Middle Fork Road project could be boon to bike camping outside North Bend

IMG_1572Last summer, my partner Kelli and I loaded our bikes and camping stuff onto a bus to Fall City. Our goal was to have a nice 25-mile ride down the Snoqualmie Valley Trail through North Bend and up Middle Fork Road to the Middle Fork Campground.

It was a mostly great ride, but it is about to become amazing. The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust announced that the Federal Highway Administration (with some Washington State funds) will pave ten miles of the road over two years. The project will cost $20 million, with $1.35 million coming from WSDOT.

When finished, Middle Fork Valley could easily become a very popular bike camping destination, in addition to other recreational activities. To get the valley ready for the added attention once the road is completed (as early as 2015), the MTS Greenway Trust is crowd-funding $25,000 for various recreation and restoration projects. People who want to help out should contribute online by May 1.

Bus-Bike Camping to Middle Fork Campground

For people starting in Seattle, here’s how our trip went.

Kelli and I caught the Sound Transit 554 express bus from Seattle to Issaquah. From there we transferred to King County Metro’s 208 (no Sunday service) to North Bend via Fall City. You can stay on the bus until North Bend (giving you about 15 miles to ride to Middle Fork Campground), but we hopped off in Fall City so we could catch the Snoqualmie Valley Trail into North Bend. UPDATE: Zach informs us in comments below that the 208 no longer serves Fall City. However, it does go to Snoqualmie Falls, which would be a good place to start your ride.

If you have never ridden this section of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, I simply cannot recommend it enough. There’s a steep climb to get to the trail from Fall City, but it’s worth it. It could be the most wonderful section of trail I have ever been on. The hard-pack gravel surface was smooth and easy, the grade was slightly downhill, the views were astonishing. Really, just a magical place to be and a wonderful place to start the ride:

IMG_1548The ride was wonderful and easy all the way into North Bend. From there, we grabbed lunch before heading to Middle Fork Road for a 15-mile subtle climb to the campsite. Things started off wonderfully. The Middle Fork Valley is beautiful, in large part due to work in recent decades to clean the area up after years of people using it as a dumping grounds.

But then the road conditions changed. After a few miles of degraded but perfectly bikeable street, the road turned into a rocky mess. The final ten miles were unexpectedly grueling. An old logging road in awful repair, the road was covered in large loose rocks (the size of golf balls and baseballs) sitting on a base of fine white dust that got kicked up into a choking cloud whenever a car passed us. The rocks made the biking somewhat difficult on our road bikes, but it was doable. The dust, however, was miserable.

IMG_1570Every time a car passed, I’d close my mouth, squint my eyes, and try not to breathe too hard. It got everywhere, covering our clothes and bikes, and getting in my mouth. It also covered all the roadside plants, giving the beautiful forest an eery dead feeling.

Once we got the campground, the hiking and exploring was wonderful. We made it out to a then-mostly-dry waterfall called Otter Falls with an amazing swimming hole and view of the surrounding mountains:

IMG_1578Due to its proximity to North Bend, I could easily see the Middle Fork Valley becoming a great bike camping destination and a great trip for people new to bike camping or who simply want to have a relatively easy adventure. But the road is currently bad enough that I would not recommend it (I had initially planned to write this post as part of a series about bus-bike camping trips from Seattle, but dropped the idea because the road was so unpleasant).

That’s why I got so excited to read the MTS Greenway Trust news. In my head, I’m already planning my first trip back as soon as the road is finished.

Below is more information on the project:

MiddleForkSnoqualmie2013-14 by tfooq

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13 Responses to Middle Fork Road project could be boon to bike camping outside North Bend

  1. Glen says:

    Great post Tom! I can’t wait to try it out with the kids.

    I think we need to crowdsource some funding to get you a cell phone that can take better pictures though :)

  2. Zach Shaner says:

    This looks like a great trip I hope to make myself. However, the 208 no longer runs to Fall City. The 209 does, but only 3 times per day during rush hour. Access to the trail is now via the 208′s new route via Snoqualmie Ridge.

  3. Chris Burke says:

    The Middle Fork Road is as crappy to drive as it is to bike. I guess I would consider going on a bike ride here, but I drive there more often and I’m really happy part of it is about to get paved. There are a lot of hiking trails, and a few mountain bike trails, that start on the Middle Fork Road.

  4. asdf2 says:

    I have mixed feelings about the project. On the one hand, pavement will make the road better or biking. On the other hand, it will probably bring a lot more cars and encourage drivers to take the road at higher speeds.

    That said, bike+bus camping is a wonderful idea. But, if it you want it to remain practical, we need the vote in April to pass. If it doesn’t, the 208 is planned on getting cut back to once every 2 hours.

  5. Gary says:

    Bus, smush… what are all you riders taking the bus from Seattle to Issaquah/Fall city for??

    There is a perfectly good bike ride from Seattle out across the I-90 trail to Factoria, a bike lane to Eastgate, a bike trail then short road ride to Issaquah, followed by a trail (with a short section of road near Preston.)

    Riding from Seattle would add maybe 2 hours to your ride, which is nothing when you are bike touring.

    Just pop up google maps and turn on “bicycling” and look at all the connector trails.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I know I can bike to Issaquah, but if I’m trying to get all the way to Middle Fork Campground in one day (loaded up with camping gear), biking the whole way is about outside my comfortable range. 50 miles is a lot, especially if I’m just looking for a leisurely ride through the woods and I want to have enough energy and daylight when I get there to go hiking.

      Plus, the ride from Issaquah to North Bend is not super easy, especially if you don’t want to bike on I-90 (which I don’t).

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      However, you could do an awesome multi-day trip where you bike to Carnation/Tolt-MacDonald Park one day, then bike to Middle Fork the next day. There are lots of options.

      The value of using the bus is that it lets you get deep into the mountains in just one relatively easy day.

      • Gary says:

        Looks like about 38 miles to the beginning of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualamie river. So yes 50 miles would take you most of the day. But it’s quite possible.

    • Doug says:

      After doing the Seattle-Issaquah ride dozens of times, I’m totally okay with skipping it. It’s long and pretty boring and has a lot of traffic. I’d rather ride the 40 or 50 miles (round trip) out in the country where the riding is good!

  6. Wes says:

    Oh Noooo! Paving the ‘ol Middle Fork Road, what a dang shame, another piece of (once) remote semi-wilderness made even more accessible. And yes, it’s OK to leave some things a bit of a challenge to keep its character and remoteness like this remarkable valley. Thought it was crowded and overfished now, just wait – everyone who was afraid to get their car or show bike dirty, or didn’t like the gravel road will add to the masses. I can hardly wait for the first wanna-be sports car racer shoving me off the newly paved road as he/she roars up the valley…. Fun while it lasted.

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