Fat Biking is perhaps the fastest growing winter sport in North America. The Methow Valley, with a growing network of groomed fat bike trails, has quickly become a regional destination for folks who want to expand their recreation options to include winter fun on two wheels.
When it comes to fat biking, the Methow has it all: ideal two-wheel terrain, state-of-the-art trail maintenance and grooming expertise, sunny winter weather, reliable snow and a robust infrastructure for visitors.
While fat biking quickly took hold in Alaska and the Midwest, the Methow Valley was one of the first areas in the western United States to recognize the potential of the fledgling sport. A partnership between Methow Trails (the non-profit trail organization that traces its roots back to the Methow Valley Family Sports Club in 1977) and Winthrop-based bike shop Methow Cycle & Sport evolved organically, with a shared vision to develop that potential.
Originally the two partnered to create an area near the Winthrop Town Trailhead, where a selection of cross country ski trails could be shared with fat bike users. While successful, it quickly became clear that dedicated single-track fat bike trails were needed. It was also clear that winter single-track trails ought to be co-located with ski and other multi-use trails, both to allow mixed groups of skiers and cyclists to recreate in the same general area and also for the uninitiated to see how much fun the fat bikers were having!
Currently there are several areas with trails open to fat biking in the Methow Valley: Pearrygin Lake Sno-Park/Lloyd Ranch, Winthrop Town Trailhead, Gunn Ranch and Mazama.
Pearrygin Lake State Park, which operates as a Sno-Park during winter, is located three miles northeast of Winthrop, and has over fifteen miles of multi-use groomed single-track trails. Access is via three trailheads, including the recent addition of Lake Creek, which follows the west side of the lake.
While the system is categorized as “multi-use,” trails are prepared and signed for each user category, including pedestrians. A Washington State Sno-Park Permit is required for parking at Pearrygin.
Lloyd Ranch is located adjacent to Pearrygin on the north side of Bear Creek Road on Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife land. While not typically accessed for recreational use in the summer, it is a winter paradise. With more varied and challenging terrain then Pearrygin, it rewards those that climb to the upper portions with arguably the best views of the North Cascades and Pasayten Wilderness. Lloyd Ranch has approximately ten miles of groomed trails, including a separate designated pedestrian pathway. A Washington State Discover Pass is required to park at the Lloyd Ranch trailhead.
Both the Pearrygin Lake and Lloyd Ranch trails include a wide variety of terrain and trail designs to appeal to any fat biker, from beginner to advanced and are developed and maintained by Methow Fatbike, using specially-made grooming equipment. The trails are twenty-four inches wide and require a careful and consistent grooming procedure to ensure that the surface is firm and cambered correctly. The result is that they resemble summer single-track trails.
The following fat bike options are managed by Methow Trails and offer up an assortment of terrain and difficulty. To ride these, a fat bike day pass is required (this will set you back $10) and can be purchased at any of the organization’s vendors located throughout the Methow Valley.
Winthrop Town Trailhead is a hub and is accessed through the Winthrop Fish Hatchery or the Town Trailhead adjacent to the Winthrop Ice Rink. Co-located with cross-country ski trails, the multi-use trails offer a great opportunity for groups and families to participate in different activities all within the same general vicinity and trailhead. Combined, there are seven miles of fat bike/snowshoe trails accessible from Winthrop for a variety of skill and fitness levels.
Big Valley, located off Highway 20 between Winthrop and Mazama, offers free access to approximately five miles of multi-use trails. Almost entirely flat with wide trail grooming, Big Valley is a great area for beginners and/or groups. In addition, dogs are welcome at Big Valley.
Gunn Ranch, also located between Winthrop and Mazama, offers multi-use access into the Rendezvous area. The trailhead is located at the end of the plowed portion of Gunn Ranch Road. With a lower lollipop loop and an out-and-back option up to Rendezvous Basin (and ultimately to Grizzly Hut), fat bikers can enjoy the same five-plus miles of trails as skiers. The lower portions provide stunning views of the valley floor and Sun Mountain. On a sunny day, the southern exposure combined with the stellar views make for an unforgettable experience.
Fat bikers can also access a small selection of trails in the Mazama area. Combined, John’s Way and Lunachick offer approximately four miles of easy riding. Featuring sweet views and flat terrain, these trails provide a perfect setting to try fat biking for the first time.
Joseph Brown is a longtime resident of the Methow Valley and lover of the outdoors. When not out adventuring, he serves on the boards of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and Methow Valley Nordic Ski Educational Foundation (MVNSEF). He is co-owner of Methow Cycle & Sport and co-founder of Methow Fatbike.