March 27, 2017
Story by Kristen Smith, Photos by Methow Valley Photography
Photo at right: With altitudes of 8,000 feet, the Angel’s Staircase trail requires fitness, skill and an adventurous attitude — not to mention strong lungs.
The Methow Valley on the eastern slope of the North Cascades, is a stunningly beautiful valley surrounded by the majestic peaks of the mountain range.
In addition to some of the most scenic mountain bike trails in North America, the Methow Valley’s sunny, dry weather creates the perfect environs for mountain bikers. The trails are dry, challenging, yet not extremely technical, and suited for every ability level.
Your friends and family can easily choose trails that best suit their style and the Methow Valley rewards everyone with great photo opportunities and unique “après” opportunities to relax post-ride in the bars and bakeries of the Old West town of Winthrop, centrally located in the Valley.
You can find maps and trail guides in Winthrop, or download the free “Winthrop Washington” mobile app for information on all the top mountain-bike rides, road-cycling rides, hikes, top things to do, and spring and winter recreation opportunities.
The app also provides directions to all trailheads in the area.
Sun Mountain Trails
Distance: Up to 40 miles of single- and double-track trails.
This is a system of trails that can be linked together to provide any length and difficulty desired. Wooded sections and wide-open hillsides provide a variety of scenic options. The Sun Mountain Trails are an excellent place to spend an hour to a full day of riding — and cross-country skiing in the winter.
Methow Trails and the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance manage these trails and are adding new trails and features at a rapid pace, making this a popular hub of great riding.
How to get there: You can access the Sun Mountain trails right from Winthrop, a hilly bike ride from town up the Winthrop Trail. Or drive 8 miles from Winthrop toward Sun Mountain Lodge to the Chickadee Trailhead.
Methow Valley Community Trail
Distance: Up to 35 miles of double-track trail.
There are many options for great riding on the trails maintained by Methow Trails. The most popular section of the trail is from Browns Farm to Mazama for a 12-mile ride that takes you over the popular 238-foot long Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge.
Families love this ride as it is easy and relatively flat and allows riders to travel side by side. The route follows the Methow River and has many opportunities for stops along the way. Don’t miss the Mazama Store at the start or end of your ride for the perfect beverages and baked goods.
How to get there: Mazama Trailhead can be found at the intersection of Lost River Road and Goat Creek Road just east of State Route 20 in Mazama.
Distance: 14-mile singletrack loop, and/or 16-mile dirt road loop
A popular destination in spring and fall, the ride can be done as a loop of dirt roads or as an out-and-back singletrack ride to the rim of the canyon. The spectacular canyon is home to many birds but also rattlesnakes, so this ride is best ridden in the spring and fall. Amazing wildflowers line the bluff trails in the spring, and high ridge views are beautiful in autumn.
How to get there: From Winthrop, take the East County Road to Bear Creek Road. Drive until the pavement ends at Lester Road. Parking here is one option, or you can drive farther up Lester Road for a shorter ride. Carry a map.
Distance: 10–16 mile singletrack loop
Buck Mountain is the Methow Valley’s signature mountain bike ride. Close to Winthrop, this ride showcases everything from wildflowers to open space to mountaintops. The smooth, flowing, fast singletrack trail winds through forest, open meadows and ridge tops. There are two trailhead options to begin this ride — either at the end of the pavement at Cub Creek Road or from the Buck Lake parking area.
How to get there: Cub Creek and Buck Lake trailheads are both are accessible off the East Chewuch Road outside of Winthrop.
Distance: 11-mile singletrack loop
Possibly the most scenic mountain bike ride you will ever do! Cutthroat Pass is an 11-mile roundtrip singletrack trail in a stunning alpine setting. This trail is more technical than other Methow Valley trails with a tread mixture of dirt and rock. This one is also popular with hikers and horseback riders, so stay in control and yield to these users.
The ride is an out and back, gaining 2,300 feet. Be prepared for high-alpine weather conditions.
How to get there: Drive west on Highway 20 toward the North Cascades. Approximately 25 miles from Winthrop, look for the Cutthroat Lake trailhead.
Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at trailhead.
Distance: 25-mile singletrack loop
This is the Methow Valley ride for the serious mountain biker. It requires fitness, skill and an adventurous attitude. The loop reaches altitudes of 8,000 feet, so be prepared for varying high-alpine weather at all times of the year. This ride requires technical riding experience on rocky trails and includes three high-alpine passes.
There are shorter loops and out-and-back riding options as well. This ride is usually not snow-free until late July or early August. Start early and plan for a full day of demanding riding.
How to get there: Multiple trailhead options for this ride are located off Highway 153, south of Winthrop. Carry a map.
Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at trailhead.
Kristen Smith is the executive director at Methow Trails. Scenery, a great workout and socializing with friends are the top reasons she rides. An avid mountain biker, skier and photographer, Kristen has found no better place than the Methow to play outdoors and celebrate a great ride with friends over food and drink!