The Methow Valley is home to the largest cross-country trail system in North America, and that also includes some pretty great fat biking trails. There is a “Tour of the Methow Valley” route for skiers – but nothing for bikes! On Friday I set out to change that. My route started in Mazama (at the Mazama Store, of course, because pastries) and ended at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop (because beer). In between I cruised along John’s Way at sunrise, pedaled through the wooded trails of Lunachik, blazed through a hard-packed Big Valley, climbed from town to Grizzly Hut and then flew back down, and enjoyed spectacular views of the North Cascades as I linked up Lloyd Ranch, Pearrygin State Park, and Bear Creek. It was a fun mix of snow, dirt, mud, and pavement, all of which my Salsa Beargrease handled nicely.
Here is a GPX file and map of my route, and I’ve also included a snapshot below. Total distance was approx 54 miles and 3600 ft of gain. I’d estimate approx 15 miles were on pavement, 15 miles on dirt, and 24 miles on snow. If you are interested in doing this yourself, I’d recommend a few changes – read on, and/or feel free to get in touch if you have questions. You can find detailed maps and trail conditions for almost all of the fat bike trails in the valley on the Methow Cycle and Sport page although some of their trail descriptions (e.g., Lloyd Ranch) aren’t up to date.
It was approx 25F when I started, which made for firm trails in Mazama. I started at 8 psi in the front and 9 psi in my rear tire, because this route is front-loaded with a fair amount of pavement, and I knew the trails were firm enough early in the morning to handle higher psi. John’s Way, aka the Mazama Fatbike and Snowshoe Trail, hadn’t been groomed in almost a month (I did this on Feb 28, it was last groomed on Feb 8), but the snow was crusty enough that it didn’t really matter. Just a little bumpy here and there. As I rode, I glanced back occasionally as the first rays of sunlight hit Goat Peak. I love that you can get views of Last Chance, Robinson Mountain and Devils Peak from this sweet little valley trail.
After John’s Way I took Goat Creek Rd down to Luna Chik, where Tom and Sadie met me for a quick spin. I really love Lunachik and wish fat bikes were also allowed to access it from the suspension bridge trailhead – that would be a great through-route to Mazama in the winter!
Goat Creek Rd was mostly dry pavement, but the beauty of doing this route on a fat bike is that even if the road is snow-packed (which it often is during the winter), you will still be just fine. After Lunachick I headed towards Big Valley. This put me on Highway 20 for approximately 1 mile. All the cars that passed me gave me plenty of room.
Walkers and dogs are allowed at Big Valley, and as a dog-owner and walker/runner, I’m all for this! But, it also means that sometimes the trail can be a little “holey” and uneven, unless you hit it right after they’ve groomed. With temps still comfortably below freezing, my bike cruised right over the uneven sections and before I knew it I was back on Highway 20.
After Big Valley, I had approximately 4 miles on Highway 20. Again, everyone gave me plenty of space and no one honked or yelled at me. Success! 🙂 Although riding a fat bike on pavement isn’t necessarily my favorite thing to do, I loved being able to enjoy some of the sights that I normally speed past at 60 mph. Like a good bike tourist, I stopped to take pictures of the fat sheep standing on their bales of hay, that one hawk always hanging out in a tree, and of course the multitude of deer with their fuzzy brown ears.
I hit the town limits and rode past Methow Cycle and Sport. They weren’t open yet, but if you ever do this route and they are open, definitely stop in and say hi. It’s a great LBS with friendly and knowledgeable folks.
I hung a left on West Chewuch Rd and began the long climb up to the Gunn Ranch trailhead. Within 1 mile, the pavement turned to dirt, and then the dirt turned to mud. I shifted into my easiest gear and spun along. The sun was at my back and I was actually starting to get hot, so I took off my jacket and pedaled along in a t-shirt, with my hands resting on top of my pogies. It was downright warm… which was lovely, but also made me a bit concerned about trail conditions for the rest of the day.
Luckily, despite warmer temps, the Gunn Ranch trail to Grizzly Hut is holding up just fine, at least as of this past Friday. There were a few soft/slushy spots, but it appears to be groomed and used frequently enough that there is a solid base and I didn’t see any bare ground.
When I reached Grizzly Hut, two women were just packing up to go. They graciously allowed me to prop my bike against the hut for a quick picture, and then I took off back down towards town. After the long climb, the descent was a real treat, and I enjoyed resting my legs as I thought about the next leg of the route.
Originally, my plan had been to stop in town and have some lunch after descending from Gunn Ranch (this is a tour, after all, not a race). But with temps steadily increasing, I knew I needed to get to the next set of trails before snow conditions deteriorated. So I rolled through town without stopping, consoling myself with a granola bar.
Up next was Lloyd Ranch. Under normal circumstances, and if you are looking to repeat this route, I recommend riding the Rex Derr trail to Lloyd Ranch. However, there is construction at Pearrygin Lake State Park right now, and I was pretty sure it would prevent me from connecting Rex Derr to Lloyd Ranch.
So I rode to Lloyd Ranch first, aired down to approx 3 psi, and then did a loop consisting of Western Frontier, Roundworm, and then Collector back to the trailhead. Unfortunately, the trails just out of the parking lot at Lloyd Ranch are on their last legs, with vegetation poking through. However, once you get up on the ridge, things are holding up well. And the views are still spectacular as always.
From Lloyd Ranch I continued further up Bear Creek Rd to the east entrance of Pearrygin Lake State Park. Here I headed south, towards the Graves Homestead. At this point it was around 1 pm, the trails were soft, and bare spots were not infrequent. Originally I had planned to do a loop of Crazy Eights, but I was leaving some deeper tire tracks so I made a beeline through the park towards Bear Creek Golf Course. I just love that you can connect Lloyd, Pearrygin, and Bear Creek with almost zero pavement!
I jumped on the trails at Bear Creek hoping they might be better, but they were in similar condition to Pearrygin (soft with some bare spots) so I did a quick lap for posterity and then headed back to Winthrop via Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Rd. As I rolled into town I briefly contemplated riding a few of the Winthrop fatbike trails, but ultimately thought better of it. It was after 2 pm, almost 50 degrees, and I didn’t want to ruin what was left of the trails by plowing through the slush. Also, an Open Roads Amber from OSB was calling to me. If you do this route earlier in the season, I highly recommend finishing with at least a few miles on the Winthrop fatbike trails, as they are fun and scenic.
Tom met me at OSB and we enjoyed a cold beer and some snacks before it was time to pick up Rowan from school.
If you’re looking to sample all of the many trails and terrain that the valley has to offer in the winter, this is a great route! Big thanks to Methow Cycle and Sport, Methow Fatbike, Methow Trails, and Bear Creek Golf Course for making this such an awesome place to ride bikes all winter long.