Author Topic: camping on the Northern Tier  (Read 1542 times)

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Offline sbwaxman

camping on the Northern Tier
« on: May 23, 2022, 09:56:59 am »
Hi all,

Back with another NT question! I have started booking my first couple of campgrounds and have already hit a snag. I knew weekends were going to be a problem, but there's nothing available for the weekend at any of the campgrounds I can find around Rockport/Diablo (Colonial Creek North and South) and no hotels or Warm Showers hosts I can locate. I assume this has been an increasing challenge as camping's popularity has spiked over the last couple of years. What are other folks doing in this area, and any suggestions? Is anyone staying in Colonial Creek that weekend and interested in sharing a site?

Thanks!
Sarah

Offline staehpj1

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2022, 11:03:36 am »
I haven't done the NT so I can't provide local knowledge.  I hope someone else will.

I have had the ranger make space for me in a flat spot at a full campground in a Washington State Park.  Hard to count on it though.  My fall back plan was pressing on for a VERY long day, going out of my way to hit a motel that was off route quite a way, or wild camping down the road a bit in that case.

Where there are small towns in the west I generally manage to find a spot where I can camp in town with no need for stealth.

I have had to plan either very long or short days in some places to have a spot to camp especially in the desert.  Usually where there is water something is possible.  Worst case I'll stealth camp, but I seldom have had to resort to stealth, while wild camping in plain sight I do often.

Offline sbwaxman

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2022, 11:17:59 am »
Thank you! I'm female and solo and would prefer not to stealth or wild camp--I've tried it before and spent the whole night feeling on edge. It looks like the WA state parks have a no-turn-away policy for hikers and bikers, but Colonial Creek is national. 

Offline CMajernik

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2022, 04:57:41 pm »
In our service directory it says the Colonial Campground has hiker/biker sites. You should call to confirm (206) 386-4495 or 854-7200, but I don't think you can reserve a hiker/biker site. We do try to note the campgrounds that have hiker/biker sites.
Carla Majernik
Routes and Mapping Program Director

Adventure Cycling Association
Inspiring people of all ages to travel by bicycle.
800/755-2453, 406/721-1776 x218, 406/721-8754 fax
www.adventurecycling.org

Follow Routes & Mapping on Twitter: @acaroutes

Offline sbwaxman

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2022, 05:00:29 pm »
Carla, thanks so much, and my apologies for missing that! I did call 854-7200, and I have also emailed. I'll try the other number as well. Really appreciate the note.

Sarah

Update: I took a look at the service directory and don't see that designation for Colonial Creek. I'm on the paper map 2017 version, and I do see that the GPX data for Section 1 has been updated (just downloaded it), so maybe it is there?

Update 2: Yep, found it online in the updates to Section 1. Good reminder to me to check there!
« Last Edit: May 24, 2022, 02:22:44 pm by sbwaxman »

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2022, 11:17:03 am »
Nothing at Howard Miller Steelhead in Rockport?  There is an inn in Marblemount.  There are other places if you stay on WA 20 east of Rockport.  Cascade Wagon Road Campground just off route from Marblemount appears to have a group site.  If it's not reserved maybe they will let you pitch there.

Offline sbwaxman

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2022, 11:55:32 am »
I'm staying at Steelhead the previous night, so it's just under 40 miles to Colonial Creek (and only about 10 to Cascade Wagon), but then 55+ to Mazama/Winthrop, where I could next find camping or Warm Showers. I know myself well enough to know I'm not making those miles in the mountains a few days in! I did check with Steelhead, and I can stay there an extra night if I need to, and I have a call in to Colonial Creek.

Thank you for the response! I'll let folks know here when I hear back from Colonial Creek, in case anyone is following/interested.

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #7 on: May 24, 2022, 01:33:54 pm »
I'm staying at Steelhead the previous night, so it's just under 40 miles to Colonial Creek (and only about 10 to Cascade Wagon), but then 55+ to Mazama/Winthrop, where I could next find camping or Warm Showers. I know myself well enough to know I'm not making those miles in the mountains a few days in! I did check with Steelhead, and I can stay there an extra night if I need to, and I have a call in to Colonial Creek.

Thank you for the response! I'll let folks know here when I hear back from Colonial Creek, in case anyone is following/interested.

