Chelan Century Challenge 2018

The home stretch: The descent from the north side of Navarre Coulee Rd to Lake Chelan.

The Chelan Century Challenge is one of the best event rides in Washington state:

–the Chelan Rotary does a great job hosting and supporting the ride
–the scenery is (mostly) spectacular
–the course is challenging
–Fresh cherries
Abundant wineries

Check out the posts about it from 2011 and 2014.

"Service above Self:" The Chelan Rotary does an excellent job of organizing and supporting the ride.
“Service above Self:” The Chelan Rotary does an excellent job of organizing and supporting the ride.

This combination makes for a great weekend in Chelan. One endorsement is that it’s one of the most popular rides for the Cascade Bicycle Club‘s High Performance Cycling team.

Chelan Century Challenge Route

The route is a three-lobed cloverleaf through orchards and vineyards in the mountainous terrain around Lake Chelan. Each lobe returns to Don Morse Park, where it is convenient to reconnect with your cycling buddies.

Coming and going: The final mile of the McNeil Canyon climb is STEEP. Lake Chelan in the distance.

This year the route got reconfigured in order to get the hardest portion, the McNeil Canyon climb, out of the way when the temps are relatively cool. From Chelan the route quickly goes downhill, crosses the Columbia River, then up! up! up! for about 2,400′. With the new configuration it’s only about 15 minutes from the start area to McNeil Canyon. Also new this year was that the McNeil Canyon climb was timed. The rider’s bibs included a timing chip. To get an official time you roll over timing mats at the bottom and top of the climb. There is no obligation to do the climb. The option is to turn left on Hwy 97 and head towards Apple Valley Road.

Former Bellinghamser Mike McQuaide powers past the 6-mile mark (about 1 mile to go) on McNeil Canyon Climb.

Even starting the climb at 7:20 AM, I was sweating buckets by the time I got to the top. And the temps were relatively cool this year.

2018 McNeil Canyon climb official results.

Strava McNeil Canyon leaderboard.

After the out-and-back climb, the route rolls down Hwy 97 next to the Columbia River. The Columbia River is *always* windy, so plan on strong tailwinds, headwinds, and sometimes swirling winds. This year there was a great tailwind along the Columbia which turned into a headwind on the return trip to Chelan on Apple Valley Rd.

Riders refuel and socialize at Don Morse Park.
Riders refuel and socialize at Don Morse Park.

Loop two, known as the “Manson” loop, is everyone’s favorite. The route goes north of Chelan through scenic vineyards and fruit orchards. There are a few windy technical descents where there can be gravel in the corners, so use caution. This year there was a strong headwind on the outbound section, then a delightful tailwind back to Chelan. Loop two also has an “ultra” bonus climb up Ivan Morse Rd, which dead-ends at some gravel.

Riders climb Summit Blvd above Lake Chelan on the Manson Loop.
Riders climb Summit Blvd above Lake Chelan on the Manson Loop.

Loop three is called the Navarre Coulee loop. From Chelan it climbs south-ish on Alt Hwy 97 then tilts down for a fast descent to the Columbia. Take care riding through the Knapp’s Hill Tunnel; there is a flashing light button you can push at the entrance to the tunnel, although this means you need to stop in the middle of a nice descent.

The view of Lake Chelan from the north side of Navarre Coulee Rd.
The view of Lake Chelan from the north side of Navarre Coulee Rd.

Almost immediately after leveling out at the Columbia the route turns right and climbs a rather steep, hot Navarre Coulee Rd. Every time I’ve done this ride there is a section of dead air about a mile in to the climb that, when combined with the heat from the south-facing rock slopes, makes it feel like you are trying to breath in a vacuum. Keep on going, it gets better! After about 2 miles the scenery becomes agricultural, and you start to see evergreen trees. After topping out the route descends back down to Lake Chelan via several switchbacks. The final ~10 miles back to Chelan are typically wind-aided and a great section to paceline if you are riding with buddies. We typically regroup before heading back to town.

The home stretch: The descent from the north side of Navarre Coulee Rd to Lake Chelan.
The home stretch: The descent from the north side of Navarre Coulee Rd to Lake Chelan.

Loop three also has an optional final “stinger in the tail” climb up Chelan Butte. I must confess I’ve never tried it because Don Morse Park and the finish area beckons at that point in the ride.

Sunday Recovery Ride

If you didn’t get enough vineyards, orchards, and climbing on Saturday, here’s a scenic option before you head back home:

Follow Loop two until you get to Cooper Gulch, then turn right. Yeah, it’s another climb, but that’s what the cycling in Chelan is all about!

Ripe Rainier Cherries on Cooper Gulch Rd. en route to Echo Valley Ski Area.

Getting There

From west side of the Cascades you can get there via Hwy 2 over Stevens Pass or I-90 via Snoqualmie Pass and Hwy 97 Blewett Pass. Check your favorite mapping website for construction and traffic delays before leaving and returning. If you require a mid-drive coffee/bakery stop coming or going, check out Anjou Bakery east of Cashmere on Hwy 97, or Pioneer Coffee in Cle Elum.


Lodging for the weekend can sell out, so advance planning is recommended. We typically rent condos, host team dinners on Friday and Saturday nights, and do an optional “recovery ride” on Sunday morning. If you are going with a smaller group there are a number of hotels and bed and breakfasts within a short ride of the start/finish at Don Morse Park. Because it’s a busy weekend there can be waits at the restaurants in downtown Chelan, which is why our larger group prefers to do our own meals.

Check out the lodging options.

Check out the camping options.

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