After our completion of the Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route we started looking for our next BDR adventure and Washington State’s BDR seemed appropriate.
We decided to do the southern half of the WA BDR in conjunction with a weekend trip to the Northwest Overland Rally in Plain, WA. We had attended the NWOL Rally a few years ago and really had a great time. We put out some feelers within my Moby 1 Trailer community to see if any other Moby 1 owners wanted to attend as a group and found two others that were interested. They weren’t able to join us of the BDR but would meet us in Leavenworth, WA the day before the Rally. I also looked around for some fellow campers who wanted to hit the WA BDR and found two others for that part of the trip as well.
Shelley and I started out on a Friday morning. Leaving Boise mid-morning for the short drive to Cascade Locks, OR. We picked the nearby KOA RV park where we could spend Friday night and load up on water before starting out on Saturday morning.
Shelley found a local brewery, Thunder Island, right on the Columbia River for drinks, dinner and dessert after we got into town. What a great location and they had really good beer and food. I have since learned that Thunder Island is going to break ground on a new facility nearby, but it won’t be on the Columbia River.
Shelley and I at Thunder Island Brewery
The next morning we headed off across the Bridge of the Gods to meet our group on the WA side of the Columbia.
Crossing the Bridge of the Gods
Section 1 of the WA BDR wasn’t all that difficult. Since we were pretty early in the season we had to deal with the occasional dead-fall but the road and route was pretty straight forward. I really wanted to chop that dead trunk down. But everyone convinced me to leave it be since we could squeeze under it. I would get my chance to use the chain saw soon enough.
One of the great features of this route is you are traveling in the Cascade Range for the entire trip. The views along the route of the great mountain peaks in this area is spectacular.
The group line up photo
Not for trailers. You just have to have the right kind of trailer.
We took time during this day to take a side trip to the Guler Ice Caves which is just southwest of the community of Trout Lake off of Carson Guler Rd/NF 24/SR 141. If you visit the caves make sure you bring a jacket and a flashlight or head lamp. You can really feel the temperature drop once you descend the stairs into the cave. Once inside, the ground is very slick so watch your step. After-all, it is an ice cave. As you go deeper you’ll need some light as a cell phone light just isn’t sufficient. It was a very interesting little side trip that is well worth our time.
Shelley descending the stairs into the Guler Ice Cave
I had hoped to camp somewhere near or with a view of Mt Adams. We found a nice spot just off NF 23. It was a large, open area with a partially obstructed view of Mt Adams. It was still a great spot to prepare dinner.
Dinner with Mt Adams
On day 2, we traveled down NF 23 a bit to a marked Mt Adams view point. This stretch of road, with Mt Adams so close, was really a great area. There was one funky spot along the route that we stumbled upon, Babyshoe Pass. There’s a view point near here, but passerby’s have taken it upon themselves to nail baby shoes the sign post marking the pass.
Baby shoe pass
A little farther down the road, we took the time to pull into Takhlakh Lake for another view point of Mt Adams. This was the best view point of Mt Adams of the trip. All of us just hung out on the boat launch in awe of the view here.
Takhlakh Lake Campground is run by the Forest Service and, for $18 a day, would be a great spot for camping along the BDR. If you have a canoe or kayak, you could spend the day here and tool around on the lake under the gaze of Mt Adams.
Mt Adams from Takhlakh Lake
We finished up Section 1 when we pulled into Packwood for lunch. Rick did some provisioning at the grocery store and then we grabbed lunch at a little pizza place in town.
When leaving Packwood, you start Section 2 on US 12. This first portion takes you along the White Pass Byway as you cross over White Pass. There are a number of view points along the highway that are worth the stop. We stopped at the Palisades Viewpoint which is an interesting geological formation caused by a volcanic eruption about 9 miles away from the view point. A little further down the highway was our first good view of Mt Rainier on this trip. The last view point we stopped by before hitting the dirt again was the Clear Creek Falls Overlook.
Shelley and I at the Mt Rainier viewpoint
Clear Creek Falls Overlook
After passing by Rimrock Lake you intersect with NF-1500 and go back onto dirt.
I was really looking forward to this portion of Section 2 as this is when you climb up to Bethel Ridge. I had heard a lot about Bethel Ridge and was really looking forward to the climb. The switch backs are very big and did not pose any issues for us. The road does get steep in parts and the truck certainly had to work on this climb.
