Gravel Travel: Snoqualmie to Cle Elum

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Gravel Travel

Part 2: Snoqualmie Pass to Cle Elum

The quote "Go west, young man", wrongly attributed to Horace Greeley, is a statement that implies romantic adventure and exciting opportunity lie in the direction of the setting sun. Perhaps this was true in the era of Manifest Destiny and westward expansion, when wagon trails were the superhighways and choosing the correct route was the difference between life and death. Today however, going west is all wrong for the adventure rider based out of the Puget Sound region. East of the Cascade Crest, young rider, is where the adventure really begins. The further east you go, the more the population density decreases and the more forest road network increases. These are the roads to seek where taking the correct route is usually not the direct one.

As adventure riders, we are not satisfied with the safe and sane green dot scenic highway routes adorning our official Washington State transportation system map. We expect more from our riding experience than knowing that the next Denny's or Super 8 Motel is just around the corner. We want a route somewhat less "civilized." Fortunately, a casual inspection of any good back-road atlas hints at the possibilities left behind by our timber legacy: countless miles of forest road constructed to extract natural resources. With resource extraction now a relatively minor interest, the forest and back roads have become a new recreational paradise for the adventure rider. They beckon to those of us who have the desire and skill to occasionally leave the pavement behind and take the long way around.

In this series of articles, I illuminate some back road byways and off-pavement diversions hidden in the forests of the Cascade Mountains. You will discover there are alternatives to droning along with the SUV clones on the superslab. These sections can be used in two different ways: first, you can use them as a quick diversion to spend a few miles off the highway or to bypass a traffic jam, then rejoin the highway for the rest of your trip, or second, you can put the described sections together into a true adventure Gelandestrasse tour and just use the highway to connect sections together as needed.

Rocky Run

Forest Service road 4832 runs parallel to I-90 on Kachess Ridge on the east side of Keechulus Lake. It extends from Hyak to Kachess Lake road. This route is a welcome relief from one of the poorer sections of I-90 pavement that is due to be demolished and reconstructed in the next few years. You may find this section very useful to bypass road work projects and its inevitable brutal backups and orange barrels. This is also a great route for fall foliage viewing and has some magnificent vistas of Keechulus Lake.

Directions: Eastbound take exit 54 off I-90 (Hyak), turn left at the stop sign, go under the freeway, then turn right at the first opportunity. Continue onto single lane pavement, then a groomed gravel road to Kachess Lake road where you can either turn right and rejoin I-90 at exit 62, or turn left and continue on the Via Kachess route described below. Westbound take exit 62 off I-90, turn right off the exit, then left at the first opportunity onto Forest Service road 4832. Rejoin I-90 on Exit 54 at Hyak or continue on SR-906 to the Central Snoqualmie Summit area.

Road Type: Single lane pavement and groomed gravel. The gravel road has some sections of severe washboard. There are private homes near the Kachess Lake road so watch out for local traffic.

em>Via Kachess Road

Forest Service road 4828 begins at the end of Via Kachess Road and parallels Kachess Lake in a southeasterly direction, taking you all the way to West Sparks Road in Easton. This is a secondary dirt road with creek crossings and is not well maintained, thus perfect for off-road excursions. During the winter season it is a snowmobile route. Sections of this route present a nice challenge for the more hardcore adventure rider. There are several spurs off road 4828 that you can explore as well, providing lake access. Primitive camping is available at the Kachess Lake campground. Combining this route with the Rocky Run route allows you to avoid I-90 from Snoqualmie Pass all the way to Easton.

Directions: Eastbound take Kachess Lake road (exit 62 off I-90) towards Kachess Lake. After about two miles, turn right onto Via Kachess Road, a paved county road. Follow it to the pavement end, and you will find the beginning of Forest Service road 4828. Continue straight onwards, ignoring all spurs, all the way to Sparks Road in Easton where you can rejoin I-90. Westbound take Exit 70 at Easton off I-90, turn right off the exit and then left onto West Sparks road. Continue straight until the pavement ends where you will pick up the start of Forest Service road 4828. You will immediately encounter a "Y", take the left branch (follow the arrow painted on the tree.) You will encounter several more "Y" spur roads, merely follow the main route marked by orange diamond route markers to the pavement again at Via Kachess Road. Continue to Kachess Lake road, turn left, and rejoin I-90 at exit 62, or continue to Hyak on Forest Service road 4832 as described above.

Road Type: Via Kachess road has many private lakefront homes, so use caution as there is pedestrian traffic. Forest Service road 4828 is a secondary dirt road and can be rough and muddy after winter snow melt. There are several small creek crossings to contend with.

strong>Cabin Creek Road to Easton via Forest Service road 4823

This route runs parallel to I-90 and the Yakima River for several miles between Cabin Creek Road and Easton, providing an alternative to the Via Kachess route described above. Near the eastern terminus of Forest road 4823, there is a route to Easton via spur road 114. This is a very challenging off road route only for the true adventure rider who doesn't mind getting dirty.

Directions: Eastbound take exit 63 off I-90, turn right at the stop sign and continue on Forest Service road 4823 approximately four miles, almost to its end at the Yakima River (some maps show the road crossing the river, but it doesn't.) At four miles, turn left onto spur road 114. Go under the power lines after one mile bear right at the "T" junction. Stay on the main road, ignoring all spurs, heading east. You will run into the pavement again at West Sparks Road. Turn right, and rejoin I-90 at exit 72 in Easton. Westbound take exit 72 off I-90 in Easton, turn right off the exit then immediately left at the "T" onto West Sparks Road. Just before the pavement ends, near the "Dead End" sign, turn left onto a unsigned paved road and go under the freeway. At the first "Y" you encounter bear right and continue approximately two miles to a "T" where you turn left. Go under the power lines. The road will end at a "T" at Forest Service road 4823. Turn right. Travel approximately four miles on gravel Forest Service road 4823 and rejoin I-90 at exit 63 (Cabin Creek Road).

Road Type: 3 miles of very rough dirt road with rocks and rip-rap, and 4 miles of groomed gravel with pervasive potholes.

strong>West Nelson Siding Road/West Side Road

While not off-pavement, these county roads provide a relaxing and scenic alternative to the never ending congestion on nearby I-90. By utilizing this section, the adventure rider can bypass the freeway entirely from West Nelson Siding (exit 74) all the way to Cle Elum . You will pass through historic railroad sites of Nelson Siding and South Cle Elum. The old railroad power plant for the electrified but now defunct Milwaukee Road rail facilities in South Cle Elum is worth making a stop for. It is being restored and eventually will be a vintage railroad museum celebrating the westward push of the railroad.

Directions: Eastbound take exit 74 off I-90, turn right at the stop sign and continue on West Nelson Siding road. Turn right onto Westside road and continue to South Cle Elum and Cle Elum. Rejoin to I-90 in Cle Elum. Westbound from downtown Cle Elum on Main Street, turn left onto South Cle Elum Way which goes under the freeway and crosses the Yakima River to become 4 th Street in South Cle Elum. Turn right on Madison Street then left on 6 th Street and continue onto West Side Road. Turn left on West Nelson Siding road, rejoining I-90 at exit 74.

Road Type: Standard two lane pavement county road.

Useful resources for this area:

Until next time, get out there and get your adventure bike dirty!

Mitch Comstock/Summer 2005

DISCLAIMER: Routes described herein traverse public roads and may be primitive single lane roads with minimal or no warning signs. You will experience varying road surfaces ranging from broken asphalt to groomed gravel to rough dirt. Road and weather conditions can change at any time without notice, so check with the appropriate travel authorities for current conditions. You are responsible for your own safety.

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