Photo © Soundriders
by Don Chase, Herbert David and Anne Norup
If you want a whole new adventure, take a motorcycle trip. Of course, there is some preparation with the three-day state-endorsed motorcycle safety course and an investment in a form of wheels. But all these are minor compared to the enjoyment of the open road on two wheels. There are many great three- and four-day cycle trips in the Northwest that let you enjoy the splendor of the scenery while keeping you off the bustling interstates. Keep in mind that 100 miles on a bike seems like 300 miles in a car, so you don’t have to go far from home to take up this wonderful hobby. Here are three of the best routes in the Northwest to get you started.
Historic Columbia River Highway Tour, Oregon
The alternate to I-84 on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge is the Historic Columbia River Highway, and, completed in 1922, it remains a testament to engineering. The signed historic highway begins just outside of Portland at Troutdale (exit 17) to begin the 70-mile journey.
While the Columbia River Gorge is beautiful anytime, bright colors are the immediate benefits of fall travel, and you’ll encounter less traffic midweek. The conundrum is whether you drive the route in its entirety for the thrilling and demanding route or drive-stop-drive to enjoy the many falls and parks and Hood River, which is a welcome hub for refreshments and stretching your legs.
After the historical landmark Vista House, near the west end of the route, the highway drops more than 600 feet through a series of near figure-eight turns, which really get your attention. The sweeping hairpin turns and almost dizzying road twists force you to be nimble and deliberate working the gas, brakes and gears. Next, you are driving through a kaleidoscopic tunnel as colorful maples and oaks tower over the roadway, and steep, dark basalt cliffs with green mosses and ferns are just few feet away from you. If that’s not enough to distract you, there are the many waterfalls. Sneak a peek here and there, but only for a brief moment—there’s another curve ahead. Horsetail Falls are so close to the road that you might get wet from the spray.
The road is narrow, has occasional fallen rocks or limbs, and can be crowded with other cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians – you want to observe the beauty around you, but the road in front of you demands your immediate attention.
At The Dalles, you can cross the river to get a different north-side perspective and thrilling drive. Or, you can run the same route back, this time stopping to enjoy the many falls, vistas and parks. For more information, visit hoodriver.org and thedalleschamber.com. – dc
Central Cascades Tour, Washington
The central Cascades—Mount Rainier National Park, Chinook and Cayuse Passes—offer some of the best fall scenery and touring in the Northwest. Grand views of mountains and valleys vie for your attention. You become good at catching a glimpse here and there, but when you are riding along clinging to a mountainside with a thousand foot drop merely feet away, you instinctively grip your handlebars tight and watch the road. Gravity works with and against you, causing you to work your gears and brakes in unison to meet the many ups, downs and turns—hairpin turns so sharp that you expect to see your own taillight. You revel in your mastery of machine and road, not wanting it to end.
All of your senses are engaged. Smells of deep forests to sweet alpine meadows. An entire spectrum of colors from blue lakes and many shades of green of the trees and mosses, to the golds and reds of changing leaves. Cold, brisk air from the altitude keeps you alert as snow can be found year round. The sun blinking through the trees has a strobe light effect on you, but pay attention there’s always another curve ahead. The urge to keep going to ride the backbone of the Cascades is tempting—but also tiring. Stop when you sense the need. Catch your breath, relax and take in the alpine scenery. You might even take a side trip to see Bumping Lake.
This tour can begin at either end for a one-way and return trip or continue into a long loop. If you begin in Enumclaw, take Highway 410 to Mount Rainier National Park. The highway crosses Cayuse Pass. Remain on 410 and you will soon cross Chinook Pass, eventually ending in Naches at the junction with US 12. Great campgrounds dot the landscape between Highway 410 and the American River. You can backtrack at this point. An alternative route is to take Highway 123 at Cayuse Pass and cut through the scenic Stevens Canyon Highway, heading west through the park.
What goes up must come down as you return to lowlands of Puget Sound. Fortunately, the memory and resulting high of this great tour will last until you do it again. For more information on this area, go to visitrainier.com. – dc
Sunshine Coast Tour, British Columbia
Motorcyclists in line at Horseshoe Bay’s ferry terminal make quick friendships with one another as they wait to ride up British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. They swap stories about past trips, where they’re from and what lies ahead. Locals give insider tips to visitors, “Keep a lookout for loose gravel,” or “Good time to go with tourists gone and fall color coming on.” Anticipation charges the air.
When the Queen of Surrey docks at Langdale, near Gibsons, bikers roar off the ferry and zoom up the hill like racehorses out of the gate.
Highway 101, carved into the rugged coastline, begs to be explored by motorcycle with breathtaking views and mile after mile of the kind of twisties riders dream about. Thick, dense forests span mountainsides spilling down hilly slopes to embrace sheer rock cliffs plunging into the sea. There are 52 glorious miles of fantastic long sweepers mixed with tight S-curves from Gibsons to Lund.
A few miles beyond Sechelt, combine your ride with off-bike R&R at Rockwater Secret Cove Resort—a sanctuary for the senses. Once a fishing lodge, it’s been transformed into a private oasis with luxe tenthouse suites accessed by a 1500-foot boardwalk through a woodland paradise. Or stay in a cozy waterfront cabin.
“We’re known as a romantic getaway and for our excellent West Coast cuisine,” says Dikran Zabunyan, general manager for the resort. Bikers will appreciate flat, level parking. Spa services ease aching muscles and the heated outdoor pool promises a refreshing dip.
Following breakfast, head back to the highway and enjoy one stunning, perfectly banked curve after the next en route to Earls Cove where you’ll catch the ferry to Saltery Bay.
Nature’s heady scent of briny salt air mixes with sun-kissed pines, curling under your helmet’s visor—a vivid reminder of the wildness of this area.
At road’s end, you’ll discover the picturesque village of Lund, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Built in 1905, the Historic Lund Hotel is a landmark, sitting at the edge of the marina with renovated guest rooms and a waterfront pub.
A stone’s throw away, Nancy’s Bakery has been delighting customers for 23 years with signature cinnamon buns and fresh-out-of-the-oven baked goodies.
Standing in front of Milepost 0, between the bakery and the hotel, one wonders whether it’s really the end of the road or just the beginning of a new adventure as you ready yourself for the return trip.
For more information about touring the Sunshine Coast, visit hellobc.com/vancouver-coast-mountains.aspx. For the B.C Ferries schedule, consult bcferries.com. To make reservations at Rockwater Secret Cove Resort, go to rockwatersecretcoveresort.com and for the Lund Hotel, lundhotel.com. – an