Sounds like a plan.  Rockport to Winthrop would be difficult even after having miles under your belt.

My first tour ever was ACA's unsupported Northern Tier.  That was way back in '99.  Started from Seattle and rode north, camping at Kitsap, Fort Worden and Bay View the first three days.  From Bay View we rode to Steelhead in a heavy, cold rain for most of the day.  Steelhead seemed like heaven.  And it was virtually empty, so we got to stay in the shelters.  The next day we camped at Colonial Creek.  When we crossed the passes the next day it started to rain before Rainy Pass.  As we got higher the rain turned to snow, but is was not sticking to the road.  That was right at the end of May/1st day of June.  I remember the KOA in Winthrop was selling a couple of types of beer for $0.99/can.  A bad beer never tasted so good.  We all took a deserved rest day the next day.

I have been on a part of the Northern Tier more recently.  MT 56 between MT 200 and U.S. 2 and between a bit south of Rexford, MT and Glacier N.P.  The federal campground Rexford Bench is decent.  The one bar/restaurant in town sells showers and makes the best damn fried chicken.

Whitefish Lake State Park is one of the MT state parks that have terrific hiker/biker sites with cycling related amenities like power outlets, raised tent pads, a covered picnic table, water taps, a repair clamp, food storage lockers and shade.  And there is a no-turn-away policy.  It's a bit of a ride to get to services in town like the Safeway grocery store, but it's not that bad if you drop your gear at camp first.

Send me a PM if you would like the details on an alternative routing from the Troy, MT area that joins back up with the route a bit before Rexford.  It takes you up to a pretty remote area in the NW corner of the state (the town of Yaak and beyond), but it's all on paved roads, and Yaak has a bar/restaurant/small store and camping close by.  Leaving town there is a climb, but it's doable and very nice.  The descent is terrific, and you eventually get a great view of the bridge that takes you across Lake Koocanusa back to the regular route.  I rode up that way in 2017 and loved it so much I went back in 2019.  Took a rest day in 2019 and rode up a Forest Service road looking for critters.  Got rewarded with a black bear sighting.  (There are also grizzlies up there.) The same morning the campground host saw a mountain lion up a different Forest Service road.  When I finally left camp just at dawn I saw a young bull elk with a small rack.

Whatever you do, definitely build in time to make the walk from U.S. 2, east of the junction with MT 56, to Kootenai Falls.  There is also a suspension foot bridge across the river gorge.  Both are definitely worth the effort.

Offline sbwaxman

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2022, 01:43:13 pm »
Thank you so much for all the information! This is all great (esp the showers and fried chicken), and I may well be in touch about the alternate route.

Also, what an amazing first tour. (Mine was the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, much tamer!) I've done a lot of touring around the midwest, and I rode Williston, ND to Chicago back in 2012, but I've never ridden west of Williston; the West and the mountains are new to me.

Again, I really appreciate the information--so helpful. I'll drop folks a line when I hear from Colonial Creek to confirm/deny that there are hiker/biker sites.

Offline jamawani

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #9 on: May 24, 2022, 03:24:48 pm »
Sarah -

Not sure of your schedule - sounds ike eastbound in early June?

I've done the North Cascades a bunch of times. First time back in 1989.
(I suspect that I'm just a few years older than you are.)
Eastbound usually in late May or June; westbound in August or Sept.

Eastbound can be a challenge because it can still be pretty wet & cold.
With more than a little snow remaining up at Washington Pass some years.
I remember, one year, a WSDOT road worker giving me some coffee
up near Rainy Pass because I was pretty cold and wet.

Westbound in lat summer there are often fire closures.
And even if the road is open, smoke from regional fires can be pretty bad.

Either direction camping is a problem because of the distance
between Colonial Creek and Mazama.
But Lone Fir and Klipchuck campgrounds are closer.
https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/okawen/alerts-notices/?cid=stelprdb5308308
Some sites in Klipchuck were snow-free 5-18, most should be by now.
Lone Fir was snowed in, but shoulf be partially snow-free.
Water is still off - not sure when it will be on or when you will be there.

If you leave early from Colonial Creek,
you should be able to make one of the east slope campgrounds.
Heck, once you top Washington Pass, it's a screamer downhill.

