Well, the time is near for your epic WABDR Adventure. Soon you will meet all the great backcountry riding opportunities that the Pacific Northwest has to offer however do note that the WABDR or Washington Backcountry Discovery Route is not for the weak, and you will be challenged.
For sections like “Baby Head Hill” and “The Jungle,” you will need a handful of determination and an ounce of blind confidence. Give Youtube a search and you will see a slew of dual sport/ADV warriors getting defeated by these sections.
That is why I’ve put together this article to help pass down some knowledge from my experiences getting handled a few times on this route. So without further ado, let’s get straight to some quick facts, my top WABDR tips, and a few extras afterward for the beer and comfort seekers.
Quick Bullet Point WABDR Facts
- Length in miles: The WABDR is 575 miles long.
- Best time of year: June through the beginning of October.
- Length in time: 4-6 days.
- Permits or Passes Needed: Discover Pass
- On/Off Road: 30/70
- Difficulty: Intermediate
Tips on Conquering the WABDR
1. Pack for All Temperatures
For the most part, eastern Washington is hot and dry, so your fully protected well-vented jacket and pants should do fine as the gear of choice for the majority of the time. With that said, you will be in the mountains for long periods of time and when you hit 7,000 feet elevation on Lone Frank Pass during a stint of typical PNW weather, you will be happy you brought an extra layer even in the height of summer.
For my trip specifically, I went in August and the temperature ranged from mid 80’s to low 50’s at night. So your late ride or after-ride portions you will need a thermal layer.
This is a primarily off-road route, so during the day, you should be pretty hot. Especially during more technical sections as you will be riding pretty athletically.
As for insight into my selected gear setup, I wore my Klim Badlands Pro pants along with my Olympia Dakar jacket that I use for summer. With that said, from time to time, either when I was in the mountains or early in the morning, I found myself zipping up all my vents and toughing out a bit of cold from the large mesh vents on my chest.
At camp at night, it does get fresh, so I’d recommend a nice warm layer for having that after-ride beer by the campfire. If you are looking for some extra gear ideas I wrote a few articles on adv motorcycle jackets and summer gloves suggestions.
2. Don’t Forget Your Washington Discover Pass
I’ll be honest, was I ever asked to present my Discover Pass to the forest ranger? Nope, but that still doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Plus, purchasing a pass, it’s a nod to the caregivers of the land (DNR aka Department of National Resources) and to give respect where respect is due. That way, when good respectful people like yourself visit, it looks as beautiful as ever.
At the time of this article, it is $30 for an annual pass or $10 for a day pass. Obviously, the annual pass is the way to go and will give you access to dispersed camping spots day use areas and makes you feel better for contributing along the WABDR.
Now, if you never leave your bike and decide you just want to ride through it all without stopping at the lakes, parks, dispersed camp spots, etc., then you don’t need one.
However, if you take the chance and park your motorcycle while taking a cool dip in a lake and the US forestry service rolls up, you could be in for a $99 dollar fine.
3. When in Doubt, Throttle Out!
If you haven’t learned this little mantra yet, I’m glad I said it before you head out on this next adventure. There will be a few sections, like Baby Head Hill section 2 and the Behive washout section 3, where you will need to apply this principle.
Remember, momentum is the catalyst to success on all hill climbs. Don’t celebrate prematurely by de-throttling at the last hump.
4. No Real Need for Bug Spray or Fear of Dangerous Animals While on WABDR.
No major bug issues to note on the WABDR. High altitudes and cool temps get rid of most pesky bugs like mosquitos. However, it is still a good idea to always pack a small bottle of 30% deet just in case your hanging by a lake for an extended period of time. Also, there are ticks, but I’ve never encountered them in my 37 years of living, camping, and riding in the PNW.
It can be common to see a spider or snake. Most are not poisonous, and they can be easily avoided by ensuring you zip up your tent and check your gear before you put it on.
The most common insect type encountered in the backcountry would be Brown Recluses, Black Widows, and Rattlesnakes. However, if you are not lifting rocks, downed wood, or running through a field of tall grass, there is little to worry about.
As for bears and cougars, most run away as soon as they hear your engine wailing down the trail. However, when dispersed camping in the most remote areas, make sure to either seal your food completely or hang it by a rope away from your tent. Also, do not eat in your tent.
Coyotes are the most common four-legged creatures you will probably encounter or hear in the distance. Which is a really cool experience on a full moon when you’re in the middle of nowhere.
5. Know Your Gear Before You Go Out
In Section 5, I encountered a lost man who couldn’t operate his GPS correctly, and he desperately waved me down to help him figure it out. I felt he was a bit new to all of this. This leads me to this tip.
If you are a beginner or get new gear specifically for the trip, get out and ride with it to get to know it. Better to get lost or find out a piece of gear is inadequate in your own backyard than out in the remote backcountry.
