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Spokane and South

Old 05-29-15, 08:12 AM
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Spokane and South

Hi everyone,

I am in the process of planning a bike trip starting from Washington state in April or May next year. I will be visiting a friend in Spokane and picking up a new touring bike before heading south. The eventual goal is to tour through Central and South America.

Regarding North America though, I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions for travel from Spokane down through southern California. I eventually need to hit Ventura and San Diego to visit friends and family, so I'll need to be on the coast at some point, but never having been to any of the great parks in the west, I was wondering if I could plan a route that swings by Yosemite, for example, or if it's 'better' (read: more interesting, more beautiful, more memorable) to go down the coast to San Francisco. I'll be camping most nights, if that makes a difference in route suggestions. I have already given notice at my job and have no definite timetable to return, so finding the most direct route is not necessary.

In short: Strike for Astoria and the coast right from Spokane, or is there value in staying inland instead?
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Old 05-29-15, 08:45 AM
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I can't answer your primary question, but I do have two thoughts:
1) Getting to Spokane - you have lots of options. The Amtrak train goes to Spokane from Chicago, Seattle, and Portland. You can take the Greyhound bus to Spokane, and you can fly there (usually through Seattle). Amtrak is probably the best option if you are arriving with a bike. It matters less if you're buying a bike in Spokane as you plan.

2) Riding down the Columbia River gorge from Spokane toward Portland/Astoria is harder than it sounds. You will likely be facing a headwind the whole way. Although you are following the river "downhill," it's very flat. Winds are less strong in the early morning.
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Old 05-29-15, 08:53 AM
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Thanks for the response. I'm fine getting to Spokane. I'll actually be flying back to the US from Tokyo, and my friend who lives in Spokane will be picking me up from wherever I fly into.

Thanks for the info on the Columbia River trip though. I was considering that route as it's direct and I was assuming that being along the river it must be somewhat scenic.
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Old 05-29-15, 10:47 AM
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I have that "Somewhat Scenic" River out my front Door ..

One thing about the Columbia River gorge is it's the only place where the river cut thru the Cascades as It rose ..
every where else the mountain pushed Up and the rivers drain from the sides of the Mountains ..

Hood River Is a Popular Wind surfing Area , and the cooler air is blowing west to east, where it warms ..
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Old 05-29-15, 10:48 AM
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Originally Posted by DanBell
Thanks for the info on the Columbia River trip though. I was considering that route as it's direct and I was assuming that being along the river it must be somewhat scenic.
Going down the Columbia is scenic, esp. between Portland and The Dalles. However, there is a good stretch between Biggs and Umatilla that is less scenic, but still cool in its own way. April or May is the switchover from winter (where wind blows from the east) to summer (where it blows from west), so it's a toss-up. You might not face the stiff west wind that you would get in the middle of summer, so it might not be as bad.

The tough thing is getting out of Spokane, as there isn't a heck of a lot of anything going south and west. I rode Portland to Spokane a few years ago so I have familiarity with it. The problem with SE Washington isn't hills (though there are a few of those, but no mountains like most other regions of Washington), it's the lack of services. The area is heavily farmed/ranched (very little "wild" land) and the barb wire starts right on the edge of the road, but people are few and far between. Very few campgrounds, towns small and scattered, not much in the way of water. (Well, you can filter that trickle of a stream flowing through the cow pasture...if you want.) And because every square inch of land is "owned", even that trickle of a stream flowing through the cow pasture, it meant didn't see many suitable spots for wild/stealth camping. Thankfully roads are quiet, but be prepared for some long days through the Palouse to get to the next store or place to stay.

And a warning: If you use google maps, you'll notice a bike trail that runs from Spokane to roughly Pasco. "Aha!" you might say, "my route planning is done!" That's the Columbia Plateau rail-trail, which is highly undeveloped. Basically they pulled up the rails and called it good. It's just railroad ballast, doable on a fat bike, but just that. Plus there's closed trestles, and few services and water.
crazyguyonabike.com: Bicycle Touring: Columbia Plateau Trail, by Matt RC

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Old 05-29-15, 11:39 AM
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If you end up going via Astoria, following was my trip going other way from Portland via Spokane to West Glacier MT: Cycling to Montana

As far as staying further east, I personally like some of the arid scenery and the Mt Shasta area seems intriguing. However, eastern OR also has some wide stretches between services - and I'd vote for the Pacific Coast over the Central Valley. Even if you end up going via Astoria, nothing to prevent you from cutting across south of San Francisco and catching Yosemite and Sequoia parks then...
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Old 05-29-15, 04:19 PM
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adventurepdx, thanks for all of the information! The lack of services is an issue. I have no issue stealth camping if there are no campsites around, but not if I'm crossing fences to do so. I could drive with my friend away from Spokane to a better area to start from and begin there. Thanks for the info on the rail trail too. Looks like the Pugsley and a willingness to take your time are prerequisites for that trip.

