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Gravel Travel

Part 1: The I-90 Corridor - between North Bend and Snoqualmie Pass

Any adventure rider that has ridden the 3 Pass Blast or wandered their way to Winthrop has experienced the awesome broken beauty of the Cascade Mountains. However, after a few trips through the mountains, the perceptive adventure rider quickly arrives at the conclusion that civil engineers who designed paved highways over the Cascade Range took the easiest possible routes by following deep river valleys through the foothills and only climbing over the crest at the last possible moment with the least possible grade.

 As adventure riders, we expect more from our riding experience in the Cascades than just crossing passes as smoothly and efficiently as possible. We want a route somewhat less "civilized." Fortunately, a casual inspection of any good back-road atlas hints at the possibilities left behind by our timber legacy: countless miles of forest road constructed to extract natural resources. With resource extraction now a relatively minor interest, the forest and back roads have become a new recreational paradise for the adventure rider. They beckon to those of us who have the desire and skill to occasionally leave the pavement behind and take the long way around. In this series of articles, I will illuminate some back road byways and off-pavement diversions hidden in the forests of the Cascade Mountains. You will discover there are alternatives to droning along with the SUV clones on the superslab. These sections can be used in two different ways: first, you can use them as a quick diversion to spend a few miles off the highway or to bypass a traffic jam, then rejoin the highway for the rest of your trip, or second, you can put the described sections together into a true adventure Gelandestrasse tour and just use the highway to connect sections together as needed.

DISCLAIMER: Routes described herein traverse public roads and may be primitive single lane roads with minimal or no warning signs. You will experience varying road surfaces ranging from broken asphalt to groomed gravel to rough dirt. Road and weather conditions can change at any time without notice, so check with the appropriate travel authorities for current conditions. You are responsible for your own safety.

b> em>Old Sunset Highway

There is a two mile section of the old Sunset Highway, US-10, that still exists and was bypassed by Interstate 90 in 1976. It passes by Olallie State Park where you will find an open picnic area alongside the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River. The old cement sections of highway pavement are very obvious here. You will also find the Twin Falls trailhead, where a one mile stroll brings you upon 100 foot falls amid old growth forest. The romping and roaring of rushing waters rivals that of the nearby freeway.

Directions: Eastbound take Exit 38 off I-90 and turn right at the stop sign. Westbound, take Exit 38 off I-90 and turn left at the stop sign. Either direction, you will rejoin I-90 to continue on your journey.

Road Type: Pavement, rough in places, watch out for gravel on the road.

Tinkham Road

Forest road 55 parallels I-90 on the south side of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River for a bit over five miles between Exit 42 and Exit 47. This road is named for railroad surveyor Abiel Tinkham who worked this area. It is a fairly straight and fast route for a gravel road. There are two very civilized and concreted creek crossings that permit you to get your tires wet, particularly during early summer snow-melt season. You will pass by Tinkham campground which has access to the river and offers primitive camping.

Directions: Eastbound take Exit 42 off I-90, turn right at the stop sign, follow the mainline road for 5.5 miles, then turn left onto the pavement to rejoin I-90 at Exit 47 (or continue to Denny Creek Road described below.) Westbound take Exit 47 off I-90, turn left at the stop sign and cross the freeway, turn right at the "T" onto Tinkham road, then rejoin I-90 at Exit 42. If you need fresh water or restrooms, stop at the Asahel Curtis day use area.

Road Type: Gravel forest road with pervasive potholes and two minor creek crossings.

Denny Creek Road

Forest road 58 is best known for its twisty section reminiscent of the Italian Alps. From just above the Denny Creek campground to just below Snoqualmie pass the road features more than 25 turns, with four 180 degree hairpins. It is a "must" for any self-respecting knee-dragging floorboard-scraping motorcycle rider. Keep your speed down through here though as there is significant pedestrian traffic near the campground and trailheads. You can also stop and view the remnants of the old Snoqualmie Pass wagon trail near Franklin Falls and ponder the stout nature of the souls who traveled this grade with horse drawn wagons in the 1860s. Gelandestrasse indeed!

Directions: Eastbound take Exit 47 off I-90, turn left at the stop sign, go across freeway, at the "T" turn right, go about 1/4 mile, then turn left onto Denny Creek road. Continue to the top of Snoqualmie Pass where you can rejoin I-90. Westbound take Exit 53 off I-90, turn left at the stop sign, then right at the stop sign onto SR-906. Follow it towards Alpental road, crossing under the freeway. Continue straight downhill onto Forest road 58 (do not turn right towards Alpental.)

Road Type: Paved single lane forest road, watch for gravel in the corners and rocks on the upper section. There also will be sand on the road where it passes under the freeway. Very busy on the weekends, watch for pedestrians near the campground and trailheads.

Useful resources for this area:

Washington State Parks - Olallie State Park & Twin Falls Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Summit Deli & Chevron Gas - Snoqualmie Pass, SR-906

Until next time, get out there and get your adventure bike dirty!

Mitch Comstock/Summer 05


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