Timing It Just Right

Ride in the Okanogan was more than OK

Published in the May 2014 Issue White Out & Wide Open—The Blog LANE LINDSTROM
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"Looking north and a bit west from the Buck Mountain Lookout you can see the results of the Tripod Complex fire that burned nearly 180,000 acres in 2006.
"This was perhaps the most technical and rocky section of trail we experienced all day. This stretch is on the way up to the Buck Mountain Lookout. Even through the trees you can see the Cascade Range in the distance.
"The views from atop Buck Mountain Lookout are absolutely stunning. This is looking west toward the snow-capped Cascade Range.
"We passedthe former mining town of Ruby on our way from Conconully to Okanogan.
"Heavyspringrunoffacoupleof years ago turned this little feeder creek into a raging stream that washed trees and boulders down the mountain. Cuts have been made in the larger downed trees to allow a trail through the area.
"The trails led us through heavily forested areas as well as more open area swhere the sun streaked down through the trees.
"Depending on the elevation we were riding during the day (between about 800 and 6,000 feet), the leaves were at differentstagesofchangingcolorsasfall was in full swing during our October ride.
"Some sections of the trail leading up to the Buck Mountain Lookout opened up so you could get some amazing views of the surrounding mountains. In the distance are the snow-capped Cascade Mountains.
"Named by the locals as Mother’s Day Trail, this trail used to have numerous switchbacks as it made its way down the hill. However, a bulldozer called in to fight a previous forest fire wiped out the switchbacks, leaving the trail pretty much a straight shot down the mountain.
"The golden-hued Tamarack trees were in full splendor during our ride in Okanogan Country in mid-October.
"Buck Mountain Lookout, elevation 6,135 feet, where you can see for miles in any direction.

There are times when an off-road  ride requires just a little luck when it comes to Mother Nature and her unpredictability— especially in the fall.

But when you hit it just right— like we did on our day-ride in northcentral Washington’s Okanogan Country—it’s more than a good day; it’s a spectacular day.

Spectacular is really the only way to describe our ride through the mountains west of Okanogan and Omak, WA, in mid-October last year.

It was a crisp fall day in northcentral Washington state—not too hot and not too cold. The sun shone brightly during our ride and the trees were changing from their summer green to fall golds and yellows. The Tamaracks were a golden yellow and were a stunning contrast with the mighty pines covering the mountains.

The terrain we covered in our oneday ride was tame by some standards but our ride showed there is enough variety to keep you busy for days.

We started our ride in the town of Okanogan right from the parking lot of Xtreme Powersports (which was nice enough to loan Dirt Toys Magazine a Can-Am Commander for the day’s ride) and headed west on Dry Coulee Road up Windy Hill toward Buzzard Lakes.

A Lot Of Everything

During the course of the day our group, which included several members of the North Central ATV Club, travelled 83.3 miles through water crossings, along wide forest roads as well as narrow two-track sidehills and dense forest canopies, over some rocks but across a lot more downed logs and small stumps.

We crossed more downed trees than rocks and boulders, although there was a fun rock section on the trail up to Buck Mountain. In some of those stretches of trails, the larger logs had been cut to allow ATVs and side-bysides to get through. We didn’t stop and measure but just eye-balling it, it was obvious the Commander we were driving could get through the cut openings, but it appeared they might be too narrow for a large 4-seat side-by-side.

After Buzzard Lakes, we rode along Rock Creek through a very scenic canyon (a stone’s throw from State Highway 20 for a ways) and then along the West Fork of Rock Creek. In some sections the trees were dense and the canopy thick while in other spots it was more wide open and lots of sunshine streamed through the trees.

Our group eventually made it to the Sweat Creek Sportsman Camp where we took a short break before making our way up Buck Mountain. The trail up to Buck Mountain went in and out of the trees, had a fun but not terribly technical rocky section and offered some of the most
spectacular views of the entire day. Buck Mountain runs southwest to northeast and the last part of the trail runs along the ridge before you come to a small turnaround near the base of the fire lookout on top. The lookout sits at 6,135 feet so we made quite a climb from the 840-foot elevation of the town of Okanogan.

Unobstructed Views

The fire lookout offers an unobstructed 360-degree view of northcentral Washington. It was a clear day so we could see for what seemed like a hundred miles. To the west were the snow-capped Cascade Mountains, while to the south the Columbia River was visible. Off to the southwest is the Loup Loup Ski Bowl and to the north and a bit west the effects of the Tripod Complex fire that swept through the area in 2006 burning nearly 180,000 acres are still quite noticeable.

The views alone make Buck Mountain a must-stop on any ride in this part of Okanogan Country. The ride there and back to the main trail make it all
the more fun.

Once down off the mountain and back on the main trail, we headed north to Forest Road 42 and followed it for a ways before jumping off onto a side trail heading west. From there we crossed a feeder creek that goes into Cabin Creek. At the feeder creek is a big log jam created a couple of years ago from a heavy spring runoff that washed trees and rocks (more like boulders) downstream, creating all sorts of fun obstacles. The bigger logs have been cut to allow a vehicle to get through, but just seeing the massive downed trees and boulders in the area shows the power of Mother Nature.

From there it was on to the Mother’s Day Trail, so named by the locals, which was actually wiped out when bulldozers were called in to help fight a forest fire. The trail used to have lots of switchbacks but now it is practically straight up and down with some remaining stumps, logs and roots. It’s a little steep in spots but not too steep. The ATVs and side-by-sides in our group easily navigated down the hill.

Continuing north, we came to another washout spot where the trail crosses Cedar Creek. However, it was recently (summer 2013) repaired by the Forest Service and is back in use for ATVs and smaller side-by-sides.

We then picked up a fairly tight trail bounded by trees on both sides after which we jumped on a paved road that headed into the small town of Conconully (elevation 2,303 feet) where we stopped for lunch.

From Conconully we headed back to Okanogan along Salmon Creek. Eventually the forested sections of trail gave way to high desert and farm and ranch lands and, finally to the city streets of Okanogan. Off-road riding in the Okanogan was way more than OK—it was awesome. The only downside—if there was one—was that our ride lasted just the one day. We could have spent several days exploring farther west as well as farther north. There is a lot of country left to discover.

That just gives us a reason to go back.

Okanogan Country

Elevation 840 feet (Okanogan); 6,135 feet (Buck Mountain)
Full Service Town Okanogan, Omak, Winthro
Nearest Airport Wenatchee (91.6 miles from Okanogan)
Getting Started Okanogan Country (888-431-3080 or www.okanogancountry.com)
Getting There Okanogan Country trails are spread all across Okanogan County and there are several access points to the trails. As mentioned in the story, we started in the town of Okanogan, which is located on Highway 215, which mirrors U.S. Highway 97/State Highway 20, across the Okanogan River.

Getting Around There are several dealerships in the area. We would again like to give a shout out to Xtreme Powersports in Okanogan (www.shopxtremepowersports.net/) for loaning us a Commander to use for the day.

Bedding Down There are several lodging options in the area. Camping is also available. The Okanogan Country website has a complete list of all the options available.

Eating Out There are lots of dining options as well in the area. We had lunch at Sit ‘n Bull Bar and Grill on Main Street in Conconully and had an excellent meal. We’ve eaten at Sit ‘n Bull a couple of times before while on a snowmobile trip to Okanogan Country and have always had a good meal there.

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