Once on top of the ridge itself the road became very rough and slow. This improved as we continued down the ridge and into the trees. The challenging portion for us pulling a trailer was in the trees. I really had to look ahead and plan each obstacle with the next one in mind to avoid getting stuck, jack-knifed or forced to back up. We managed this section without any of those things. There are a lot of little pull outs along the road for opportunities to pull over and check out the view. Near the half-way point you can take the a right turn at a fork in the road that leads to a clearing and spectacular views looking back at Rim Rock Lake.
Looking back at the first half of Bethel Ridge
Looking down on Rim Rock Lake with Mt Adams
After leaving this half-way point we started running into more mud and eventually got into some serious muck that made the going a bit tougher for us with the trailer. Rick and his Jeep could take a better line to avoid the deeper stuff and not get bogged down. I tried some of these and ended up getting jammed in with some trees and had to back out. We just couldn’t cut the corners like we did on Bethel Ridge and we were not going to cut any live trees to make a hole. We ended up trying the muck and hoped we could stay up on top of the existing muddy ruts, but the trailer slid down into it and that dragged the truck with it and stuck we got. Luckily, it was a short muddy section as we did get about half way and the winch pulled us right out with little effort.
During this muck fest of being stuck, jack-knifed and back up, somewhere my front license plate was torn off our truck. Luckily, Brandon was outside my driver’s door spotting me while I was back up and heard and saw it go flying off. We were glad to get it back and would never had noticed had Brandon not been standing outside the truck. We still don’t know what it got caught on to tear it off.
But this whole ordeal put us quite a bit behind schedule for our next camp site and we ended up pulling into a nice spot that appeared to be used for hunting. There were a lot of little pullouts along this section of the road and you could tell others have staged here in the past.
Now that we were up on top of the ridge line for day 3, Mt Rainier began to follow us all afternoon. We took every opportunity to stop and check out these views. The wildflowers were coming out as well and the contrast with the flowers, blue sky and Mt Rainer were great.
A ridge line with Mt Rainier
Another ridge line with Mt Rainier
The route drops down into the community of Nile and then up an over another ridge before you drop into the community of Wenas where you use an easement through some private property to get onto Wenas Rd. There are signs reminding you to make sure you close all the gates behind you as you pass through.
We said goodbye to Brandon and his family at this point. He was hoping to make it to Ellesnburg with us, but having so much dirt remaining, he knew it was unlikely. He needed to drive back to Oregon so he took the advantage of this pavement to head home.
Rick and us made our way over the next ridge into Durr Road Campsite along Umtanum Creek. This is a no-fee campsite and was big enough and private. It was really a large cul-de-sac parking area and day use spot, but there are fire rings and camping is permitted. We parked along the tree line and called it a day.
Durr Road Campsite
Day 4 turned out to be the most challenging day of the trip. We pulled up camp and headed into Ellensburg where we topped off on gas before heading out of town.
We were really surprised at how much pavement there was heading north out of Ellensburg. The pavement just kept going and going so we made great time, which would benefit us later that day. We passed through some forest that burned some years back and ran into some wild land firefighters that were out training. They asked us to hold up for a few minutes while they were cutting down trees along the road for clearing and training.
A bit further was must stop location that is only a few hours north out of Ellensburg, Lion Rock. We had been hoping to camp here the previous night, but the mud and muck above Bethel Ridge killed those plans. We did get a chance to check out the campsites around Lion Rock, the views and take our lunch. The photos we took from Lion Rock simply do not do this spot justice. Both Mt Rainier and Mt Adams are visible from Lion Rock. On the east side of this area, you can just make out Mt Baker in the distance. Just spectacular.
Mt Adams on the left, Mt Rainier on the right
Lunch with a view
A happy camper
After lunch we started running into the most challenging section of the trip. There were a lot of tight turns as the route drops down into Wenatchee. Pulling a trailer doesn’t give you the freedom to pick, what others might call, the best line. Rick made these turns without issue as any other full-size truck would. Some turns were pretty tight and there was a lot of dead fall along the route. We simply could not avoid the down branches and still make the sharp hair-pin turns. So out came the chain saw a number of times. I guess you could call this more inconvenient than challenging.
