The Clarkston, Washington and Lewiston, Idaho area is a fantastic jumping off point for motorcycle adventures on paved and dirt roads. Idaho seems like a land-locked place, seemingly squeezed by Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Neveda to a virtual point that meets the Canadian border. It is surprising to see ocean-going vessels pulling through town via a vast lock system along the mighty Columbia and Snake rivers. The towns in the area are a bit sleepy. Perfect for a place to catch some sleep between exploring the many spectacular motorcycle routes that branch in every direction.
The Spiral Highway or Old Lewiston Grade is an example of the incredible motorcycle roads in the area. Built from a wagon trail with many harrowing tales, a local county engineer designed a road that would climb 2,000 feet to the top of Lewiston Hill in roughly nine miles. The 64 curves in that short distance literally spiral 12 full times. The $100,000 gravel road opened in 1917 and was recognized as an engineering marvel of it’s time. It was the only connection between the Palouse and Lewiston until four-lane US Highway 95 opened in 1979.
Today, the road is well paved and heavily patrolled. A news article from 1948 proves that speeding and “driving wildly” is not a new thing to this exhilarating stretch of roadway. This is the kind of road that you don’t get a second chance on. The incredible climb, and conversely descent, opens up vast views of the mountains, city and two long fingers of water below.
There aren’t many opportunities to pull over to enjoy the view. Take the few that are available. Viewing the undulating road from above makes me think that the road would be aptly named as the river below, Snake. Each switch back is connected by another curve. It seems to slither around every possible rock face. The outside shoulder doesn’t seem to be enough safety room. If you find yourself along this route, try looking down while riding the fog line. I dare you! Just be forewarned that you do tend to go where you look and you don’t want to cross that nicely painted line. The end result of such a move won’t come for several seconds after the mistake occurs. It’s a long ways down in some places. The road is designed like a road race course. But the high number of blue and red lights act as the pace car to keep us enthusiasts under controlled speed.
This is the perfect kind of road on which to practice your cornering abilities. Ride up it to get a feel for it. Enjoy the vista from the lookout at the very top. Then swing a leg over your bike, turn the key and don’t even bother with the starter switch. Turn your headlight on with the key, but don’t fire up the engine. Let the wind flow through your helmet as gravity pulls you faster than you’re likely comfortable. The silence is beautiful. As you approach a corner, brake hard enough to slow down but still keep momentum. Trace your delayed apex turn with your eyes. Let off the brake lever and just ride. You’ll learn so much by doing this exercise on a twisty, snake of a road like the Spiral Highway. This also is a treat, because you’ll want to ride the road more than once. It is a true destination highway that is less than 10 miles long, but many travel thousands of miles to experience it.
The Spiral Highway is one of the paved gems of the Pacific Northwest.
Want to extend your trip? Look to the south from the top of Lewiston Hill. You’re gazing upon Hell’s Gate. It’s called that because the roads back in that area are a hell of a good time.