Running north to south along the western edge of Washington's hard-scrabble Cascade Mountains, four-wheelers can find some of the most interesting trails in the Pacific Northwest. Although not typically considered a hot spot for four-wheeling, Washington offers a tremendous variety of terrain that can range from the mild to the extreme. And in this part of the country, where rain is nearly a daily occurrence, the wetter it gets, the more challenging the trails become.
Looking to introduce a group of seasoned four-wheelers to some of the wonders of Washington 'wheeling, Scott Frary of Tractech (Detroit Locker) recently laid out a week-long series of day-trips to some of the area's best trail systems. Comprising this group of intrepid four-wheelers were a number of regional enthusiasts, as well as a handful of industry notables, including Jerrod Prindle of Advanced Frame Works, Larry Trim of Trail Ready, Keith Hart of the Gear Centre, and Trent McGee of Superlift TV. With trail guidance coming from the local four-wheeling gurus at S&N Fabrication, the nearly all-Jeep squad hit the trail early Monday morning and never looked back.
Day One: Elbe Hills
Lying due west of the Mt. Ranier National Park, Elbe Hills is a perfect introduction to Washington four-wheeling. We found lots of rocks, pools of mud, and winding, slippery trails. For anyone accustomed to crawling slowly over rocks with lots of traction and low gearing, these trails were a rude awakening. Controlled horsepower is what was required. Forward momentum was absolutely essential to make it through most of the obstacles. And if you lost it, you were left with little choice other than to slide back down and try again. Surprisingly, there was no damage done the first day, and everyone made it back into town under their own power.
Day Two: Evan's Creek
After their initial break-in period, the crew was ready to up the ante a bit. Evan's Creek is another beautiful OHV area, but its trail system is comprised of terrain that will challenge even the most foolhardy. It consists largely of tight, hairpin turns that wind sharply back and forth through heavily wooded forest. Deep, sloppy mud on badly rutted trails was a constant this day - to say nothing of the rocks and tree stumps that had to be traversed. Again, steering skills were really put to the test. This area is definitely designed for the short-wheelbase contingent. For fullsize rigs, it would be sheer carnage.
Day Three: Shoestring
Positioned in Washington's Naches area, the Shoestring Trail combines beautiful vistas with tremendous challenge. At certain spots, you can take in views of both Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens. The trails are tight, twisty, and tailor-made for short, narrow rigs. Adding a level of excitement to this area are two tremendous playgrounds: Funny Rocks and Moon Rocks. The first is reminiscent of rock gardens in the Southwest, where you can really stretch the suspension and test the extreme articulation of your vehicle. The latter is comprised of volcanic rock that is very sharp, jagged, and steeply pitched - a perfect way to round off any day of four-wheeling.
Day Four: Enumclaw
This had been intended to be a day of travel, to get the whole group up north to tackle Walker Creek. However, Scott Frary decided to squeeze in a morning of four-wheeling fun in the Enumclaw district. The trails were noticeably easy after the strenuous 'wheeling of the past few days, but the views were remarkable. After a couple of hours of just running up and down trails and taking in the beauty of the Northwest, we loaded up and headed north on Highway 5 to the little town of Mt. Vernon.
Day Five: Walker Creek
In all our years of running trails, never have we been anywhere with so many tree stumps lying in wait to cause grief to the unwary and unlucky. Once again, the trails were very tight and required that we thread our way through the forest floor. Sometimes we would travel a good mile or more with nothing more challenging than a spot of mud. Then suddenly a muddy rock precipice would present itself and the fun would ensue. After a week of 'wheeling and very little damage, this final day took its toll. There were at least six rollovers (hard hitting, too), mangled sheetmetal, and some of the most vicious little mosquitoes we've had the misfortune to meet in a while. However, not once was anyone forced to winch to make it up an obstacle. There was too much driver skill on the ground for that kind of ignominy.
If you have never had the experience of four-wheeling in the Pacific Northwest, you owe it to yourself to make the trip. The trails are spectacular and the scenery is magnificent. A week in the Washington outback is an adventure you won't forget.