The Best 4 Day Motorcycle Ride in Northwest America
A strong claim, so I’d best offer some credentials. I’ve been a motorcyclist since 1967. In that time, I’ve covered several hundred thousand miles. Many of them have been commuting to work and back home, or one day rides, but I’ve also undertaken longer rides, such as Seattle to Minneapolis, a few times, Seattle to Florida once, Seattle to Northern California several times, Seattle to Salt Lake City and back, and on and on. These rides have lasted from a week to three weeks.
If you rate a motorcycle adventure by the quantity of curved roads, the quality of the roads, the variety of the roads, and the scenery along the way, the four-day adventure I savored a couple of weeks ago is the best ride I’ve ever enjoyed. In 52 years.
Since there’s little reason to keep it secret, here it is. Or, you can wait until next summer and join me. This ride is so spectacular I intend to repeat it following the same route. If I am feeling wildly creative, I might reverse the route for days two and three. All distances are approximate, but close to spot on, and begin and end in Snohomish County.
We begin on a Friday with breakfast. Then a 30-mile slog up Highway 5, mindful of frequent state troopers eager to give out performance riding awards. A short stop at the Smokey Point rest stop allows for the discard of all that coffee, and then the real fun begins.
Two miles north of the rest area we turn right on SR 530 to Arlington, and through that and on to Darrington – a pleasant meandering stroll to the East. More of that North to SR 20, and East 12 miles to Marblemount. We are now about 90 miles in and fuel is not really necessary, but we stop anyway to be on the safe side. Besides, you drank a lot of coffee.
Now the greatest ride begins. You take Highway 20 to Newhalem, being careful not to be too aggressive, as this road is well patrolled and often heavily trafficked – which is why it is well patrolled. Once clear of Newhalem the road rises for a few miles up a canyon, wonderful casual curves, spectacular scenery, and a tunnel or two. At the top is a metal grate bridge, which can alarm if you’re not expecting it, especially since it ends with a 90-degree right corner. Then down for miles of more curves and scenery to the level of a gorgeous glacier-fed lake, and then up, and then down… you get the idea. You must stop at the Lake Diablo rest area, which offers spectacular views of the turquoise-green waters… and a handy rest room.
From here you have about 60 miles or so of what most people will tell you is the best riding road in the state, if not the country/world/universe. You can pause for a stroll and views and pictures at Washington Pass, but you may find it hard to tear yourself away from the riding bliss.
When you arrive in Winthrop most people turn right at the stop sign and join the line of RVs and assorted transportation effluvia ambling through town, but not you! You go straight at the stop and turn to the right up the hill. This takes you past an amazing outdoor museum that is well worth your time (when was the last time you saw a Rickenbacker car?) and on to a little backroad that eventually rejoins Highway 20 a few interesting miles later.
A right turn at the stop sign in Twisp will take you back in the direction you came for about a mile, until you reach a Chevron station and a family Mexican restaurant on your right. Both are highly recommended.
With body and bike refueled, you head East again on Highway 20, being careful to note the left turn a few miles out of town. Now you’re riding up a small mountain, and will be fascinated by tracing the remains of a serious forest fire a few years ago. Which areas burned, which did not, and why?
Highway 20 runs north to Okanogan, and you will want to take the short cut across the bridge to avoid a lot of heavy traffic. North past Omak, where you can marvel at the horrendously steep hill down to the river used for the stampede races every year (no thanks) and eventually you will arrive at the Camaray Motel in Oroville. After a casual but stunning 265 miles or so, your ride for the day is done.
The Camaray is one of my favorite motels, featuring nice people, reasonable rates, a pool, and several restaurants and a pub within easy walking distance.
In the morning you will probably fuel up body and bike and then cruise to the US/Canada border. Hope you brought a passport. A new toy for the border patrol folks this year is a “density scanner” played over your tires to see if you have tubes of drugs in them. Clever.
The first town you come to in Canada is Osoyoos, which has to be one of the prettiest cities anywhere. You’ll want to watch for the signs for Canada 3 east, which are not difficult to spot. A few minutes through a bustling tourist town and the road begins to climb a spectacular series of wide sweeping 180-degree switchbacks, a great many of them. If it’s a hot summer day “tar snakes” in the corners will make you think if you are pressing on a bit. Handily, a scenic overlook at the top allows for pictures of Osoyoos laid out far below.
Next comes about 30 miles of open and scenic highway. Repeat the word “deer!” in your helmet every 30 seconds (all day) to stay vigilant and you will be fine.
After a downhill switchback that is marked at 10mph, with good reason, you will trundle on to a left turn onto Highway 33. The find of the summer – what a road! About 75 miles of open sweeping corners with spectacular scenery, and a rest area of two so you can sit down for a bit and calm down, because yes, that was an RCMP fellow back there where we happened to be not speeding. There will be more of them as well but really, this road has so many spectacular sights that excessive speed seems to waste it.
Kelowna is a huge and bustling city, and it will take you some time to get through it. Good time for refueling. You keep going all the way through town until you reach Highway 97 to the right, and in a few miles, at Vernon, you turn on Highway 6 to the South.
Another find! The other half of a great pair of roads. Now the road goes up and down and right and left, and has plenty of frost heaves and bumps to keep you focused. Much more technical than Highway 33, and just as enjoyable in a different way. And deer! I saw three of them sauntering across the road in front of me, one of several sightings but this one close enough to alarm. I was not worried about the three of them as I approached, but looked intently for a fourth that might be lagging and hurrying to catch up.
Eventually Highway 6 will deliver you to something I have never seen before – a free ferry! A small open craft that pulls itself back and forth on cables across the bottom of the lake that rise to run through pulleys on the sides of the hull.
Across the ferry and North a few miles gets you to Nakusp, a very small town trying hard to make it on tourist revenue, and the jury verdict is mixed. The Canyon Court motel was just fine for our simple needs, and a short walk to the gas station/deli provided a picnic dinner.
This day’s ride was so spectacular that my first plan was simply to reverse it the next day, but the weather had other ideas. Severe storms were predicted for most of the route, so with some cell phone weather searching a new plan was devised. After breakfast at a small place in Nakusp, we headed East and then South on Highway 6, and wow- another great road! Scenic, with rolling curves, little traffic, and a nice rest area on the way to Highway 3. Turning East on Highway 3 took us all the way back to Osoyoos, and along the way we did hit the rain. A lot of it.
South to the border and back in the USA, we stayed again at the Camaray Motel in Oroville. On our last day we simply retraced the route of the first day in the opposite direction.
Four days, less than 300 miles a day, and spectacular scenery and roads. Highly recommended!
Copyright 2019 David Preston