Branch deflectors don’t work well on heavy limbs
Even if the limbs missed the truck, they hit the trailer
Then came the “Beehive.” We had no knowledge about this section. None of my research talked about this area. Evidently, this area washed out a year or two ago and the road was still a mess and extremely difficult and challenging. For Rick, he had no issues. He did manage to get a wheel off the ground on a part that was pretty steep and off canter. But other than that, it wasn’t an issue for him. For us, in a full size truck with a trailer we had to take things a bit slower and walk it carefully. The ramifications of a mistake would be a terrible outcome as the exposure into the gully down hill was extreme and there was no road edge to give me any fudge factor.
Add to this the washed down and partially buried tree trunks and branches and we had some serious obstacles that a chain saw wasn’t going to clear out.
We went up and over the first one pretty easily. We had some tires spinning in 4-low, 1st gear but the ARB airlockers on the truck got me over that problem. It was just loose dirt, rocks and super steep. At 11,000lbs combined weight, it wasn’t simple. We were pretty happy how the truck and trailer performed on that section. We all gave each other pats on the back and shook hands and off we went.
Until we got to the second one. It was worse than the first and now there was no way to turn around.
The problem with the second one wasn’t any obstacles like tree trunks. It was the steepness going down into it, then it turned slightly to the right and then you had to climb out the other side. Both the entrance and exit were off canter with no shoulder on the driver’s side.
After walking it with Rick and Shelley we were confident it was wide enough and passable, but Rick would really have to spot me as there was not a lot of room to maneuver the trailer in it to make the slight turn at the bottom. With no shoulder on the inside either, the last thing I wanted to have happen was for the trailer to get too tight on the inside of the curve and have a tire roll up the inside hill putting the trailer off canter to the gully on the driver side.
Initially, Shelley rode with me in the cab but after dipping down into it and feeling the truck go off canter to the down hill side, she bailed. She jumped out of the truck so fast she forgot her camera and Rick was too busy spotting, so I have no video or photos. Bummer.
After pulling out of that one, my mouth was pretty dry. We shook hands and patted each other on the back again and moved on down the road.
Then we got to the third one.
After those first two, the third one was really a “no brainer.” We just took our time to walk it carefully and pick our line.
A few weeks after we got home from this trip, the Forest Service closed this road to all vehicle but motorcycles and high clearance 4×4. We follow a Facebook page for the WA BDR and saw many others navigate the Beehive after our trip and into as late as mid-September. So we’re not sure how impassable this section has become.
These are the only photos we have of the Beehive. These were taken before we went over the first obstacle. You can see the partially buried tree trunks, branches and other loose debris from the washout.
Rick and Shelley at the top of the first obstacle
Climbing up the first obstacle
We finished out the day pulling into Wenatchee and decided to spend the night at the Wenatchee Confluence State Park. It was getting late and we figured we would finish out Section 3 the next morning by taking the short section of dirt from Wenatchee over to Cashmere. We would then head to into Leavenworth to refit and replenish for the NWOL Rally which started in two days.
The last morning, Day 5, we packed up and headed out to get back on the dirt and go up and over the ridge into Cashmere. And wouldn’t you know it, the road was closed. We learned there was a new house under construction up Number 2 Canyon Rd and they were putting in a power conduit under the road to the house and the road was completely closed. They closed it about 3 hours before we arrived. Just to be sure it was really impassable, Rick went up the road till he saw that it really was completely blocked.
So, our BDR trip ended right there. We headed back down the road to the highway and took pavement into Cashmere and Leavenworth. But not before hitting Starbucks in Wenatchee. Rick was staying in a different campground and we were meeting friends at the Leavenworth KOA.
When we return to finish the WA BDR we’ll start at this same spot and head to Canada.
We checked into the KOA in Leavenworth, took showers and got ourselves cleaned up. Then we headed into town for drinks at our favorite Leavenworth brewery, some sight seeing and dinner at our favorite spot in town, Pavz Cafe Bistro.
Appetizers and a beer flight at Icicle Brewery
Shopping for snacks
Our friend Charles, from Portland joined us in Leavenworth
We had a great time on the BDR. The road wasn’t super difficult, except for some challenges on Bethel Ridge and the Beehive. The views of the Cascade Range are always spectacular and we were very fortunate with the weather. We’re looking forward to wrapping up the northern half sometime in the future.