Sierra Cascades

Sierra Cascades
Sumas, WA to Tecate, CA
5 Map Set (2398.1 mi.)
GPS | Overview | Buy
1. Sumas, WA to Mt. Rainier NP, WA (442.1 mi.) Detail |Addenda
2. Mt. Rainier NP, WA to Crater Lake NP, OR (452.7 mi.) Detail |Addenda
3. Crater Lake NP, OR to Truckee, CA (459.3 mi.) Detail |Addenda
4. Truckee, CA to Lake Isabella, CA (557.8 mi.) Detail |Addenda
5. Lake Isabella, CA to Tecate, CA (486.2 mi.) Detail |Addenda

Take an adventure along the stunning Pacific Crest.

The Sierra Cascades Bicycle Route runs roughly parallel to the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail along the Cascade Range and Sierra Nevada from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. This route is characterized by volcanoes, long stretches of forested countryside, busy towns, deserts, orchards and everything in between.

Section 1 begins at the Canadian/U.S. border in Sumas, Washington. Along the entire route you'll cross 20 passes and 25 Pacific Crest Trail crossings, though some of these are unmarked. Within the first 100 miles you'll begin climbing over the Cascades to the drier side of the mountains. Due to heavy snow, State Highway 20 through the North Cascades National Park is usually only open between late April and late November. From Sedro-Woolley to Yakima this route shares the same routing with our Northern Tier and Washington Parks routes. On the east side you'll be traveling through orchard country, where the roads will get busier during harvest times. West of Yakima the route heads to Mt. Rainier National Park. A spur is shown to the Paradise Visitor Center within the Park. Expect heavy traffic in and near the Park from June through August. An optional 28.5-mile spur into Bellingham is also included for train, plane and bus services.

After the Mt. Rainier National Park turn-off, the route runs south through many miles of national forest land on lightly-trafficked roads to the wind surfing area of the Columbia Gorge. The busy roads along the Columbia River will have tourist and recreational traffic. There are 11 miles of riding on the shoulders of I-84 due to the fact that there are no other roads to use along the river. At Hood River, Oregon the route turns south, circling around the eastern and southern flanks of Mt. Hood. From there you'll ride through another long stretch of national forest land until reaching the suburbs of Bend, on the dry side of the Cascades. Stock up here because there's one more long stretch of national forest land with its recreation opportunities, so expect more traffic on weekends. Crater Lake National Park is the endpoint of section 2, and again, expect heavier traffic on the road through the Park. The 53.2-mile Windigo Pass Alternate follows paved and gravel roads southwest of Bend. It has better scenery and less traffic. This section intersects the Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail in Hood River and the TransAmerica Trail in Sisters, Oregon.

On section 3, after leaving the spectacular scenery of Crater Lake, the route continues south to Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Then it's across the border into California toward towering Mt. Shasta in the distance. You'll have to ride on the shoulders of I-5 for 8.4 miles, again due to the fact that there are no other roads to use. You'll bike through the remains of volcanic history in Lassen Volcanic National Park and end near the California/Nevada state line in Truckee. Reno, Nevada is located about 30 miles northeast and is a good connection point if you want to start the route at midpoint. Search the internet for available shuttle services.

Leaving Truckee you'll circle the western half of Lake Tahoe, then climb into the Sierra Nevada. Several of the passes on this section are closed during the winter, and might not open until late spring/early summer if it's been a heavy snow year. You can check road opening dates on the California Department of Transportation's website listed on the map. There's a 65-mile stretch of riding U.S. 395, a major thoroughfare on the eastern side of the range. At Lee Vining, you'll leave U.S. 395 and head west over Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park. Expect heavy traffic in the parks during the summer tourist season. There are technically three national parks on this section, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia, but the last two are administered together. When traveling through you may want to build in some extra days to explore activities off the bike like climbing in Yosemite or hiking the Trail of a Hundred Giants in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. Lake Isabella, the endpoint for section 4, is located northeast of Bakersfield. This section intersects the Western Express Bicycle Route in Woodfords, California.

