Cascading views along Washington’s Mountain Loop Highway

Since I’m fairly new to the Seattle area, I’m exploring different roads and finding gems from time to time. I recently found one such gem. I rode from Everett up to Arlington on I-5, to Darrington on SR 530, south on the Mountain Loop Highway to Granite Falls and back to Everett via Marysville.

All I’ve got to say is “wow.” The Mt. Loop Hwy is made for the Suzuki V-Strom 650 that I was riding. The road sublimely swerves through the canyon and graces you with superb views of the rushing Sauk River. Since it was a weekday when I rode, there wasn’t much traffic to speak of. I bet I passed a couple dozen cars along the Loop.

A quick stop at the Darrington Ranger Station and I had an invaluable piece of information for exploring the back roads along the Loop. The Darrington Ranger District map (<$7) provided me with a quick reference for finding the Fire Service Roads that would be good to explore. I left town with a growl erupting from my empty stomach. I was determined to find a peaceful non-inhabited place to eat lunch. About four miles from Darrington I pointed Victor, my trusty V-Strom, up FSR 2080 and continued up the hill through FSR 2086.

View from Fire Service Road 2085At 2,500 feet of elevation I found a nicely shaded corner in the V-Strom friendly dirt logging road to take in the breathtaking views. I pulled to the right side of the road and found a nice spot on the ledge to drop the side-stand to have a light lunch. As I munched on a ham and cheese sandwich and unscrewed the top from my Nalgene water bottle I soaked in the river valley views below. Half way through my sandwich I heard the screech of a hawk overhead. It was effortlessly navigating the air stream searching for its lunch. I was glad that it didn’t have its eyes on mine.

The relaxing sounds of the rushing river, trees swaying in the wind and raptor overhead provided the perfect resting place. This is what I was looking for. After a short hike to check out the location a bit, I decided to mount my steed and head back down the mountain. The river canyon vistas were great, but I had a long way to go in order to finish the Loop.

A few short miles down the paved section of the Mt. Loop I found a surprising sign. Perhaps it shows my ignorance of the area, but I had no idea a “highway” would turn to a gravel road. The sign read “Pavement Ends” and suddenly a smile stretched from ear to ear on my face.

A pleasant surprise to me, the Mt. Loop Highway turns to dirt for 14 miles.My Bridgestone Trail Wing tires were somewhat firmly planted on gravel for 14 miles. Up on the Fire Service Roads I was limited in how fast I could go by the switchback of the road along the ridge of the mountain. On the gravel section of the Loop I was only limited by my own abilities to keep the bike between the mountainside and the river criss crossing from left to right along the road. I found 30-45 miles per hour to be comfortable. The Trail Wings just don’t grip that great in these conditions. They work, but they only provide enough confidence to keep you honest.

I stopped along the way to snap photos and shoot some shaky video. The road only opened for the season within the past couple weeks. Along the dirt section there was evidence of numerous rockslides that had scared the road. Many areas had to be rebuilt. The past winter hit Washington roads hard.

Water flows down the mountain side from rapidly melting snowpack.At one of my photo stops, I heard the beautiful note of a KTM Adventure coming up on my six. The bike had pipes with a fantastic rumble to them, but not obnoxiously loud. Just enough to say I’ve got power and I like to use it in the dirt. The rider pulled off the road just a short way up along the river. Camera secured in my Aerostich Roadcrafter I decided to ride up and say hello. You do meet the nicest people riding motorcycles. This fine gentleman was nice enough to pick up the KTM for a friend and ride it to Seattle for delivery… taking the long way of course!

After parting ways with the other rider I sped ahead and explored a few of the camp grounds along the route. Each time I pulled in my mind would begin day dreaming of the many side trips a place like this could provide and that the perfect way to take them all in was by bike and tent. I’ll be back.

I round one more corner in the dirt road and I’m greeted by a sign that read, “Barlow Pass Elevation 2361.” Alas, the dirt section of the Mt. Loop was complete. The ride wasn’t over. The sun was beginning to sag in the sky and it was another 31 miles to Granite Falls and even further to my home in Everett. I powered on.

The paved sections of the Loop are great. Nice sweepers that allow you to go nearly twice the speed limit with ease. These speeds are attainable, but perhaps not recommended. First off, there are a lot of deer along the road and other hazards like cagers who are only pulled half way off the road on a corner. Secondly, you’d miss taking in the grandure of Mother Nature’s beauty. Nonetheless, it is hard to resist twisting the throttle and attempting to put pavement to foot peg.

From Granite Falls to Everett it is mostly two-lane with some four-lane sections of road added in for good (passing) measure. There really isn’t much to speak of in means of road or views. That’s okay, however, because you feel accomplished riding one of the best motorcycle roads in the Pacific Northwest. This is truly a road meant for a bike like the V-Strom, or perhaps the KTM that I met up with along the route.


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