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Touring Washington’s Backcountry Discovery Route

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Exploring our national and state lands is becoming increasingly popular among people who seek to unplug and connect with the outdoors. The Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR) system of Forest Service roads is a great way to begin experiencing remote public lands via the planned routes they’ve created. Knowing where to get fuel and supplies, and being alerted if sections are closed, takes some of the unknowns out the equation for those getting into adventuring, as well as seasoned riders. While most of these roads are accessible via two wheels or four, proper off-road tires, high ground clearance, and some experience traversing dirt, mud, and gravel are recommended. These routes are ever-changing based on weather conditions, and not knowing what you will come across is part of the adventure.

Photo by Filson.

Native to Washington State are two great organizations, one is Filson, the clothing manufacturer that we all know and love, and the second is a nonprofit called Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR). Filson paired with the Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR) nonprofit and Meta on a short film, Filson x Meta: Extraordinarily Present, that combines adventure with practicality. The Washington BDR is one of their favorite trips, a route that follows the massive volcanic mountain range of The Cascades. Along the flanks of this range are natural forests that offer incredible networks of backcountry routes for motorcyclists in the continental United States.

Backcountry Discovery Route Nonprofit 

Paul Guillen, one of four riders that first traversed these backcountry forest roads at the base of the Cascades, found the experience so profound and incredible that he himself decided to co-found a nonprofit called Backcountry Discovery Routes, an organization dedicated to creating more off-highway routes for dual-sport and adventure motorcycle travel.

Creating more off-highway routes provides more exciting opportunities, allowing motorcyclists to traverse some of the wildest, most scenic land that is offered in America. Aside from creating the routes. The Backcountry Discovery Routes nonprofit creates content like documentaries and more informal videos that are designed to bring awareness and knowledge to their work. Along with the creation of these videos and maps of the off roading routes, Backcountry Discovery Routes gives adventuring motorcyclists a safe way to experience this traverse.

The Washington Backcountry Discovery Route

Photo by Filson.

Photo by Filson.

A massive volcanic mountain range, the Cascades, bisects Washington. Along the flanks of this iconic range, national forest land offers intrepid motorcyclists and overlanders a network of backcountry roads and trails through some of the most adventurous terrain in the Lower 48.

Now the route which is the namesake of Paul Guillen’s nonprofit used to be the toughest terrain in the United States for off roading motorcycle rides. You start in the temperate rainforest and then slowly make your way to the desert. You really experience all the elements that Washington has to offer, making it a really epic ride. The tour of Washington Backcountry Discovery Route, or Washington BDR, takes six days. Six days and 600 frozen miles into the depths of Washington’s backcountry.

The first day you travel from Oregon to Packwood, clocking around 120 miles. You travel across a modern steel bridge spanning the Columbia River, connecting Oregon and Washington, then navigate gravel and dirt roads that travel through the beautiful and temperate Gifford Pinchot National Forest. If you are lucky enough to miss Washington’s testy rain and bad weather, you can catch a glimpse of Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helen.

The Washington BDR route offers intrepid motorcyclists and overlanders a network of backcountry roads and trails through some of the most adventurous terrain in the Lower 48. Photo by Filson.

On the second day, you can enjoy the views as you travel 123 miles from Packwood to Ellensburg, where you will climb to 4,500 feet and drop over White Pass. You may recognize the name from the ski area that occupies the pass. Then you will drop down and enjoy some of the best views of Rainier’s glacier-caps along the Tieton River Valley.

Day three will consist of traveling only 77 miles from Ellensburg to Cashmere. Here, you will travel up miles and miles of twisty switch backs to a high-elevation two track and Cascade Range panoramas. According to Guillen, this stretch of the journey is one of the most enjoyable parts of the ride. During this stretch, you will enjoy riding the crest at 6,000 feet on the path along Table Mountain, where you can sometimes find Elk hiding in the meadows, if your motorcycle doesn’t scare them away.

Photo by Filson.

On the fourth day, you can enjoy climbing from Cashmere to Chelan over the course of 104 miles. Here, you can see a beautiful 360-degree perspective of the stunning state of Washington from 5,810 feet. After climbing through dirt and exploring the fire lookout at Steliko point, you will end this leg of the journey riding on pavement, along the beautiful Lake Chelan. If you are looking for a bit of a luxury, you can enjoy the great wine and comfort that the town of Chelan has to offer. If you are committed to keeping your tour grungy, you can stay in one of many campgrounds nearby.

On your fifth day, you will travel 103 miles from the town of Chelan to Conconully, where you will pass yet another ski resort before entering the Okanogan National Forest. Okanogan National Forest is one of Washington’s biggest and most well known forests, reaching almost 1.5 million azores. You will really feel the remoteness of this trip on this leg of the journey. You will pass through miles and miles of forests until you pass through the town of Carlton, a small community within the forest that consists of only a gas pump and a single store. Then, you will continue onto the town of Conconully which has a population of 210. This leg of the journey will remind you why you embarked on this journey as you enjoy the remote forests and small forest communities.

Photo by Filson.

On the sixth day of this trip, you have made it to the end! Your last day will take you from Conconully all the way to Canada in only 66 miles. Here, you will reach the route’s highest elevation at Lone Frank Pass at 6,667 feet. Then, you will reach your next forest, the Loomis State Forest where you can find huge peakes, an overwhelming density of pine trees and unique wildlife. When you emerge from the forest, you will wrap around the Palmer Lake and onto your final stretch, following the Similkameen River until you find yourself in Canada.

These six days are challenging and rewarding. Though the Washington BDR is not the toughest backcountry route for motorcyclists anymore, it is still a feat, and a beautiful one at that. As you travel through Washington’s beautiful landscape and experience the stunning views of the scenic volcanoes and dense forests, finally reaching Canada, you will feel completely remote and removed. This route is great for those who are looking to test their skills and spend some time in the outdoors.

Filson Moto Overlanding Essentials

It is no secret that epic adventures require epic gear. Filson recently released its first line of motorcycle gear. Pairing a great adventure with great gear is important and Filson is attempting to do just that.

Photo by Filson.

Photo by Filson.

Checkout the Filson Alcan Moto Collection of Moto Overlanding Apparel Essentials.

Filson x Meta: Extraordinarily Present

Thor Drake is the founder and owner of Portland, Oregon’s See See Motorcycles and the One Moto Trade Show. Widely-respected in the Pacific Northwest motorcycle community, Thor was an obvious choice when it came time to field-testing the 2021 Filson Alcan Moto Collection on the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route. In Filson and Meta film’s collaboration on Filson x Meta: Extraordinarily Present, Thor shares a perspective from the trip and makes a strong case for venturing beyond your comfort zone.

Watch the Filson short film Filson x Meta: Extraordinarily Present here:

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