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Walla Walla: Gateway to a remote and undeveloped MTB playground

There’s something for every level of rider in and around Walla Walla, Washington.

While Washington’s Cascade Range is known internationally as a mountain biking destination, the state’s southeast corner and the town of Walla Walla are becoming popular for a variety of scenic and diverse trails. From the white-knuckle, fall-line single track on Indian Ridge to the undulating terrain at Bennington Lake, there’s something for every level of rider.

Remote and undeveloped, the Blue Mountains deliver on serious technical all-mountain riding. Just across the Oregon border—but most easily accessed from Walla Walla—the Indian Ridge Trail, along with the North and South Fork Walla Walla trails, offers challenges for even the most experienced riders. Starting in town with a big breakfast at the Maple Counter Cafe, where the apple pancakes come highly recommended, load up your bikes and drive 30 minutes out of town to Tiger Creek Road. Eventually, the pavement gives way to gravel and the road climbs over switchbacks out of the valley and into the Blue Mountains.

(Photo: Brady Lawrence)

As you crest above the tree line the whole of the Walla Walla Valley rolls out before you and eventually the Indian Ridge Trail comes into view on your left. Way up at 5,000 feet elevation it’s important to keep an eye on conditions as the road to the top of the trail can remain snowed-over well into summer and is closed off by a gate from December 31 to March 31. Also, cellphone service will be in short supply up in the mountains so be sure to download an offline trail map before heading up. Once you hit the end of the trail, from the terminus of the trail, you can opt to either shuttle the road with two cars or do the roughly 3,000 feet of climbing to the trailhead by pedal power. There’s also a clear entry point to the trail from the road about two thirds of the way up.

(Photo: Brady Lawrence)

Rocky, loose, technical, exposed and dotted with sections of oh-so-grippy dirt, the Indian Ridge Trail is not for the faint of heart. The former horse trail follows the natural ridge line with virtually no switchbacks and is a steep beast with no shortage of both up and downhill sections. More flowing segments through verdant evergreen forests are broken up by exposed rocky ridgelines, including one hyper-exposed section that local riders are quick to warn you about.

(Photo: Brady Lawrence)

The open ridge offers jaw-dropping panoramic views of the surrounding mountains—if you can hold onto your brakes long enough to stop and look around! It’s worth the occasional pause as the trail weaves its way through idyllic alpine meadows that can be bursting with wildflowers. The Indian Ridge Trail provides a great time if you love steep, technical mountain biking; just be sure to bring a friend and take the B-line when you need to as there a few no-mistake lines throughout the 5-mile track.

If rocky alpine trail riding isn’t for you, fear not. Just outside of town is Bennington Lake. The surrounding area offers several rolling double-track trails great for anyone seeking mellow off-road riding. There are also a few single-track spur trails if you want to test your suspension just a little. If you’re after more intermediate trails, it’s worth checking out the mountain bike section of Outside Walla Walla. Run by local couple, Gwen and Steve Dildine, the site is an excellent resource and can point you in the direction of all sorts of trails throughout the wider region.

(Photo: Brady Lawrence)

Once you’ve had your fill of rippin’ up single track, head back into town for a beer and some food at Quirk Brewing over by the airport. This local brewery is a great spot to drink some cold suds and meet up with friends to chat trail conditions (all-time of course) and grab some hearty food from local food trucks.