Friday, December 9, 2022
Dec. 9, 2022

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Where to find great mountain biking trails in every direction from Seattle

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A youth division competitor in the Whatcom World Cup catches air shortly after embarking down the SST trail on Bellingham???s Galbraith Mountain.
A youth division competitor in the Whatcom World Cup catches air shortly after embarking down the SST trail on Bellingham???s Galbraith Mountain. Photo Gallery

SEATTLE — With lush forested hillsides, passionate trail builders and a temperate climate conducive to year-round riding, the Pacific Northwest is one of the world’s premier regions for mountain biking.

The cool, wet spring has kept the ground moist, which means this summer holds promise for the grippy, high-traction trail surface that makes mountain bikers swoon. Pedaling through the woods over roots, rocks and logs is the price of admission for the thrill of whizzing down a trail and around a banked turn (called a berm), moss-covered trees and sword ferns a blur of green that melds into one emerald carpet in your field of vision.

Thanks to the hard work of volunteer mountain bike clubs in Washington, there are hundreds of miles of trails to try out, from mellow cross-country cruisers perfect for getting acquainted with the sport to experts-only steep trails with jump features that lead to mandatory airtime. For the most seamless navigation experience, download the Trailforks app and load any of these trail networks onto your smartphone.

Point your tire any of the four cardinal directions from Seattle and you’ll find unique trail networks worthy of making the trip. Here are four samplers to get you started in whichever direction you choose. Wear a helmet and pads, pack essentials like snacks and water, bring a kit to change flats, and yield to other trail users. Happy riding.

North: Galbraith Mountain

The mountain that made Bellingham into a world-class mountain bike mecca. Galbraith sprawls over 3,000 acres on the edge of the City of Subdued Excitement. There are 65 miles of singletrack trails to choose from thanks to the hard work of the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition. For the easiest access, start at the brand-new South Parking Lot. (Just down the road on Samish Way, Transition Bikes offers demos, a full-service bike shop and a cafe for pre- or post-ride eats and drinks.) Look both ways then cross Samish Way and pick up the Pipeline Road to immerse yourself in what can at first appear like an intimidatingly dense map of trails. Beginners should steer toward Lost Giants and Bunny Trails to get their feet wet. For flowy trails with jumps and berms, head for Mullet and Unemployment Line. More advanced riders can tackle Irish Death and Das Autobahn. Want to add some live music to your mountain bike après? Go July 8-10 for the first-ever Northwest Tune-Up festival.

East: Mountains to Sound Greenway

The corridor between Seattle and Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 90 is the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance’s gift that keeps on giving: easy access, close to home, endless variety. Consider these three starting points.

Heading east from Seattle, your first stop is the Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park in Issaquah. Packed into 6 miles are every type of feature you might encounter on a mountain bike trail — logs to cross, berms to corner, drop-offs to negotiate — laid out in such a way that first-timers can safely build their skills while aspiring Freeride World Tour riders can huck themselves off big air jumps over and over. The connecting Grand Ridge Trail to the south offers intermediate cross-country riding to build your endurance.

East Tiger Mountain lies south of I-90 along Highway 18. From the trailhead, grind out the 3.5-mile climb over 1,650 vertical feet on the forest road that winds up to the East Tiger Summit, where Mount Rainier views await on a clear day. From the top, Off The Grid offers advanced riding before mellowing out onto intermediate options like Joy Ride and Inside Passage. For an easier ride down, cut right on the forest road before the final push to the summit to pick up beginner trails Quick Link and Master Link. Aspire to tackle the hardest riding our region has to offer? Eyeball Predator for 2 miles of downhill-only double black diamond intensity.

Pass Snoqualmie Point Park and you’ll find the trailhead for Raging River, a trail network that spills over the western end of Rattlesnake Ridge. All rides begin with the gentle, 1,060-vertical-foot climb on Upward Mobility, 3 miles that make for good practice on both uphill and downhill technique. Extend your ride on the Raging Ridge trail, 6 miles of intermediate riding that lead to harder descents like Poppin’ Tips, No Service and Invictus (arguably the hardest stretch of trail in the state). On the return to the trailhead, try intermediate Flow State, which lives up to its name.

South: Capitol State Forest

While the South Sound isn’t the most obvious destination for woods and trails, the 110,000-acre Capitol State Forest outside Olympia is a quiet behemoth. Rock Candy Mountain Trailhead is your entry point.

Since 2005, Friends of Capitol Forest has transformed this patch of Department of Natural Resources land with over 100 miles of trails — and for the gravel riders among you, hundreds of gravel roads. With less vertical relief than the Cascade foothills, Capitol Forest is an ideal destination for rolling cross-country rides like the 10-mile Poker Run or the 30-mile Captoberfest route. In recent years, the Friends have also dug out some purpose-built, one-way mountain bike trails like Scoby or Down and Rowdy that are chock-full of freeride features. Note that in addition to Trailforks, the Capitol Forest map can be accessed on the Avenza app.

West: Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park

Whether you live on the Kitsap Peninsula or are just looking for an excuse to take your bike on a ferry, mountain biking awaits just outside the quaintly restored mill town of Port Gamble.

This modest, low-elevation trail system shaped up by Evergreen West Sound is poised to make a major debut when it hosts the Evergreen Mountain Bike Festival for the first time from June 18-19. The festival will be an opportunity to showcase the soon-to-open Port Gamble Ride Park, which will offer the kinds of dedicated freeride features that have made Duthie Hill such a prime Puget Sound destination.

Start from the Stumps Trailhead and warm up on beginner Stumps before picking up intermediate Secret Squirrel. Cross a forest road and slip down The Hood and Downhell, then climb back up the forest road to the trail network’s three downhill options: Ranger (intermediate), Cool Runnings (advanced) and Owl Pacino (expert). The Ewok Climb Trail is your return route to the top of the runs.

Port Gamble proper is just a mile north of the trailhead. Step back in time at the Port Gamble General Store & Cafe to refuel. Olympic Outdoor Center rents bikes (and kayaks, too, if you want to make it a multisport day).