Nestled in the rolling yellow hills of the Palouse region and crisscrossed by a network of unpaved roads, Walla Walla, Washington, is quickly becoming a gravel riding destination. A few miles north of the Oregon border, the city gives way to the endless farmland of eastern Washington before rising into the remote Blue Mountains where riders on the hunt for more vertical gain can get their fix. Thanks to its dry climate and good weather, Walla Walla is a hub for Washington’s growing wine industry and cycling scene. It’s easy (and recommended) to combine a scenic gravel ride in the surrounding hills with a visit to a local vineyard.
Kick your ride off right in the heart of Walla Walla’s historic downtown at Allegro Cyclery. With weekly gravel rides for cyclists of all experience levels, Allegro is the hub of the city’s burgeoning cycling scene. Before you hit the road, pop over to Colville Street Patisserie to caffeinate and fuel up. Just a stone’s throw from Allegro, the local pastry experts churn out the butteriest of French delicacies and pull a mean espresso shot.
What makes Walla Walla ideal for gravel riding is access. Forget driving to a trailhead parking lot to start your ride, simply head east on Russell Creek Road and pedal your way toward the Scenic Loop or Spring Creek Loop in the undulating foothills of the Blue Mountains. As the road climbs, the town quickly fades into the background and rolling hills dotted with vineyards and fields of soybean and barley rise around you. Eventually, you hit the Scenic Loop Road and the pavement gives way to finely graded gravel. Hero gravel, even.
Rolling up and over ridges and down into pristine green valleys (or yellow if it’s a dry summer), the aptly named Scenic Loop delivers views at nearly every corner. While some of the twists and turns are non-technical, others provide quick descenders the chance to put their tire traction to the test on white-knuckle, serpentine downhills.
Once you get your breath back, the Scenic Loop dead ends into Mill Creek at the bottom of another valley before turning up the arguably even more scenic Spring Creek Road. After a solid 4-mile gravel climb, the entirety of the Walla Walla Valley sprawls out before you to the west, slowly unfolding itself in ribbons of green and gold. If you’re up for a little more vertical to get an even better vantage, head up the out-and-back Black Snake Ridge Road. This chunky gravel road falls off dramatically into the next valley, delivering near-360-degree views.
Take your time on the descent to Mill Creek and then either cruise back on the main road or ride the Scenic Loop in reverse back to town for the best bang-for-your-buck, 40-mile gravel ride in the whole Northwest. Once back in Walla Walla, coast over to the Green Lantern for its huge selection of draft beer and famous fish tacos.
If you’d prefer to indulge in the city’s exploding wine scene, pedal a little farther outside of town for a visit to the beautiful Waterbrook Winery and Restaurant. Overlooking a pond with views into the Palouse farmland, the vineyard offers a wide array of local wines, along with lunch sandwiches, burgers and sides.