nothing to prevent you from cutting across south of San Francisco and catching Yosemite and Sequoia parks then...
This is exactly what I was thinking last night. I'm still getting used to the whole having no job to go back to thing. I can certainly take my time and ride down the coast before cutting back inland.
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Old 05-29-15, 06:26 PM
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if you haven't been down the pacific coast from Oregon to San Diego yet, i'd make a beeline for the coast and head south. no question.
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Old 05-29-15, 07:08 PM
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Originally Posted by hueyhoolihan
if you haven't been down the pacific coast from Oregon to San Diego yet, i'd make a beeline for the coast and head south. no question.
Thanks Huey. This is the direction I'm leaning, as I have never ridden out that way at all, and as suggested above, I can detour inland for any special stops.
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Old 05-29-15, 08:45 PM
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Eastern WA and OR are beautiful in a different kind of way, but it is a lot of nothingness, heat, and dry grassland. I agree it might be nicer to head directly West from Spokane.

Northeastern WA is very beautiful. I'd recommend heading Northwest to Curlew and then Winthrop. From there maybe take a ferry over to Port Townsend. You could also head up to Canada and then head West.

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Old 05-30-15, 07:04 PM
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Originally Posted by mtnbud
Eastern WA and OR are beautiful in a different kind of way, but it is a lot of nothingness, heat, and dry grassland. I agree it might be nicer to head directly West from Spokane.

Northeastern WA is very beautiful. I'd recommend heading Northwest to Curlew and then Winthrop. From there maybe take a ferry over to Port Townsend. You could also head up to Canada and then head West.
I've gone through Northern Washington, and would definitely recommend it above going south or west, especially if you have the time (and it sounds like the OP does.) The main issue with that route, though, is timing: If the OP intends to set out in April or even May, SR 20 (North Cascades Hwy) will still probably be closed over the Cascades, and there will probably be still snow on all the other high passes SR 20 crosses (and there are many passes.) Heading out to the coast via the Columbia River would mean avoiding cold and snowy passes.

One other thought: If the OP wanted to head more due west than south from Spokane, an issue will be the few crossings of the Columbia River north of Pasco. I've never ridden Vantage Bridge, I-90's crossing over the Columbia, but from all reports from other cyclists it is not fun, since there is barely a shoulder and traffic moving at freeway speed.
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Old 05-30-15, 08:07 PM
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If visiting your friend in Spokane is the aim and you have no destination in mind past that then think north and the Selkirk Loop. IMHO it was awesome. Loots and lots of amenities but also very little traffic.

If you have even more time you could head further north up to Jasper. I bet that trip would be simply beautiful.
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Old 05-31-15, 05:49 PM
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Thanks for all the suggestions. Vantage Bridge sounds decidedly unpleasant. It seems like the best riding from Spokane is north, rather than south or west. That North Cascades Highway looks like it would be an incredible stretch of road. Clear in June, you think? That commits me to riding south through Seattle and Tacoma though, and it seems like people don't recommend that area.
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Old 05-31-15, 06:08 PM
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What about heading south on the old 195? Looks like it runs alongside the new highway and I can meander down to Lewiston before heading west. Is there any redeeming value to this or should I just try to start my trip from somewhere south and/or west of Spokane?

Also, any tips on choosing roads in general? I've been looking at the street view to get a sense of it. I've been living in Japan for so long, I can generally predict what a road here will look like based on checking it on google maps, but I'm not sure in the US.
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Old 05-31-15, 06:42 PM
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Originally Posted by DanBell
Thanks for all the suggestions. Vantage Bridge sounds decidedly unpleasant. It seems like the best riding from Spokane is north, rather than south or west. That North Cascades Highway looks like it would be an incredible stretch of road. Clear in June, you think? That commits me to riding south through Seattle and Tacoma though, and it seems like people don't recommend that area.
Take a look on the selkirk loop website

A Rocky Mountain Scenic Drive - International Selkirk Loop

They have bike maps there some place plus they will send a hard copy if you ask.

International Selkirk Loop Virtual Cycling Tour - International Selkirk Loop

I ended up taking the red loop with the exception of going up to New Denver through Kaslo. A bonus is that you get to ride the longest free ferry route in the country (might be the world but I forget).

The Galana trail is woth a look when you get to New Denver. You can actually take it into New Denver coming from Kaslo but I would not recommend unless you have a decent touring bike or hybrid with fat tires. But doable with a road bike without gear. It along with the nearby mining town is probably woth a day stay over.
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Old 05-31-15, 09:35 PM
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Originally Posted by DanBell
Thanks for all the suggestions. Vantage Bridge sounds decidedly unpleasant. It seems like the best riding from Spokane is north, rather than south or west. That North Cascades Highway looks like it would be an incredible stretch of road. Clear in June, you think? That commits me to riding south through Seattle and Tacoma though, and it seems like people don't recommend that area.
Instead of cycling through Seattle and Tacoma could you take Hwy 20 through Oak Harbor and take the Ferry to Port Townsend?