Lakes, mountains, valleys, and deserts, section 5 has them all! Highlights include the Mohave Desert, the San Gabriel Mountains, the San Gorgonio Mountains, the Anza-Borego Desert and the rustic small town of Idyllwild against the background of the San Jacinto Mountains. There are also plenty of scenic byways on the route beginning with the Angeles Crest, then the Rim of the World and finally the Sunrise Scenic Byway. Remember that the megalopolis of Los Angeles and its surrounding cities isn't too far to the west so expect higher levels of traffic near them, especially on weekends. The route ends at Tecate at the Mexican border. This section intersects with the Southern Tier Bicycle Route in Pine Valley, California.

Photo by Gregg Bleakney

The Sierra Cascades route lets you warm up slightly before the first major climb to Rainy Pass at 4,855 feet. Once you cross to the eastern side of the Cascades the route will be rolling and following river valleys until Blewett Pass. West of Yakima, Washington, is where the climbing begins to approach Mt. Rainier National Park. The route begins climbing and descending passes until the Columbia River Gorge where it's mostly level riding, then there will be more climbs and descents south of Mt. Hood all the way to Crater Lake National Park. On section 3 and at the beginning of section 4 the route stays on the eastern side of the Cascade Range but still expect rolling terrain. You'll climb into the Sierra Nevada south of Lake Tahoe (more passes), then stay at slightly higher elevations along U.S. 395. Tioga Pass, at 9,945 feet, is the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park, and is the highest pass along the route. As you continue southward, the route continues to go up and down and becomes more rolling as you reach the border.

Services are generally good along the Sierra Cascades Route, though there will be a few gaps without bike shops. You'll need to do some careful planning on section 2 due to three long stretches with very minimal services. These stretches are marked on the map. Since most of this route traverses recreation areas, whether they are national or state parks, national monuments, or U.S. Forest Service lands, you will need to plan ahead for your overnights. It's difficult to find camping without reservations in Yosemite, King's Canyon and Sequoia parks. The areas around Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake are also magnets for summer recreationists. Check opening/closing dates of roads over the passes if you plan on beginning your trip early or later in spring or fall.

This route is best ridden in late spring to mid-fall, though the southern sections might be best avoided in the middle of summer. Due to heavy snow falls, State Route 20/North Cascades Highway in North Cascades National Park is usually closed mid-November to mid-April though the park remains open with limited access.  For an opening date call the Park at (360) 856-5700. Rim Dr. in Crater Lake National Park is generally closed in early October til mid-June. Similarly, Angeles Forest Hwy./FR N3 and Angeles Crest Hwy./State Route 2 are also typically closed. You can call the Los Angeles River Ranger District at (818) 899-1900, ext. 221, for the status of FR N3 and see the California DOT website for the status of State Route 2.

Some campgrounds will charge a cyclist traveling by himself less if they have hiker/biker sites, but often they will charge the price of a regular tent or RV site, and that can easily be $10-$40/night (higher in tourist areas). The maps list churches that have opened their doors to cyclists, but they aren't all that closely spaced. If you're friendly and ask around, you can often get yourself invited to camp in a yard. Our routes sometimes go through national forests and you are allowed to camp anywhere on national forest land as long as you "pack it in, pack it out." Many city parks are free to camp in.

You may also wish to sign up with Warmshowers, a reciprocal hospitality site for bicycle travelers, for other overnight options.

  • North Cascades National Park, Section 1
  • Mt. Rainier National Park, Sections 1 and 2
  • Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Section 2
  • Breitenbush Hot Springs, Section 2
  • Crater Lake National Park, Sections 2 and 3
  • Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Section 3
  • Hat Creek Radio Observatory, Section 3
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park, Section 3
  • Lake Tahoe, Section 4
  • Travertine Hot Springs, Section 4
  • Yosemite National Park, Section 4
  • Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, Section 4
  • Giant Sequoia National Monument, Section 4
  • Mojave Desert, Section 5
  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Section 5

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