6. Carry Enough Water While on WABDR
Once you get into the high desert grasslands, it can become very hot with low access to flowing water sources. I had days of sweat instantly evaporating from the air passing through my jacket. So much so that I didn’t pee for two days. Even when gulping down my 2-3 liter water bladder every day.
Dehydration can put you in a fatigued state and is especially dangerous when you are battling multiple technical sections in a row that specifically section 2 will throw at you. You’ll need all the water and strength to get to the finish line on this day. You can count on that.
I did 3 liters in my Nik Nak Hydropak, which was the perfect amount for each section along the WABDR.
7. Don’t Pass up the Swimming Holes
If you go during the summer months, you will be hot, and there is nothing better to reduce your body’s temperature than a nice cool swimming hole. My favorite occurred right after the first day while staying outside of Packwood, called the Blue Hole.
It’s inside the La La Wis campground, and you can’t miss it. Other good spots to take a dip would be Takhlakh Lake, Rimrock Lake, Lake Chelan, and Palmer Lake. Another excellent stop would be taking the small detour to Guler Ice Caves. This is also a great spot to take a break and cool down on the first day.
8. Section 2 Is the Most Difficult
The day starts with some easy pavement along Rimrock Lake but doesn’t let that fool you because once you hit the dirt, you’ll tackle the deepest ruts and the chunkiest loose rock of the whole trip. Combine that with a hot summer day, and you’ll enter the realm of type 2 fun.
With that said, the journey from the radio station on top of Baby Head Hill down to Ellensburg was probably my lowest point during the whole trip. The day was long, and just when you thought you had gone through the most technical section, there was another wave of them soon after.
Furthermore, the path leading to Baby Head Hill is a series of loose rock hill climbs and false summits that have you guessing when it will end, and then bam, it hits you with the most challenging climb and loose rock as the cherry on top. My best tip is to be mentally prepared for this day. Rest up the night before and give yourself extra time. It is the longest section at 122 miles and easily one you will remember for a long time. For better or worse. Probably worse lol.
9. Don’t Pass Up Red Horse Diner Along WABDR
Located in Ellensburg at the end of section 2, this piece of history is an old American-style diner/gas station chalked full of neon signs and other antique gas station paraphernalia lining the walls without a spot uncovered. They make one hell of a breakfast sandwich as well.
And if you happen to be there on a Tuesday night and crave inexpensive tacos, join their taco night next door at the Nodding Donkey.
10. For Intermediate+ Riders, Sections 3-4 & 5-6 Can Be Done in a Day
Now it’s not for the faint heart, nor is it something I recommend since you will miss a lot of time enjoying your surroundings. But if you are short on time or are training for the Dakar, sections 3-4 & 5-6 can be combined into one day.
The sections I would least recommend rushing through would be 5-6. As you get close to Canada, the terrain changes to reveal massive mountains and pristine, tranquil lakes you want to bask in rather than rushing to beat nightfall.
So if you want to save time, I would say 3 & 4 are the ones to combine. Besides a few fire lookouts and mines (which you can still see but may have to pick one over the other), you’ll get to see most highlights from the bike and not feel like you need more time.
11. Leavenworth Is Worth a Stop
I would 100% detour a bit to spend a night in Leavenworth. I mean, it’s a Bavarian village surrounded by scenic mountains in the middle of Washington for christ’s sake.
Having a massive stein filled with weissbier while mowing down a huge pretzel is the rite of passage here. Don’t miss the opportunity.
12. If You Are on a Low Budget, You Can Camp for Free on WABDR
There is a large amount of dispersed camping along the route. If you are a self-sufficient rider and enjoy being away from people, you should have no problem on this route. An excellent place to start is checking out the app iOverlander. However, it’s not great everywhere, and I found its information pretty slim while on the WABDR.
Again, you will easily find many options along the route; the closer you are to the start and end of each section, the fewer you will find, and you will have to opt for something a bit more official. So if you plan to camp for free, you may have to create a trip that stops in the middle of each section instead of following the section recommendations on the BDR website. Remember, you will need a Discover Pass if you choose to camp on DNR managed land. However, BLM (or Bureau of Land Management) land is free.
One last thing, always remembers when dispersed camping to pack out what you pack in. There will be plenty of opportunities to get rid of trash daily when passing through towns.
13. Best Offline Maps for WABDR or Well, Any BDR
After you’ve downloaded the GPX files, if you don’t have a GPS unit, you are likely using your phone. So a good offline map app is what I would highly suggest. Maps.Me is one of my favorite no-frills free offline map apps when I’m out riding in the backcountry. I would also suggest downloading Google offline maps as well as a backup.
Gaia GPS and Rever are other offline map apps but subscription-based $$. However, I’ve used both and think the value is there if you decide to go that route. Rever is especially great if you want to track your rides.
