Pacific Northwest Winter Motorcycle Rides: High Pressure Happiness

Sound RIDER! logo


Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - EPS


High Pressure Happiness

10 Northwest Winter Rides Not To Miss

Record-breaking rainfall, heavy duty wind storms, excessive snow fall... You know what's been going on up here in the Northwest over the last several decade. Your bike is so deep in moth balls you've forgotten where you parked it last fall.

And then it happens. Out with the clouds and in with the sunshine. A high pressure front comes along and sits over the Northwest like an invisible cloud of heavenly wonder. The mountains are out and you begin to scramble looking for your riding gear, tank bag... and... the key to your bike! Quick - find it before the next rain storm!

But where to go you wonder? Too much snow in the mountains and California is too far out of the way. A simple day ride will do to break the long stretch of cabin fever. Fear not, we have a few ideas for you as you plan your day of two-wheel escape.

We've assembled 10 Northwest rides for you to ponder - five in Washington, three in Oregon and two in Idaho. The basic idea, they're all close to metropolitan areas, they can be done in a day and they are all at elevations near or below 3,000 feet. From the shores of Whidbey to the Lobster Valley take a winter ride!

Whidbey Island - Whidbey Island is a beautiful spot for a two-wheel getaway. But the trick here is to exit the main highways (SR 20 and SR 525) and explore the many back roads that will lead you up and down the island. A good atlas will help you with that or you can just make up your own ride as you go along. When you get tired of meandering, you can always make your way back to a main road and get lunch in any of the three populated areas - Oak Harbor, Coupeville or Langley. For more detail click here .

Buffalo Run - A trip into the Cascades. Now that sounds a little daring. But the Buffalo Run is exactly that and you only ride to 1,500 feet in elevation. The Buffalo Run is a restaurant situated along SR 20 at Marblemount and serves up a decent Buffalo Burger. For more details and routing click here .

Ready for the Ride?

Dress Smartly - Be sure to leave cotton garments at home. Synthetics such as Polyester, Rayon and Thermolite will keep you much warmer. Blue jeans and cotton tee shirts, even under your riding gear will not insulate you as well or as evenly as synthetics.

Stay Warm - Use heated clothing along with full base layers to add warmth to your ride. Being cold on a winter ride will steal from your ability to keep focused on the ride. If you're using nothing, consider stopping at least every hour to warm up, relax and enjoy the day. Eating throughout the day will also help your body create more heat at the core.

Beware the Asphalt Beasts - There are numerous road surface conditions you need to pay attention to during a winter ride. Pot holes are common after freezing rain and ice have cracked the pavement. Gravel is commonly sprayed to provide traction during ice and snow conditions. It routinely piles up in the centerline and shoulders of the road. If you pull to the side of the road, go gentle with the throttle as you pull out to avoid fishtailing the back onto its side.

Frost and Ice - More common than maple syrup on pancakes at this time of year, frost and ice are hiding behind every corner - or at least you should plan for that to be the case. Performance cornering in the dead of winter should not be a priority, especially on blind corners.

Can you see clearly now? - Fog shows up when you least expect it on a sunny day during a winter ride. Something to do with the air being colder below a warm layer of air above. Be sure to slow down based on how far you can see ahead. For better vision in foggy conditions, use a pair of glasses outfitted with a yellow lens which reduces blue light, the light in rain and fog that makes it hard to see ahead.

Atlas me this - A good road atlas is essential anytime, but critical in winter riding, especially if you're venturing off to a new place. Some atlases like those produced by DeLorme are incredibly out of date. Use a reliable road atlas to plan your route like those made by Benchmark Maps .

Olympic Loop - Some of our readers would rather take a long 300-mile-plus ride. For them, a loop around the Olympic Peninsula is just what the doctor ordered. Start from wherever it's convenient based on where you live and ride. Instead of following 101 through Lake Crescent be sure to use the alternates of SR 112 and SR 113. US 101 along Lake Crescent is notorious for thick frost at this time of year. Meals can be had at many places along the way. With our clockwise route, via Kingston as a starting point, we like to take breakfast at Quilcene, lunch at Lake Quinalt Lodge and dinner in Port Townsend.

The Palouse - Spokanians have a dream set of twisties in their own backyard. With just a quick romp down US 195 or SR27 they can be in the Wheatland valleys of the Palouse. The roads are endless. Again, this is a make-it-up-as-you-go or lay-it-out-ahead-of-time with a reliable atlas.

Green Mountain Road - Vancouver, Washington is now the second largest city in Washington state and conveniently located on the border of Washington and Oregon. This means our friends in Portland can partake in this wondrous ride. The place is called Green Mountain, the road is hard to navigate. What's the big deal, so you get lost - that's part of the fun. Green Mountain Road is located between Woodland and Kalama just east of I-5. Views of the valley below are stunning at 1,800 feet along the upper ridge of the mountain.

Lobster Valley Road - A road-less-traveled south of the Portland area. From Portland, slab it to Albany, then head west on SR 34. At Alsea, turn south onto Alsea-Deadwood Valley road which will become Lobster Valley road at the Lobster summit. Ride the length of it, repeat if necessary, then return to SR 34 and head west for a field trip to the beach. It's an all-day ride to be sure, but worth the trek. More details at

Historic Columbia River Highway - An old favorite, the ride from Troutdale to Multnomah Falls provides scenery, history and plenty of twisties. Much of the road from Troutdale to the falls area was resurfaced in 2006, but we'd advise you pay close attention to frost and moss on the roadway through this area. We suggest you begin with a late breakfast at Edgefield Inn while you wait for the frost to evaporate, placing you along Vista House about the noon hour.

Shaniko to Fossil - For those of you out in the ever-growing area of Bend, a day trip from Shaniko to Fossil is always a treat. In fact, the more you ride this road the more fun it gets. But hey - ain't that true for any road? Our experience says it's more true with this one than most, but no one has actually figured out why. More details about this ride are available in the SR! Guide to Motorcycling in Central and Eastern Oregon .

Cook's Two Holer - At least that's what the locals know it as. Officially it's called Cook's Two Hole. Regardless of the name and implication, the place is famous for cooking up a good burger. Located southwest of Boise a few miles, the place makes a good jumping off point for a road trip along the Snake River in the afternoon.

Old Spiral Highway - Just north of Lewiston is a nice stretch of twisty road and one worth mastering with repeated rides up and down it - the Old Spiral Highway located just off of US 195. Typically you won't find a lot of traffic on this road, especially in the early morning and late afternoon hours.

PT/Winter 2007, updated 2017

We've worked hard to upgrade this site. Click here to notify us of any problems we need to correct.


Subscription has its privileges - Each month Sound RIDER! publishes new features on rides, clubs, dealers and events. Don't miss out on these informative stories.

Sign up today for your FREE subscription and you'll get notification each month when the new issue comes on line. You'll also be the first to find out about special Sound RIDER! events. From time to time, we also provide valuable coupons that can save you hundreds of dollars on motorcycle services. What are you waiting for? Click here to sign up now!