Riding Roads: Motorcycle Touring in Washington

SR 203 and Ben Howard Road

The length of a day in the Pacific Northwest varies by almost seven hours between the summer and winter solstice. At the peak of the Northwest’s summer, daylight lasts until near 10:00 in the evening, whereas in late fall and early spring it’s dark by 6:00. Luckily for those who live in the Seattle area, excellent rides can be found within a half hour from the city and are also accessible from the eastern suburbs—no matter what the season.

SR 203, just east of Seattle, is one of those roads. The approximately 30-mile route is easily accessed from the northern suburbs, via Highway 522 east to Highway 2 and the town of Monroe, with SR 203 just to the east. Those riding from Kirkland and Bellevue can take Interstate 90 east to Highway 18, which leads to SR 202. From the southern suburbs of Renton, Kent, or Auburn, a ride northeast on Highway 18 brings you to SR 202, with its old train on display at the corner (the Northwest Railroad Museum is several blocks south, in Snoqualmie). North SR 202 then becomes SE Snoqualmie-Fall City Road.

In Fall City, you enter your first “roundabout” and eventually exit onto SR 203, a well-paved two-lane country road that shadows the Snoqualmie River for its entire 30-mile length. From Fall City, settle in for a nice ride that features mostly sedate curves, with a few tire-scrubbers just north of town. The constant views of the Wenatchee National Forest and the Cascade Mountains to the west and northwest allow ample opportunity to just relax and enjoy the ride.

After Fall City, small towns along SR 203 such as Duval and Carnation (home of the milk and dairy producer) give day-trippers plenty of options for food and fuel, as well as (yep) a carton of fresh milk. Pete’s Club and Grill in Carnation is the popular motorcycling hangout in the area, and on a nice summer day the parking area in front will be “full-up” with bikes and the open-air backyard packed with riders enjoying a break. A sign on the building reads, “We Sell Kegs to Go.” The balancing act for that one would be worthy of the stage at Cirque du Soleil.

Scenic detours along the way include taking NE Stillwater Hill Road/NE Big Rock Road for a more challenging 7-mile loop that returns to SR 203 south of Duval. Another option is NE Carnation Farm Road, which takes you past (you guessed it) Carnation Farm, where you get “milk from contented cows.” And what cow would not be content in such a bucolic setting? The farm is near the intersection of NE Carnation Farm Road and Ames Lake Carnation Farm Road NE, and the latter of these two roads slings you past, er, Ames Lake. Eventually you’ll loop back to SR 202 and then either west toward Seattle or east to SR 203 at Fall City.

But the jewel in this area is Ben Howard Road at the southern end of Monroe. Ben Howard begins going east off of SR 203 and takes you through spectacular open farmland before following the scenic Skykomish River with its stellar river and mountain views, as well as some of the best twisties of the day. Ben Howard ends at Mann Road, and a left turn here will bring you to Highway 2 at the town of Sultan. At the intersection of Highway 2 and Mann Road, park and take a walk on the bridge over the Skykomish River—it’s a picture postcard. At Highway 2, going west will loop you back to Monroe and SR 203, and going east leads into the Cascade Mountains, which will take you to…forever.

The ride from beginning to end and a loop back to the starting point, as well as the other loops we’ve mentioned, makes for a nice, laid-back three- or four-hour trip. It’s an excellent choice for a beautiful day ride in the Pacific Northwest.