the junction of U.S. 97 and SR 14 across the Columbia from Biggs Junction. Anyone riding up from Bend, Oregon or coming down from Yakima could easily fit this road into their itinerary.
Two things immediately jump out: the striking cliffs rising up from the Columbia River and the sheer size and power of the river at the center of this magnificent gorge. The fields are dry except where vineyards thrive on the riverbank. On a clear day, the always-snowy peak of Mount Hood in nearby Oregon floats above the road in the distance. With so much to see, perhaps it’s fortunate that this first section of road demands little from the rider.
The river remains a constant companion. The surrounding hills slowly change from dry brush to green trees and grassland as the ride moves west. The road approaches the river with high rock walls framing every bend. Curves in the road begin to draw the eye more than the river.
Beyond the many wineries and tasting rooms along the way, other landmarks stand out. (Please don’t drink and drive/ride.) The Bridge of the Gods is an 1,858-foot-long steel toll bridge connecting Washington and Oregon. Built in 1926, it was so named from an American Indian legend that recounts people walking across the river on a land bridge likely formed by a debris-filled mudslide in the mid-15th century. The Bonneville Dam just east of Washougal is one of the many hydroelectric dams operating on the Columbia River in Washington. And finally, make a stop at Stonehenge Memorial on the Columbia River near Maryhill. This full-scale replica of the English original was built in 1929 to commemorate Klickitat County soldiers killed in World War I and later commemorating soldiers killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Photo by Howtogoto/Getty Images.
Less Known But Not Less Fun
Locals rave about popular routes like Washington’s North Cascades Highway, but sometimes through sheer serendipity a rider happens upon a road less traveled. These three lesser-known motorcycle roads offer a unique blend of Washington scenery and adrenaline-inducing curves. Each is accessible for a day ride or link them together for a longer tour. All are worth a ride.
–Written by John DeVitis. Top Image of SR 14 by fotoVoyager/Getty Images.
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