We all know there are pockets of off-road riding in the United States that are hidden gems—ones we most likely haven’t even heard of.
One of those hidden gems that probably isn’t on too many OHV enthusiasts’ radar is Northeast Washington, more specifically the trails that are found in Colville National Forest. Northeast Washington state is ideally located for all OHV enthusiasts, including dirt bikers, ATV riders and side-by-side drivers.
With a major regional center (with an international airport)—Spokane—located an hour south, the unique mountains of the Selkirk Range have a wide range of off-road opportunities with all the amenities of home.
There are several OHV areas currently limited to under 50-inch vehicles (Little Pend Oreille and Middle Fork Calispell OHV Areas) along with eight jeep/OHV trails best suited for vehicles under 72 inches in width (Leslie Creek, Calispell Ridge, Thompson Ridge, U.S. Mountain, Huckleberry, Twin Sisters, Mac/King and Owl Mountain). Additionally, there are several hundred miles of dirt bike trails (Little Pend Oreille and Batey Bould dirt bike trails).
This three-county area (Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille)—the counties of which are next to each other like books lined up on a bookshelf—provides visitors with lots of options for camping and all services in many small towns and cities, along with several tribal casinos. All of this is generally located in the Colville National Forest and Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, making for a great family vacation.
In addition to trails, the Colville National Forest has more than 800 miles of roads open to OHVs and all three counties have at least some roads open to street-legal OHVs, allowing you to connect your trail rides with local services.
Local Clubs Maintain Trails
If you’re planning an off-road trail ride on these jeep/OHV trails you’ll find that they’re based on old fire roads that aren’t maintained except by local OHV clubs on an annual basis. It’s recommended that your rig has a winch, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, trail clearing equipment, food and water, and a GPS.
The free Avenza mapping app is highly recommended as you can download Colville National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Maps/MVUMs and your phone becomes a GPS receiver without requiring cell service. All these trails are within 10-20 miles of nearby towns but frequently don’t have cell phone coverage due to the mountainous terrain.
Check with local chambers of commerce or use the Stevens County GIS website to find a tri-county OHV recreation map at http://stevenscounty.maps.arcgis.com. This map is excellent as it shows public and private roads connecting with national forest roads, allowing you to plan longer loop routes with ease.
More information is also available at http://newashingtontrails.com, including trail information for all OHVs, hiking, biking and horseback riding. This website is frequently updated to provide the latest trail information and accurate trail maps.
You can also contact local clubs and join their group rides: Tri-County Motorized Recreation Association at http://tcmra.com, Selkirk Trailblazers at http://selkirktrailblazers.org and North Central ATV Club (Okanogan County trails) at http://ncatvclub.org. All three clubs welcome visiting riders on their club rides and TCMRA and NCATV can provide you with trail maps.
For on-road travel, you’ll need a street-legal vehicle. Washington does not require a non-resident OHV permit if your state offers reciprocity. However, if your state doesn’t offer reciprocity, you can purchase a temporary permit for $15.75. Visit https://www.dol.wa.gov/vehicleregistration/watv.html for more information on Washington State street-legal requirements.
Selkirk Range, Smaller Mountain Ranges
The Selkirk Range is divided into several smaller mountain ranges, with most peaks less than 7,000 feet in elevation in Northeast Washington. Despite those elevations, the snowpack can be deep so prime OHV riding is best from May through October. Local roads provide for year-round riding for street-legal vehicles and tracked OHVs are welcome on selected roads in the Colville National Forest. You should check the MVUM for current seasonal use regulations (the 2020 MVUM is currently being reviewed and will be printed later this year).
Be prepared for varying weather conditions as it can be snowing in July on top of ridgelines and peaks, while it’s hot and sunny at the trailheads in the valleys. Northeast Washington offers cool forest roads, mountaintop trails above the treeline, challenging off-road trail systems and lots of local amenities and recreational opportunities to suit everyone in your group.
The most difficult OHV trails are Calispell Ridge, Owl Mountain and Mac/King with ruts, off-camber slopes, erosion, mud bogs, scree slopes, tight trail widths in the treed sections and occasional rocky outcrops and boulders. Huckleberry and Leslie Creek feature some brushed-in sections with lots of rocky drainage slopes.
Calispell Ridge is on private timber land so OHVs must stay on the trails and roads and there is no camping allowed. All the other trails allow for dispersed camping but there are no established campgrounds near the trailheads. Due to some roads being closed to OHV travel, riding the trails may require hauling to the trailheads, so check the mapping services listed above for more information before your ride.
This is a great family OHV area due to lower altitudes and less-challenging terrain as compared to the Rockies and Cascade mountain ranges and offers solitude not often found in most OHV destinations. After the crowds in Moab, come ride with Northeast Washington and enjoy the beautiful forests, lakes, rivers and mountains on trails where you’ll almost never see another vehicle. And, after your riding is done, Northeast Washington makes for a great vacation loop through the Pacific Northwest, with a wide variety of national parks within easy driving distance and other national forests offering even more OHV opportunities.