Washington is a state that feels almost like home to me. I’ve been traveling there since I was a child to visit my Grandma, and in my adult years, as a faithful disciple of the Dave Matthews Band, to annual concert weekends at the Gorge Amphitheater. This year my Grandma turned 80 years old, prompting a road trip to Birch Bay State Park (in the northwest corner of the state) to party with her. For all the times I’ve visited Washington, I’ve really done very little mountain biking there. This time around, my husband and I made this road trip all about bikes and beers; and Grandma, of course.
The most direct route to our destination took us through Snoqualmie Pass. We were winging it as we looked for trails and free places to camp along the way. Dru Bru, the area’s brewery, serves the neighboring ski resort at Snoqualmie Pass. We didn’t see much in the way of trails at the resort and decided not to stop there, but I was able to buy bombers of the beer at area bottle shops. Using unfiltered mountain water from Snoqualmie Pass, Dru Bru makes mainly easy-to-drink European styles with German malts and hops from nearby Yakima Valley.
To ride, we headed toward the town of Snoqualmie where we found a beautiful trail system called Raging Ridge. As we made our way up the one-way climbing trail, we were surrounded by lush ferns, moss-covered trees, and other abundant vegetation. It was a nice, steady climb and a fun descent with fast swoopy berms (raised banked turns) and lots of jumps and drops to keep things interesting. Sadly, the downhill trails were pretty beaten up – understandable with the long, dry summer.
As a fun bonus, I was able to visit filming locations for the television show, Twin Peaks. I was unaware it was filmed in Snoqualmie and North Bend, and was pleasantly surprised when we drove by the RR Diner from the show. We ate there for breakfast the next morning and I geeked out while enjoying a “damn fine cup of coffee” and slice of cherry pie. A visit to Snoqualmie Falls and the Great Northern Hotel was a must before hitting the road. I can’t stress how much this happy accident made the trip for me!
Grandma’s birthday bash at Birch Bay was just outside of Bellingham, WA. Our original plan was to spend several days in Bellingham riding and going to breweries. There are plenty of good trails, 13 different breweries, and 4 cideries in this northern Washington bayside town. Mt. Baker ski area is just over an hour away. It’s all about beers, bikes, and snowboards in Bellingham, or so our local friend informed us. Sounds like my people!
Unfortunately, the weather was rainy, and the forecast wasn’t looking good, so we only spent a day there. I decided to visit Aslan Brewing Co. where they pride themselves on making organic beers. They also have two 45 hectoliter French oak foeders to play around with. I would have loved more time to explore Bellingham breweries, but Aslan represented well. My favorite selection was the foeder-aged Stillmatic Brett IPA with its slightly tart funkiness and notes of raspberry, pineapple, and white grape. I also really enjoyed their seasonal Das Boot helles lager. It was subtle compared to the Brett IPA, but it had such a nice, clean toasted malt character with lovely floral hops.
To sample the mountain biking in Bellingham, we visited the extensive trail system of Galbraith Mountain. Accessible from the Whatcom Falls Park in town, the trails have pretty much everything you could want in a mountain bike ride. At times, we wound our way through tall forests, and others we flowed through open clear-cut sections. Our local guide helped us navigate the maze and even shared some of his beer before the thrilling ride back down to our cars. It started raining hard just as we finished.
Time to get the hell out of dodge! But, not before stopping quickly at another Bellingham brewery, Structures. There wasn’t time to sit and drink, but I was able to pick up some fresh cans of their flagship IPA, Fuzz, and a bottle of peach saison. It’s small, but looks like a cool place to hang out and drink.
This wasn’t on our list of places to visit, but our friend and riding partner in Bellingham had a warm bed and a shower for us in Snohomish – welcome news to two soggy unfortunates who’ve been camping for a few days. He and his wife took us to their local brewery, Sound to Summit. We received a warm welcome and some hot food after a long day. I let the waitress pick out my flight of beer and enjoyed a solid NW IPA and a tasty single-hop mosaic pale ale. If I find myself in this fair town again, I will visit the historic downtown for some antique shopping and try to hit a couple more of their six breweries.
After our stay in Snohomish, we headed due east to Stevens Pass. This ski resort also has a lift-assisted bike park for getting super-rad on the downhill. The bike park reminded me a lot of Whistler (in Canada), though it’s much smaller. They have big, well-built jump line trails, but also some more technical rocky/rooty sections in the trees and lots of wooden features to play on. The 2,659 mile long Pacific Crest trail goes through Stevens Pass, which made for some fun people watching. Hikers who have been out on the trail for days or weeks at a time seem to be in awe of any sort of civilization. If you see one, hand them a beer, will ya?
I have passed by Leavenworth many times without stopping. I didn’t know what I was missing! The picturesque Bavarian-themed town is quite the tourist destination. Leavenworth comes alive for Oktoberfest every year, but no matter when you go, it’s really a gorgeous place. The Wenatchee River runs along its edge where you can walk or relax at Waterfront Park, and the mountain scenery gives the illusion of being somewhere in the Alps. If you like German beer and food, you’ve come to the right place! My husband was tickled about eating veal schnitzel for lunch.
There are a couple of local breweries, but contrary to my expectations, they don’t specialize in German-style beer. I visited Icicle Brewing where I sat in a small beer garden and drank two flights of awesome brews. I loved the Mexican lager, Citra pale ale, and pilsner. For dessert, I wolfed down a milk stout with hints of coconut that reminded me of a fat slice of German chocolate cake!
Leavenworth also has some great mountain bike trails. There are quite a few in the area, but we ended up riding Freund Creek. The steady climb begins on a dirt road that becomes single-track. The ride down feels a bit like a roller-coaster ride with sweeping berms, spectacular views, and some exposure for kicks. I would love to go back and spend more time in the area – which is something I could say about all of our stops.
Life is simple when you’re on a road trip. Each day is an adventure with a new trail or brewery to discover. No responsibility but to ride bikes and drink beers, and if you happen to be in Washington, you’re already halfway there.
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