On Saturday I did a lollipop loop over Swauk and Blewett Passes, on the eastern end of the Cascade Range. US 97 (over Swauk Pass) and Old Blewett Road go over the final ridge of the Wenatchee Mountains, giving me an opportunity to do some climbing. This road connects Leavenworth to Cle Elum and Teanaway, short-cutting a much longer ride around the mountain, through Ellensburg and Wenatchee.
This was a fun ride, but it wasn’t as scenic as some of the others I’ve done lately. (A few people have disagreed on this point, though.) I’ve hiked and camped in the area, and I’ve driven the Blewett Pass Highway (over Swauk Pass – more on this later) more times than I can count. It was nice to connect with the area in a new way, especially since you can cover so much more ground on a bike than on foot. I’ve never been over ‘Old’ Blewett Pass, though, and it turns out to have better views, less traffic, and some fantastic hairpin turns.
Here, the Cascades lower into the desert; they’re snow-capped in the winter, and the spring thaw provides enough water to support a ponderosa pine forest. But it isn’t as lush as the west side. We have big, brown mountains, not unlike parts of California.
I wish I had a photo of the hairpins on the way down, but I was having too much fun taking them at speed. I thought about stopping for a photo, then climbing to build up enough speed to enjoy the curve. But I was tired. The truth is, I was passed by several butterflies on the second long climb of the day. 😮
When a road was first laid down over this mountain ridge, it went over Blewett Pass. Eventually, the road was rebuilt, taking a longer and less steep path over Swauk Pass. People refused the new name, though, still calling the new road the Blewett Pass Highway. Our Department of Transportation decided that if you can’t beat ’em, you should join ’em, and renamed the pass. (So I’m told, and so the signs tell me.) It turns out DOT only has jurisdiction over the roads, though; hiking maps still show this as Swauk Pass.
I did the loop counter-clockwise; north on US 97 over Swauk (aka Blewett) Pass and then south over Blewett (aka Old Blewett) Pass. The map shows four very exaggerated hairpin turns on the south end of the road, and these are always more fun at speed; I wanted to be descending and not climbing here.
- I parked at the Mineral Springs Recreation Area, had lunch at the resort, and parked there.
- Head north, which is uphill.
- Turn left on Old Blewett Road, a few miles below the pass.
- Follow Old Blewett Road back to US 97. Have fun!
- Once you reach US 97, it’s all down hill back to the car.
This came to 29.5 miles and 3,028 feet of elevation gain; about half the ride was up hill and the other half down, so expect it to be steeper than the numbers suggest.
For a longer ride, park further away; there are several pull-outs on US 97. I think part of the reason I started at Mineral Springs is that I camped here once, four or five years ago, and the bit of nostalgia was fun. This is important: I asked about parking for a few hours at the campground while I waited for my lunch, and the kind lady working behind the counter told me I could use an out-of-the-way spot at the resort. If you park here without getting permission first, they’ll tow you.
Bring as much water as you can, and a purifier. The climb is hot and thirsty work. You can find water (in creeks) on both ends of the route, but not near the passes.
Note: There are a few bridges on Old Blewett Road, and one of them will be out from June until November. Plan accordingly. (You can probably shoulder your bike across the creek without much trouble if you don’t mind getting your ankles wet.)
From Seattle, take I-90 to exit 85 just past Cle Elum, follow SR 970 East, and then take US 97 north. Expect the drive to take a little bit longer than two hours.