14. Check to See if You Need to Carry Gas
I rode a 2000 KLR 650 on this trip with a 3.7 Gallon tank and did not use the extra gas I brought. Although I could sit here and say it’s better to be safe than sorry, I have to argue that carrying too much weight is also unsafe and not very fun off the pavement. So use your best judgment when it comes to calculating your range.
On WABDR, the longest section between gas stations is roughly 120 miles. Most modern-day ADV bikes get around 200-300 per trip, but if you wield a dual sport, I would get out the pencil and start calculating.
Giant Loops Gas Bags and RotopaX Gasoline Pack are the go-to high-quality options for carrying extra fuel. If you want to stay light, you could always opt for a small canister like the 1.5-liter Lixada Fuel bottle. However, there is no vent on the fuel bottle, so make sure you open it up every ride to release pressure.
15. Be Prepared for These Difficult Highlights on the WABDR
- Section 2- Baby Head Hill with its loose chunk rock. Hard to select a line when every direction is fist-sized rocks. Momentum is key here on this hill climb.
- Section 3 out of Wenatchee is a small section of deep silt that will make you sweat and have you covered in silt.
- Section 3 “The Jungle.” This I didn’t find too difficult; however, what troubles most people is that it is only two small tracks for the whole length of the section, and within those, you get some good-sized chunks and soft stuff to deal with—oh yeah, all while going downhill, lol. Not crazy difficult, but likely to keep you on your toes.
Places to Eat, Drink, & Sleep Along WABDR
Here are some of my favorite stops for food, drink, and accommodations while on the WABDR.
Best Stops for Beer and Food
- Gorges Beer Co. – Excellent beer at this three-story brewery.
- Bridgeside – I’ve been visiting this place with my family for over 30 years. Highly recommend it if you are looking for a solid piece of pie and a view of the bridge of the gods. And, of course, they serve beer.
- Packwood brewery– If you like a nice craft beer.
- Blue Spruce Saloon– If you like a more local feel. A burger and Rainier beer is your ticket to post-ride R&R.
- Tav Bar and Grill – Dark Divey with a nice wooden bar. Doesn’t get more American than this.
- Red Horse Diner & Nodding Donkey – An old antique gas station with a restaurant attached. If you arrive on a Tuesday, make sure to go for Taco night.
- Iron Horse Brewery – Warehouse with a small tap room (Free popcorn).
- Mommy D’s Diner (Cashmere): If you are looking for a classic American breakfast, look no further.
- The Outpost Saloon (Cashmere): A tremendous pub-style restaurant that makes you feel like you went back in time.
- Rhein Haus (Leavenworth): Nothing like overlooking the Platz while mowing down a massive pretzel with a Stien in hand.
- Icicle Brewing Company (Leavenworth): Top-notch beer and a great locally sourced menu.
- Stormy Mountain Brewing and Local Public House – This one is for meat lovers as they smoke their own meats. Wash it down with some of their high-quality beers, and you are set.
- Layla’s Bar + Kitchen – Asian-American infused menu with all-day $4 dollar Rainiers!
Best Unique Accommodations Along WABDR
Best Western Plus Colombia River Inn—Cascade Locks
Yeah, I know. What’s unique about that? Well, it’s the location. There are hands down no better views of the Bridge of the Gods than in a river-facing balcony room at this hotel. Also, the best part about this hotel is that it’s adjacent to Bridgeside dinner.
A little historic gem along this route that is family owned and operated. Also, walkable distance to the restaurants and bars in case you’re planning to get a little saucy.
After Section 2, you’re going to need a room like this. Not only is it uber comfortable it’s the only hotel located downtown. Other hotels are near the interstate and not very exciting. Another added plus is that they have their own gated secure parking area.
Honestly one of my favorite small business hotel chains around the PNW. More of an outdoor adventure aesthetic with plenty of rental equipment options for the outdoor lover. It is also centrally located with a fantastic lounge, beer garden & cafe.
Lakeside Lodge and Suites—Lake Chelan
If you want to be in the center of the action, then there is no better place than the Lakeside. Great pool, quiet rooms, and complimentary breakfast that will exceed your expectations.
Similkameen Wild Resort & Winery Retreat—Canada
Suppose you want to end this thing with a bang, skip circling, sleep in a dive hotel in Omak and just cross the Canadian Border! Stay in an awesome Teepee and drink your heart’s desire with a wide variety of wines.
Thanks for reading. I hope I was able to help you prepare for the WABDR. Have a great adventure!
I’m a motorcycle adventure travel addict who has been rippin’ two-wheels across remote lands and working in the motorcycle touring industry since 2018! I’ve since developed MotoMoves to offer tips and tricks on adventure motorcycling as well as take you along for a few rides here and there. Enjoy!