Fat biking’s days of obscurity are over: Between 2013 and 2014, the number of companies making these knobby-tired machines doubled, turning it into the fastest-growing sector of the biking industry.
First developed about 10 years ago in Alaska and New Mexico, this niche of mountain biking gives riders the opportunity to explore otherwise inaccessible terrain, thanks to tires that are about twice as wide as a traditional mountain bike’s and inflated to about a third of the pressure. This means that, instead of sinking into snowy or sandy landscapes, bikes can now almost magically float on top of them.
Still, when it comes to fat biking in Washington, enthusiasts may face a few hurdles finding suitable places to ride. That’s because the best winter fat biking happens on groomed trails, but parks and Nordic centers are still working out how to make room for the new user group. Seattleites will have to drive over the Cascades to get to the state’s best options, but fat biking is fun enough to make the journey out for a day or weekend trip well worth it. Here, our tips on where to go and what to know for fat biking in Washington.
Methow Trails: This is the best place to go for a full weekend of riding. Known for its epic Nordic and skate skiing, Methow Trails opens some of its groomed tracks to fat bikes, too. Conditions permitting, Methow Trails allows fat biking on certain trails at three of their areas: Big Valley, Rendezvous, and Town Trailhead. Be sure to check the grooming and trail report for which trails are open to fat bikes before you go. A $10 Methow Trails fat bike day pass is required.
Loup Loup Ski Bowl: Also in the Methow Valley, Loup Loup Ski Bowl allows fat bikes (and dogs) on the 1.75-mile Flat Loop and on the multi-use trail to the south summit. A $22 Sno-Park permit is required.
Pearrygin Lake State Park: Right outside Winthrop, Pearryggin Lake State Park and the adjacent Methow Wildlife Area just opened a fat biking pilot program this winter. Volunteers groom a total of about 12 miles of trails of winding single-track trails perfectly suited for fat biking. A Sno-Park permit is required.
Fat bikes are available to rent near these locations at Methow Cycle and Sport in Winthrop, and North Cascades Cycle Werks or Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies in Mazama. Be sure to call ahead to make reservations before you go—these rentals can go quickly!
Crystal Springs Sno-Park and Lake Easton State Park: If you can’t make the trip to the Methow, Crystal Springs Sno-Park and Lake Easton State Park, located four miles from each other just over Snoqualmie Pass, has recently opened portions of their trails to fat bikes. At the Crystal Springs Sno-Park, fat bikes are only allowed on the groomed sled-dog trails, which include a several mile long loop (see the park map ). Fat biking is allowed on all of the 516-acre Lake Easton State Park’s groomed cross-country ski trails except for the Iron Horse Trail. A Sno-Park permit is required.
Cle Elum Valley: Salmon La Sac Sno-Park just northwest of the town of Roslyn allows fat bikes, and its 8-mile groomed non-motorized cross-country ski loop makes for a great day’s ride. Also nearby, you can bike the 11-mile Coal Mine trail, through the Teanaway Community Forest, and along the Iron Horse Trail. For Salmon La Sac, a Sno-Park permit is required.
Leavenworth Ski Hill: The small ski area just two miles from downtown Leavenworth opened its Nordic and snowshoe trails to fat bikers in the evenings for the first time last year. There is a total of 4.3 miles of trails, open to bikers from 6-10pm on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays. About three miles of the trails are lighted; the rest is still accessible, you’ll just need to bring your bike lights or headlamp. Check for possible closures or changes in the schedule before you go. Tickets are $10 to ride.
Near the Leavenworth Ski Hill, fat bikes are available to rent at Das Rad Haus in town and at Arlberg Sports in neighboring Wenatchee. In the Cle Elum area, stop by the Northwest Bicycle Improvement Company in Roslyn for recommendations, current conditions, and fat bike rentals.
** Tips for First-Timers**
What to wear: Warm layers you can adjust throughout the day (you’ll likely get toasty going uphill, and cool off when coming down) are advisable. A thermal base layer, water resistant jacket and pants, gloves, and hand-warmers are all recommended.
On the trails: Use caution if you’re biking in an area shared with snowmobilers, like on the sled trails at Salmon La Sac. Look for firm, set snow and pay attention to the temperature: When it rises above freezing, the snow will be much more difficult (if not impossible) to bike on. If riding on Nordic trails, stay off the classic tracks, give skate skiers their space, and stay on your bike as much as possible because footprints damage the trails. Follow these guidelines in the early days of the sport's entrance into the mainstream, and hopefully we’ll have even more places to fat bike in the years to come.