BTW: Heading east from Spokane is also very nice.There an awesome rails to trails that goes to Mullan ID and beyond.

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Old 05-31-15, 10:41 PM
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Originally Posted by DanBell
Thanks for all the suggestions. Vantage Bridge sounds decidedly unpleasant. It seems like the best riding from Spokane is north, rather than south or west. That North Cascades Highway looks like it would be an incredible stretch of road. Clear in June, you think? That commits me to riding south through Seattle and Tacoma though, and it seems like people don't recommend that area.
North Cascades should be clear in June. As mtnbud indicates, there are ways to avoid Seattle/Tacoma, mostly by island hopping and getting out to the Olympic Peninsula.
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Old 05-31-15, 10:58 PM
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Originally Posted by DanBell
What about heading south on the old 195? Looks like it runs alongside the new highway and I can meander down to Lewiston before heading west. Is there any redeeming value to this or should I just try to start my trip from somewhere south and/or west of Spokane?
I've ridden sections of old 195, and yeah, I would definitely get on that whenever the chance arises. 195 is fairly busy (but has wide shoulders from what I remember). Getting out of Spokane 195 is pretty much a freeway for maybe 15 miles (with no alternate/old hwy that I could see) until you get to Spangle and you can hop on old 195 south to Rosalia. At Rosalia the better option would be 271/27 south to Pullman. All quiet highways. (Taking 27 from Spokane Valley would mean avoiding the near-freeway section of 195, but I don't know how good/bad it is at that point.) The only thing is that the only camping I know of is at Kamiak Butte south of Palouse, which would be about 70 miles out of Spokane.

From there, you could head south to Lewiston/Clarkston and then hop US 12 west towards the Columbia. 12 isn't too bad, though there will be traffic since it's the only major east-west route in SE Washington. Shoulders were pretty ample on the sections I rode. 12 seemed to have more services than the other areas I rode through, including some campgrounds. 12 is part of Adventure Cycling's Lewis and Clark Route, so you can get the map for that section and it'll show you your options.

Originally Posted by DanBell
Also, any tips on choosing roads in general? I've been looking at the street view to get a sense of it. I've been living in Japan for so long, I can generally predict what a road here will look like based on checking it on google maps, but I'm not sure in the US.
For SE Washington, pretty much all the roads will be either quiet or have small to moderate traffic, excepting the major routes like US 12, US 195 and US 395.
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Old 06-01-15, 06:06 AM
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Originally Posted by adventurepdx
I've ridden sections of old 195, and yeah, I would definitely get on that whenever the chance arises. 195 is fairly busy (but has wide shoulders from what I remember). Getting out of Spokane 195 is pretty much a freeway for maybe 15 miles (with no alternate/old hwy that I could see) until you get to Spangle and you can hop on old 195 south to Rosalia. At Rosalia the better option would be 271/27 south to Pullman. All quiet highways. (Taking 27 from Spokane Valley would mean avoiding the near-freeway section of 195, but I don't know how good/bad it is at that point.) The only thing is that the only camping I know of is at Kamiak Butte south of Palouse, which would be about 70 miles out of Spokane.

From there, you could head south to Lewiston/Clarkston and then hop US 12 west towards the Columbia. 12 isn't too bad, though there will be traffic since it's the only major east-west route in SE Washington. Shoulders were pretty ample on the sections I rode. 12 seemed to have more services than the other areas I rode through, including some campgrounds. 12 is part of Adventure Cycling's Lewis and Clark Route, so you can get the map for that section and it'll show you your options.
Thanks so much for the help. Great information. The lack of campsites is a concern. I do a lot of free camping here, but I think I'll be hesitant to try it out straight away on this trip, not having experience doing it in America.


Originally Posted by mtnbud
Instead of cycling through Seattle and Tacoma could you take Hwy 20 through Oak Harbor and take the Ferry to Port Townsend?
This looks great. I love a good ferry ride while on a tour, and that's a nice climb over the Cascades to kick off the trip. Thanks for the suggestion. I think this looks like a promising route if I start late enough to miss the snow.
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Old 06-01-15, 04:51 PM
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Originally Posted by DanBell
This looks great. I love a good ferry ride while on a tour, and that's a nice climb over the Cascades to kick off the trip. Thanks for the suggestion. I think this looks like a promising route if I start late enough to miss the snow.
Looks like SR 20 is currently open
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Old 06-02-15, 05:08 AM
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Originally Posted by mtnbud
Thanks! That's a useful link!
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