One of the biggest challenges of an eastbound Northern Tier
is hitting the Cascades passes by day 3. No question about it.

PS - Yuo do realize there are TWO passes?
Eastbound - First Rainy Pass, then a short downhill,
then more uphill to the higher Washington Pass.

Offline sbwaxman

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #10 on: May 24, 2022, 03:56:04 pm »
Yep, eastbound starting in Seattle the first full week of June.

I do wish I had some time to get my road legs before hitting those passes (yes, I know it's two--that elevation profile is a scary thing!), but I guess that's how I'm going to get my road legs.

Thanks for the helpful link and general thoughts/advice!


Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #11 on: May 24, 2022, 06:57:07 pm »
The compression of the map profile makes the climb look worse than it is in terms of steepness (IIRC, the steepest part is right after you leave Colonial Creek), but it is long.  I recommend picking up an extra plastic bottle and filling it with water to be on the safe side.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2022, 08:17:54 am »
The compression of the map profile makes the climb look worse than it is in terms of steepness (IIRC, the steepest part is right after you leave Colonial Creek), but it is long.  I recommend picking up an extra plastic bottle and filling it with water to be on the safe side.

Two really good points here.

The first climb out of Colonial Creak may freak you out; take a deep breath and enjoy the next half a mile slightly downhill.  The grade isn't bad from there up to Rainy, maybe around 5%.  Another deep breath, drop 300', and climb Washington Pass.  Now that your 30 mile climb is done, drink all but a couple swallows of the extra water you brought, and enjoy the 15 mile downhill.  By the time you get to Mazama you can stop for food and water and decide whether you want to stop there for the night or push on into Winthrop.

Only original addition I'll make to this thread is to stop a couple times below Washington Pass to look back and take some pictures.  It's a fixture in Adventure Cycling publications for a good reason.  The temptation is always to stop on the uphill and fly downhill, but the pictures you can get below Liberty Bell avalanche zones are worth stopping.  You'll be back up to speed in 100 yards when you restart downhill, anyways.

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2022, 08:43:50 am »
The compression of the map profile makes the climb look worse than it is in terms of steepness (IIRC, the steepest part is right after you leave Colonial Creek), but it is long.  I recommend picking up an extra plastic bottle and filling it with water to be on the safe side.

Two really good points here.

The first climb out of Colonial Creak may freak you out; take a deep breath and enjoy the next half a mile slightly downhill.  The grade isn't bad from there up to Rainy, maybe around 5%.  Another deep breath, drop 300', and climb Washington Pass.  Now that your 30 mile climb is done, drink all but a couple swallows of the extra water you brought, and enjoy the 15 mile downhill.  By the time you get to Mazama you can stop for food and water and decide whether you want to stop there for the night or push on into Winthrop.

Only original addition I'll make to this thread is to stop a couple times below Washington Pass to look back and take some pictures.  It's a fixture in Adventure Cycling publications for a good reason.  The temptation is always to stop on the uphill and fly downhill, but the pictures you can get below Liberty Bell avalanche zones are worth stopping.  You'll be back up to speed in 100 yards when you restart downhill, anyways.

Yep.  Someone at the campground (might have been the host) told us about the really steep part just after you exit the campground and cross the bridge.  A few of us did laps around the campground to get the blood flowing before hitting the road.  I actually did the climb in '99 and '00. Both times i stopped in Mazama for a hot beverage before moving on to the KOA.  One thing I changed for '00 is that I brought a second pair of warm, full fingered gloves in case I encountered the same conditions as I did in '99, when my hands froze on the descent.  Didn't happen, and I mailed them home soon thereafter.  All this was new to me.  The farthest west I had even ridden a bike was Pittsburgh, PA, when I did a supported west to east tour across the state.

Stopping to look back is something I would bet people do not do enough of.  I have been treated to many great views by stopping and looking back.

Offline sbwaxman

Re: camping on the Northern Tier
« Reply #14 on: May 25, 2022, 09:17:18 am »
Thanks, both of you! This is all great, and I will make sure to stop. (Honestly, pretty sure I'll need to be stopping several times anyway ...) I do have a good pair of gloves and have read folks' advice to layer up for the downhills.