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The No-Car Road Trip: A Long Bicycle Tour in the Cascades

See the northwest from two wheels. We got advice from bike camping experts and plotted a route for the best bike tour into the Mountain Loop.

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Interested in seeing Washington State in the summer? The Northwest is truly a beautiful place. Bike camping is a great option for moderate and advanced cyclists. It can also be rewarding for first-timers who are willing to do some homework, invest in proper gear, and take along a sense of humor.

HOW TO BIKE CAMP (FOR BEGINNERS)

We talked to local experts Swift Industries about bike camping in the Cascades. As Seattle-based manufacturers of quality, rainproof outdoor bicycle gear, they had the info we needed to know.

Here’s what Martina, founder of Swift Industries, had to say to beginners looking to pack their pannier bags.

  • Make sure your load is balanced on your bike and evenly distributed in front and back.
  • Understand bike basics. Do you know how to fix a flat?
  • Pack light as possible. Evaluate all gear and supplies for practicality, weight, and portability. What serves you in your journey? Are you packing any emergency gear or tools that you don’t know how to use?
  • Reserve approximately 25% of your packing space for food. Stock up on food before you go.
  • Have fun and keep a good sense of humor. Rain happens. Flats happen. Roll with it (pun intended).

A WEEKEND ROUTE INTO THE MOUNTAINS


1. Train ride from Seattle to Everett, via the regional Sounder train (King Street Station to the Everett Station).

Alternate route: Interurban Trail (14 miles).

Getting out into nature on two wheels from Seattle is pretty easy. Catch a bus or a train to the Everett Station, via Sound Transit (plan your trip here).

If you’re headed north and want to stay on two wheels, catch the Interurban Trail: a paved bike and pedestrian path that runs north/south between Seattle and Everett. This route will take you all the way to downtown Everett: the jumping-off point for a weekend bike trip in the Cascades.

2. Ride across the Highway 2/Hewitt Avenue Trestle to Snohomish. Enjoy scenic backroad riverside trails. (Approx. 9.25 miles)

From the Everett Station, head east across the Interstate 2 trestle. Take the first exit on the right. Cycle along Ebey Island via Homeacres Road to get to the small downtown of this city. Enjoy riding along quiet farm roads and accompanying views of the Cascades foothills.

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3. Centennial Trail north to Arlington and Whitehorse Trail. (Approx. 30 miles)

Pedal through Snohomish. Stop at Bicycle Centre Snohomish in the downtown to get any additional gear you may need for your cycle, or consult a local for any bike route info you may be seeking.

Best bets for refueling before the long haul include:

The Centennial Trail was originally a rail line. The modern paved walking/biking trail was built during Washington State’s centennial in 1989, hence the name. The Centennial runs on a north/south route from Snohomish past the cities of Machias, Lake Stevens, and ends in the small city of Arlington.

4. Whitehorse to Darrington. (27 miles)

From Arlington, head east on the Mountain Loop Highway (Scenic Route 530). A few miles out, you’ll come to the trailhead to Whitehorse Trail, which leads to the mountain valley town of Darrington. The Whitehorse Trail is for pedestrians and bicyclists, so you can enjoy it without feeling like you have to compete with motorists for space and safety.

Zipping along, you’ll be able to soak in the scenery of what the Stillagumamish tribe call the “walking valley”— the foothills of the North Cascades as carved by the Stillaguamish River. You’ll pedal past Oso and into the tiny lumber town of Darrington, which is the beginning or terminus of the far reaches of the Mountain Loop Highway.


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5. Mountain Loop Highway from Darrington to Granite Falls. (Approx. 53 miles)

Intrepid bicyclists may want to explore the unpaved far reaches of the Mountain Loop. This route is for heavy-duty road bikes or mountain bikes, as the going can be pretty rough. The road has large sections that are unpaved and full of potholes, subject to washouts during rainy spells.

There are almost infinite opportunities to camp and hike along the Mountain Loop, from the Big Four Ice Caves, to the Sauk River, to the peak of Mount Pilchuck. The route is lined by old growth forest and the road mostly parallels various mountain rivers. Hike into Monte Cristo, a ghost mining town deep on the ‘Loop.

When you pedal through the Mountain Loop, you can end the tour in Granite Falls, a small lumber town. From there they you take a bus back to Everett via Community Transit. From Everett you can access Seattle: loop complete. Or, you can stay on in Everett and enjoy the seaside charm of this salty urban locale.

Everett has plenty of luxurious lodging where you can replenish your energy supplies with good sleep and some nice dining on the town.

Take a hot bath. Soak your aching calves. Get a drink and a hot meal that you don’t have to cook, some fresh-prepped food that isn’t freeze-dried with ingredients that didn’t come out of a pannier bag.

All set? Have fun out there! To round out your complete trip with all the lodging and dining options at your fingertips, please use the “trip planner” tool on the top of our website.