By Steve Rapp
The Umatilla Rim Trail has been described by my colleague, Justin Bannerman, at Allegro Cyclery as the best mountain bike trail that he has ever ridden. That’s saying a lot, because Justin has been on many trails in his long riding career.
The Umatilla trail, within an hour’s drive from Walla Walla, offers superior technical challenges and fantastic panoramic views. If mountain biking is not your cup of tea, the trail is an excellent choice for hiking, also.
Mountain bikers will enjoy the tough rocky climbs, sometimes pitching up at 15 percent grades. The steep climbs and loose rock challenges the rider to maintain forward motion and keep the front wheel from lifting off the ground. The descents are tight and twisty, and sometimes quite steep. Good bike handling skills are a must.
There are sections where the trail simply flows through the woods. Slaloming around trees and in and out of the woods is a joy which Justin likens to skiing through the trees in the powder.
Those new to this trail should be aware of a few precautions. Admiring the scenery and riding at the same time is dangerous because of the difficulty of the trail. Cyclists should keep their eyes on the trail, and stop often to enjoy the vistas. They must also be aware of and courteous to other trail users, such as hikers, runners, motorcyclists and equestrians. Riders should check their speed wherever visibility is low, such as on blind corners and where vegetation is dense.
The best times to ride are early in the morning, before other users arrive. Starting before 8 AM or earlier will also provide the best chance to see wildlife.
Between mid June after the snow melts, and mid September before hunting season begins is the optimum season for this great adventure.
To get there, you drive up Highway 204 out of Weston towards Elgin. You can park at Andies Prairie about five miles past the Tollgate store, a good place to get snacks for the ride. At the north end of the parking lot, the trailhead is a short ways along the gravel road. Ten miles of fun and challenging single track, and returning the same way awaits. Single track is a narrow trail offering mountain bikers the challenge to negotiate a route with no room for sideways corrections.
If you prefer to ride it as a loop, after parking at Andies Prairie, ride about a half mile further on the highway towards Elgin. Go right on Summit Road, and proceed three to four miles to Nine-Mile Trailhead on the right.