Ride #3: Cottonwood - Government Mountain Loop

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Starting Point: Intersection of Hood Road with Cottonwood Creek Road. From Cordiner Hall on the Whitman College campus drive east on Park Street to Howard Street. Continue east on Howard Street to a 4-way stop where Howard Street becomes Cottonwood Road (not Cottonwood Creek Road). Continue east on Cottonwood Road to another 4-way stop. Stay on Cottonwood Road by angling slightly left at the 4-way stop. After 1.6 miles turn right (south) onto Hood Road. After 1.1 miles, Hood Road turns 90 right (west) and graveled Cottonwood Creek Road begins on the left. The start of Cottonwood Creek Road is a total of 6 miles from Cordiner Hall.

Ride Description: Start off riding east on a good graveled road which eventually turns to dirt at a cable gate (open except in winter) after 2.4 miles. At this point the grade steepens and the road goes through a series of 90 turns before reaching the ridge crest. The entrenched dirt road climbs steeply initially and then flattens out before descending to a saddle. The road steepens and becomes rockier above the saddle for a mile or so before the grade relaxes and the surface improves. Cottonwood Creek Road intersects Government Mountain Road 8.2 miles into the ride after a climb of 2140 ft. From this point it's mostly downhill. Turn right (west) on Government Mountain Road (rocky dirt). After 0.6 mile Birch Creek Road intersects on the right (see options). A mile and a half further on, another dirt road branches to the right. Past this second road, the Government Mountain Road begins to descend into a valley known as Pumpkin Hollow. Near the base of this steep descent, the road turns to gravel and then maintains a gentle downhill grade for 2 miles to the intersection with Powerline Road. Turn right (north) on graveled Powerline Road and ride 3.9 miles to the intersection with the paved lower portion of Birch Creek Road. Turn right (east) onto Birch Creek Road and ride 1.2 miles to the intersection with paved Hood Road. Turn left (north) onto Hood Road and ride 2.1 miles back to your vehicle.

Remarks: This is the best mountain bike loop ride within 15 minutes driving time of Walla Walla. Unlike most of the routes in this guide, it is also reasonable (for those of you who don't detest pavement as much as the author) to start the ride directly from town. Cottonwood Creek Road is both smoother and gentler than any of the other Walla Walla foothill grades... which is not to say, however, that the ascent is either smooth or gentle. This loop is often free of snow much of the winter and it therefore provides a close place to stay in shape when most of the other rides in this guide are buried. Avoid this route after prolonged rains as the surface gets very sticky. High temperatures and dust from vehicles on Powerline Road often make the loop unpleasant in mid-summer.

Vital statistics: Length: 21.3 miles

Total climbing: 2485 ft.

Time: 3-5 hours

Season: all year, weather permitting - best in April and November

Techno factor = 3; rocky sections on ascent.

Grunt factor = 6; long climb with short steep sections.

Adventure factor = 1; you can drive it.

Some Options:

1) Ride from town. This adds 12 miles of pavement (yuck). T=3, G=6, A=1.

2) Descend Birch Creek Road instead of the Government Mountain Road. This shortens the route to 16.5 miles. This route is not as enjoyable due to long sections of bone-jarring rocks encountered on the upper sections of Birch Creek Road. T=5, G=5, A=1.

3) Ride the loop in the opposite direction. This will give you more time to warm up before the climb. T=3, G=6, A=1.