I thought that would be a better title than … “the Leavenworth -> Cole’s Corner -> Lake Wenatchee -> Plain -> Leavenworth Loop.” 😉 Leavenworth, Washington, is a “Bavarian” tourist town on the eastern end of the Cascade Range.
This was a gorgeous 45 mile loop, with a lot of variety from a mountain/river canyon to open farmland and hot ponderosa pine forest. I got my first sunburn of the year.
(Scroll down; we’ll see Lake Wenatchee again on this adventure.)
Early into the ride, the scenery is rugged; stark and montane, with a snowy wall towering over the foot hills, dominating the landscape. The road winds enough for the massif to stand out no matter which direction you travel, but I think the trip would have been slightly more incredible in the other direction. I turned around for the next photo.
As the road climbs, the bigger ridges stretch back, and the more gentle hills block the view. The sky gets bigger as a result.
I stopped at the 59er Diner, in Cole’s Corner. This was a fun experience, mostly because people who don’t cycle find us amusing. There was great surprise that I’d biked up from Leavenworth, and, when I asked about the rest of the loop I was considering, one of the ladies working at the diner told me with sorrow in her voice that it was at least 25 miles. I said that would be perfect, and I was called “a superman” for my plans. My blackberry shake came with a message of encouragement.
On the way down Highway 207, I heard a terrible noise, like destruction incarnate, as if Kali, the Hindu goddess of annihilation, had decided that some part of my bike’s time had come. I had popped a spoke, and 20 miles from the car. Not only that, but I was a long way from home, and though I had my cell phone, I didn’t know anyone in the area. The first several thoughts to go through my head were: it’s a loooooong walk back to Leavenworth.
I managed to immobilize the spoke, and was able to finish the ride. (It’s currently in the shop for repair. Putting a new one in will be complicated by the fact that these are tubulars, and the tire is already glued to the rim.)
And then I reached Lake Wenatchee, on a rare, windless day.
I had been to Lake Wenatchee a week earlier, and the snow is retreating noticeably from the lower ground. Last week, there was still snow on the sand; now there was a crowd of sun-bathers. Small buoys marked the edge of a swimming section!
A couple set out in an inflatable tandem kayak.
Last time I was here, I turned back and retraced my ‘steps’ from this spot. This time, I rode around to see the north entrance to the park, which was snowed out. Nothing to see here, folks, move along… A green sign on the road pointed out the way to Plain, and I followed it.
The road into Plain is lined with trees for several miles, like riding through a tunnel with no roof. The sun wasn’t quite reaching my side yet, and a long, continuous pile of snow sat just off the pavement. Despite the 70+ degree (F) air, and my developing sunburn, I was chilled.
Eventually, the forest opens. When it does, a lot of changes that were hidden by the trees become apparent. The ground has leveled out, not just under the road, but behind it. The mountains have retreated a bit. Pastures and farm equipment appear between the rounded hills, and the snowy peaks have been banished to the distance.
There was one final climb and descent before the road made it back to Leavenworth, just outside of Plain. The map at home (and the ones online) show a few switchbacks along the way, and they’re definitely there. The ponderosa pines rush in to line the road once again, and the (slight) climb feels like it could be somewhere in the eastern Cascades. My guess is that these hairpin turns would be more fun in the opposite direction.
From here, it’s a short ride back to Leavenworth. After the climb, the road hugs the edge of a valley. Civilization gradually re-emerges, first as a series of houses, scattered here and there. Bigger mountains return to view as you get closer to town, too. Just as I came back into Leavenworth, a family of deer were causing a traffic jam.
I’ll describe the route as I followed it, but my advice is to take this in the opposite direction. It was great to begin with, but I think the scenery on Route 2 will be slightly better, and so will the descent near Plain. This ride is best done in the spring, before it gets too hot, and before the mountains thaw.
- Park in Leavenworth.
- Leave town on US Route 2, heading West.
- Follow the road about 15 miles, into Cole’s Corner. This is a good place to stop for food, because the next option is about 10 miles.
- Turn right on SR 207, toward Lake Wenatchee.
- Go into the south entrance to Lake Wenatchee State Park, and, if it’s summer, try the north entrance, too.
- Turn right on Beaver Valley Road, near the lake. (This will be a left if you go into the north entrance to the park, as you’ll have to double back.)
- The road becomes the Chumstick Highway, also known as Highway 209, somewhere before Plain.
- Highway 209 leads directly into town (Leavenworth) and meets US 2.
This came to 43 miles, and 1,933 feet of elevation gain, according to my Garmin. The road is long, and the grade is never terribly steep. It’s a beautiful ride, but not an especially difficult one. After Cole’s Corner, there were road signs to mark every turn I needed to make to complete the loop.