Winter Mountain Bike Riding in Washington’s Scablands

For mountain bikers, mid-winter can seem like an endless stretch of icy singletrack and roads riddled with rock salt.

If a road trip to the desert southwest is out of the question, look closer to home. The channeled scablands, the flood-scoured sagebrush steppe of central Washington, offers quick-fix hits of snow-free pedaling.

First things first: singletrack is in short supply, and gnarly descents nearly nonexistent. But riders will find winding double-track ranch roads and widescreen views straight out of a western, all in a sprawling sagebrush expanse pitted with pothole ponds and dotted with old barns.

Even better, the trails can be ridden nearly year round. In some spots, annual precipitation is measured in the single digits, and the snow that falls doesn’t linger. For skiers, that might save a stretch of snow-free weather during peak season; for the snow-averse, it might save their sanity.

The 13-mile Odessa-Lake Creek Trail is the longest dedicated non-motorized trail in the channeled scablands. This trail navigates a maze of basalt buttes and broad mesas, carved by long coulees—a result of the Lake Missoula Floods some 15,000 to 30,000 years ago. On the western horizon the fluted basalt buttes known as Odessa Towers make an impressive landmark. To the southwest is 136-mile-long Crab Creek, which winds through the heart of the channeled scablands. And all around is the surprising hum of winter life in the sagebrush steppe, where raptors perch on pioneer fence posts, coyotes trot on the skyline, and rodents move underfoot.

Two trailheads access the Odessa-Lake Creek Trail. From the southern trailhead on the edge of tiny Odessa, signed singletrack dips over and around hunks of pockmarked basalt. The northern trailhead departs on old roadbed from the back forty of the old Lakeview Ranch, now a BLM property.

Either side of Lake Creek Coulee, at the halfway point of the ride, offers stretches of steep, sketchy singletrack. Riders will also find the best views here: a dramatic juxtaposition between the panoramic coulees and canyons before you and the sprawling wheat fields on the horizon. It’s a viewpoint unique to long trails in the Evergreen State. And it might just be enough to take your mind off the snow (or lack thereof). //

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