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Walla Walla to Boise

Three States in One Day

Take the scenic route. The ride from Walla Walla to Boise is 4 hours on the interstate, but when riding a motorcycle, there is almost always a more interesting way to go. If you’ve got 8 hours to spend on a great ride, there are backroads, state roads and highways that transform the routine commute from Walla Walla to Boise into a spectacular two-wheeled ride.

If you are arriving in Walla Walla from out of town, the Best Western in downtown on Oak Street is a "motorcycle friendly" establishment, with the hotel staff ready and happy to provide clean-up towels to wipe down the bike after a long day’s ride. It’s also within walking distance of several downtown restaurants, and conveniently close to the first in the series of roads that lead to Boise.

Hwy 125 is a due south highway out of Walla Walla. Within a scant 6 miles, you arrive at Washington’s southeast border with Oregon, and the road becomes OR11 at the state line. From that point, it’s only another 12 miles before reaching OR204. Take the turn left on 204 going (south)west, and for the next 46 miles, kick back and enjoy a very nice, two-lane, well-paved rural highway as it rolls, curves and elevates through the Umatilla National Forest. With the exception of the occasional road repair crew stopping you for road maintenance and infrequent logging trucks carrying timber, you’re basically free of traffic until you reach the small town of Elgin, Oregon.

At Elgin, SR82 goes east then southeast toward Joseph, and although SR204 runs through national forest, SR82 is the first marked "scenic route" on the map, running north of the Wallowa Mountain Range. On open stretches of the road, the mountains are visible on your right as you ride. Joseph is good sized tourist town with an "old-west" flavor. It's a great place to take a break and grab a bite to eat, and since the next section of the route runs through some very unpopulated forest and wilderness areas, it would also be a good idea to fill up the bike. Near the southern end of Joseph, pick up SR350 going east (also called East Wallowa Avenue) for 8 miles, paying careful attention around the eight mile mark for the small sign reading "Wallowa Mountain Loop Road" which marks the right turn on a road that is also designated as Forest Service Road 39 (FS39).

Once you make the turn on Wallowa Mountain Loop Road, settle in for a 53 mile ride through a very twisty, forested road that leads into the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Don’t expect to make time here, as the pavement is a bit rough with a slightly course texture, and the road has few guardrails and sections with steep drop-offs or trees growing right at the edge. It would not be a good time for a miscalculation. Average speed through the Wallowa National Forest and Wilderness Area will probably be no higher than 35mph. But don’t miss the turn to ride up to the Hells Canyon overlook, which is the "high spot" on this road. The last 10 miles that runs along the Imnaha river are also particularly picturesque.

At the end of Wallowa Mountain Road (FS39), make a turn south (left) on SR86 for a few miles and you will reach Scotty’s Hells Canyon Outdoor Supply Store. Scotty’s is the only opportunity to get fuel for many miles going forward, so unless your bike has a large fuel tank, take a break for a fill up. While you’re at it, grab a bite to eat and a sports drink or a bottle of water to ward off the desert heat.

A short ride further south on SR86 brings you to ID71, also known as the Brownlee-Oxbow Highway, and a turn on the highway going south starts you on the jewel of the day’s ride. It’s an excellently paved two-lane highway that winds its way around mountains, overlooking both the Snake River and the reservoirs created by the Brownlee and Oxbow dams as it elevates into the foothills. As the road elevates, it gives the rider an opportunity for some moderate curve carving, while "wowing" the observer with unobstructed views of the deep blue reservoir surrounded by the yellow, tan, orange and gold of the desert landscape. Don’t miss the opportunity to stop at a few roadside pullouts and riverside camping areas for some photographs.

Settle back for the 40 miles until reaching Hwy. 95 at Cambridge, where taking that rural highway south for another 50 miles leads back to I-84, where you can lock it down for the last 30 miles into Boise.

If you’re staying in town for a few days, take the ride up SR21 to Stanley, one of the best scenic roads in the Boise area, which runs through the Boise National Forest and parallels the Sawtooth Mountains on its way up to Hwy. 75. Taking Hwy. 75 north leads to Hwy. 93 which runs along the Salmon River all the way into Montana. Going south on Hwy. 75 leads to the Galena Summit, which rises to 8701 feet above the valley floor below, and on to Sun Valley further south. On the way back to Boise, take the Banks-Lowman Highway for a beautiful ride through Wildlife Canyon. Check out our Idaho Scenic Byways piece for more details.

Taking the road less traveled is not only a philosophy, but also one of the more enjoyable options when touring on a motorcycle. The ride from Walla Walla to Boise is a truly exceptional one when you choose the lesser-known country roads and highways that connect these two towns.

So next time, take the scenic route.

Philip Buonpastore


Philip Buonpastore is a freelance moto journalist living in Washington State. His latest book, Shifting Gears at 50 is available now.


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