Rattlesnake 400 Motorcycle Ride

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The Rattlesnake 400

A serpentine adventure in every sense of the word

Unlike the lush green, well-rained-on topography of the western ends of Oregon and Washington, the eastern side of both states is primarily a desert climate. And what is common in the deserts of the western United States? Rattlesnakes. Even this far north. Roads with plenty of corners and little traffic are also common to this area, so if spending a day in the twisties with little congestion is your idea of having a good time, say hello to the Rattlesnake 400.

This 400-mile ride offers plenty of scenery, history and good times. Late spring to early fall provides the best weather windows, keeping in mind it can get downright hot here in mid-summer. A steady intake of water is recommended throughout the day, a camera is a nice addition, and be sure your stamina is up for 8-12 hours in the saddle. You'll want to be as keen when you finish as you were when you started.

You can begin the loop anywhere along the route. Pendleton makes for a great start and end points because there are plenty of accommodations here as well as some stellar dinner locations when you finish. More on that later.

Starting out early in the morning, head northeast along Oregon SR 11. The first small town is Athena, home to the legendary Hodaka motorcycle brand. Pull out here and explore the forthcoming location of the museum that will pay homage to the iconic dirt-squirt marquee. You'll find the museum on Main Street being built inside the Gem Theater building.

Continue to Weston and ride up into the Blue Mountains along SR 204, passing through Tollgate where you'll find a small grocery/fuel/café stop worthy of breakfast or a coffee break. This road is quite fun as you ascend to more than 5,000 feet into the Blues, then down the other side into Elgin.

In Elgin you'll spot the Opera House/City Hall as you turn the corner from 8th onto Albany street. The structure dates back to 1912 and continues to serve its dual -purpose role today.

From Elgin continue east to Enterprise on SR 82, then north along SR 3. It's interesting to note Enterprise has a population of 2,000 with no less than four radio stations to serve it.

20 miles north, the Joseph Canyon Viewpoint will appear on your right. This is a stop worthy of a look-down into the canyon where Chief Joseph and his Nez Pearce clan would winter in the late 1870s.

Continue north as the road begins its descent into the Grand Ronde river valley and crosses the state line into Washington, where the road now becomes SR 129. If you're into tight, downhill corners, you've come to the right place.

At the bottom of the river lies Boggan's Oasis, a popular stopping point for riders to grab a bite, refresh themselves, and continue on. The store and café burned to the ground in late 2017 but have risen from the ashes and are open for business once again.

Crossing over the river, the road ascends along what is known as the Rattlesnake Grade. It's a twisty 17-mile uphill climb to Anatone, then across the high plain and down into Clarkston, Washington. This is the eastern most city on the route and the halfway point of the ride. Here you'll find a few motorcycle shops in the area should you need one, as well as places to get a bite to eat.

Continue west along US 12, passing through Pomeroy, then taking the exit for SR 261 to ride the legendary Starbuck Highway. This road is worthy of a few repeat runs between Starbuck and the Palouse overlook, if you can swing it timewise. Starbuck - you ask? Nope - no relation to the mermaid.

The road crosses over the Lyons Ferry bridge, a recycled structure moved from Vantage, Washington, by floating it down the Columbia and up the Snake rivers after it was replaced by the larger bridge now serving Interstate 90. Some have referred to it as an Erector-Set-looking monstrosity. The viewpoint from here is stunning as you look at the walls of the canyon that fall to the Snake and Palouse rivers.

Up the hill is a turnout for the Palouse Falls overlook, a gorgeous site not to miss. Mind you, the 2-mile road down is a well-maintained gravel surface worth the trouble if you're on a street bike. And yes - there are rattlesnakes in the area.

Continuing west onto SR 260, ride down to Kahlotus and enjoy the stark badlands along the Pasco-Kahlotus road, eventually making your way into Pasco, then Kennewick and picking up US 395 south, continuing back into Oregon and exiting onto SR 730 at Umatilla.

Riding east on SR 730, don't pass up a chance to take in the view of Hat Rock before turning east onto SR 37. Following the road up to Juniper Canyon will take you to SR 334, then a left onto Kings Corner past the Holton Secret Lab, a car restoration center in the middle of a vast wheat area. If you're lucky, the shop may be open for a peek, or you can book a tour in advance.

Backtrack to SR 37 and continue south into Pendleton for the completion of the loop. Celebrate with dinner at Hamley's Steakhouse, or grab some ribs and rattlesnake sausage at the Sundown Grill & Bar-B-Q, where you can contemplate tomorrow's ride to…?

PT/May 2021

Need a GPS track for this ride? Send us an email to sreditor@soundrider.com with "Rattlesnake 400 GPS Track Request" in the subject line.


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