Falls Creek Road: Up and out of the Methow Valley

This is something I should have posted in the summer, and never got around to. In fact, I did this ride in early July; it’s on my mind because winter has once again found the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve been reminiscing about warmer, sunnier times while planning snow shoe trips. And I realized I’d never written about this ride from Winthrop.

Winthrop is a small town in northern Washington, and depends heavily on tourism. It has a cowboy facade, much like Leavenworth has a Bavarian character. Situated near North Cascades National Park, Winthrop attracts the outdoor crowd. Skiing and mountain biking are popular here, but I’d heard a lot of buzz about road riding in the Methow Valley, and, on a short vacation for the 4th of July, I decided to go find out for myself.

The edge of town

Looking west toward the North Cascades and the edge of town, at Methow Cycle & Sport. This ride departs SR 20 here for Chewuch Road.

I parked at “the red barn” next to Methow Cycle & Sport, left my car, and rode into town for lunch. The kind folks at the bike shop told me I’d be able to leave my car there without it being towed or stolen. They were right!

Entering Okanogan National Forest

Leaving civilization behind and coming into the Okanogan Highlands near the Pasayten wilderness. Like the last adventure, this is a hot and dusty place, parched by the sun, fed by the occasional creek.

Seattlites know eastern Washington as “the desert.”  I hope these pictures give some idea why.

The Valley Floor

I believe this is a Sno-Park in the winter. The road was still relatively flat here, and good for cross country skiing.

Until now, there have been rolling hills, but the road starts to pick up here. As it does, the scenery changes. The ride began in a desert-like steppe, too hot and dry to support many trees. Life begins to flourish at higher and higher altitudes. Notice how the bare dirt gives way to diverse, green ground cover in the two photos below.

Pine trees and boulders near the road

An airy pine forest, with individual trees (mostly ponderosa pines) standing a good distance from one another, leaving room for the light of day to reach the forest floor.

Aspen trees, lupines, and other plants

Quaking aspens surrounded by brush and purplish blue lupines. These trees are a single individual, sharing one root system below the ground, which is why they turn the same shade of yellow on the same day in autumn.

At this point in the ride, the altimeter said I was more than 4,000 feet above sea level. The views of North Cascades peaks that I’d chosen this ride for were beginning to open up once again.

Pasayten Wilderness - Big Craggy Peak

Big Craggy Peak, in the Pasayten; the mountain views I’d selected this ride for. Yes, that road is paved.

The climb was long, and steep in parts, and the pavement kept getting worse. By the time I reached the national forest boundary, I didn’t think chipseal could be any rougher, but, well, it’s astounding what people can do these days. The poor quality of the tarmac seemed to add to the wilderness feeling, though, and so did the fact that I saw no one else in the woods.

What goes up must come down. For a mile or so, the road climbs at a twisting 15 % grade, and this made for a fantastic, slightly technical, fun descent!

My bike, Antipodes, by the Chewuch River

My bike, leaning against a guard rail on a bridge over the Chewuch River.

Leaving town, I took West Chewuch Road, so, naturally, I took the East road back to make a lollipop loop. East Chewuch Road is much nicer, if you prefer green plants to brown earth.

The view from E Chewuch Rd

The view from East Chewuch River Road, looking west toward the North Cascades.

A satellite map

A satellite map showing the route my adventure took.

Hat tip to Mike McQuaide; I found this route in his book 75 Classic Rides – Washington.


4 thoughts on “Falls Creek Road: Up and out of the Methow Valley

    • Why thank you, kind sir! I wouldn’t have done this ride if it wasn’t in the book, and I enjoyed myself immensely. 😉

      I saw the Winthrop to Conconnuly loop on your site, and the fact that someone tackled it on a CX bike, and put the route on my to-do list. Unfortunately I’m putting things on the list more quickly than I can get out and accomplish them! But it’s yet another reason I need a good MTB. So is pretty much the entire Teanaway region.

  1. I’m glad i found your site. We have covered some of the same roads. I spent a big chunk of my summer riding the hills on both sides of the Cascades. I look forward to reading more from you. Thanks.

  2. I am just reading this now, January 2013. It is 30-something degrees outside. My face freezes the minute I go beyond 11 mph. I am typing this from my nice warm house.
    Methow valley in the summertime…..ahhh. Thanks for the pictures, especially 😉

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