Category Archives: Mountain Biking

It’s easy to find Seattle’s elite strolling Leavenworth’s fancy walking streets, but the intrepid observer sees another type of visitor among the throngs: the dirty adventurer with ropy calves and greasy hair plying the herd of clean city folks. They’ve been climbing or biking all day and now they’re hungry for Leavenworth’s great beer and food.

Leavenworth is a cute German-themed town full of touristy offerings, plus it has incredible adventures hidden in its surrounding mountains. We found it to be exceptionally good for van life and lingered longer than we originally planned. We lived in Leavenworth for a month in our van and we began to notice a few other vans which also seemed to be enjoying an extended stay in the area.

There are nice places to park near town on forest service land. We were given free water at Dan’s Grocery Store when we did our shopping, and there were many places around town to get rid of garbage. These things make van life much easier!

Leavenworth is a gem. Here are our favorite activities we enjoyed during our month there.

Mountain Biking

During our last week in Leavenworth we honed in on our favorite ride at the local ski resort. It’s a new one which doesn’t have a name yet, so for now I’ll just call it the Butter Loop. I found it by talking to a local who helped create the new uphill section of this loop as well as many other trails in the area. Kudos! You created something very special here.

The Butter Loop is the perfect short ride, with 6 miles of buttery, singletrack trails. It begins at the Leavenworth Ski Area with a steady, 1000 foot climb through the forest on a new, unnamed trail. Next you roll along a ridge with great views, then descend a section of Freund Canyon with well designed, super fun berms which go up and down like a roller coaster. The alternative to this fun roller coaster romp through Freund Canyon is a more challenging ride on the parallel Rosy Boa trail, but personally I found Rosy Boa to be too much! It had some very steep drops. Be cautious with choosing the Rosy Boa Trail.

After finishing either Rosy Boa or Freund, the final reward is an easy descent back through the Leavenworth Ski Resort on a trail called For The Boys. The Butter Loop is so good we did it three times in one week. Here is a map of the trails which make up this loop:
The Butter Loop On Trailforks

The Freund Canyon loop is an oldie and a goodie, too. It begins and ends on Freund Canyon Road near town. The only reason I like the Butter Loop better is that Freund Canyon includes about 500 feet of climbing on a dirt road, and I prefer the pure singletrack of the Butter Loop.

We heard about other great rides nearby at Horse Lake and Sage Hills, but didn’t have time to go there this trip. Next time! I love it that after a month in Leavenworth we continued to hear about new places.

Trail Running
The challenging and breathtaking 18 mile trail through the Enchantments near Leavenworh can be done as a one day hike/run. There is even a shuttle company to move folks from the lower trailhead to the upper trailhead at convenient times for only $10/person ( as well as a great private taxi service which can do the same (

The terrain is very challenging on both Snow Lakes Pass and Aasgard Pass, but the fantastic alpine zone and friendly mountain goats are incredibly rewarding. Go prepared with a headlamp and extra layers at the very least. This is a serious endeavor!

Another alternative is to hike up into the high country and then back out, beginning and ended at the Stuart Lakes Trailhead. We did this one day. and it took us 12 hours to go fifteen miles with about 4500 feet of elevation gain. This hike included climbing up Aasgard Pass and then going back down it, which was crazy. We saw some beautiful lakes and mountains at the top of Aasgard Pass, but it really just made us thirsty for more.

The trail run through the Enchantments is the big one, but there are other great places for trail running or hiking like the Leavenworth Ski Hill and the Leavenworth Riverside Park.

The Enchantments hike is best done as a backpacking trip. The Larch trees create some of the finest fall scenery in the state when they turn bright yellow in fall and we wanted to spend more time in this stunning area, photographing the landscapes and animals.

We had to be persistent to get a last minute permit for this hike. Each morning the forest service office in Leavenworth draws a name for permits to camp in the Enchantments and it can be very competitive. We went there three mornings in the middle of the week to try our luck at the lottery and each morning there were a half dozen people competing for a few permits. The first two mornings we lost the drawing, but the third morning we won!

Our four day backpacking trip in the Enchantments featured surreal beauty and relaxed mountain goats enjoying their alpine paradise. The larches were stunning and we had great weather. We climbed a peak in the backcountry called Little Annapurna, following nice granite slabs much of the way to the summit. Climbing Little Annapurna was a highlight for both of us.

Leavenworth is the climbing capital of Washington. We enjoyed nice climbs on granite near Icicle Creek and saw many people bouldering. We found the rock in this area to be good quality. There’s a helpful guidebook for this area but it is currently out of print. The nice people at Leavenworth Mountain Sports have a couple copies you can rent by the day.

We also went to Peshastin Pinnacles to explore the sandstone routes and found varying rock quality there. We found some good rock and some very crumbly kitty litter. After we explored the easier climbing options around town we decided our favorite spot was Playground Point near the Icicle River.

Reindeer Farm
We visited a Reindeer Farm right outside Leavenworth for a fun tour. While it’s not really an adventure, this was such a great experience it would be a shame to miss out on it. We learned a few things about Reindeer, and then got to go in the pen with them and pet them. Did you know their fur is made of hollow fibers, allowing them to float like a Polar Bear? Neither did we! Here is the website for the reindeer farm, reservations are recommended:

If you happen to come in October the town of Leavenworth erupts in merriment for three weekends in a row for Oktoberfest. Everyone celebrates with beer, Lederhosen, Dirndls, German food and dancing. This festival has a very celebratory mood and is a lot of fun, especially when you dress up!

So, there you go! Leavenworth is the perfect place to enjoy beauty, adventure, mountain goats and van life. The town is also delightful and we’ll definitely be back.

We went back to the Frisby Ridge trail and now this ride is a favorite. The alpine section is sweeter than I could have imagined. There is a small, gentle loop at the top and the views in every direction make you want to bust open with happiness. Just check out these photos!

The trail is buttery much of the time and obstacles are small. There is only one (longish) rocky section where I had to hike my bike. The forest is downright beautiful, there are huckleberries everywhere, and other riders are mostly friendly locals. There is an amazing van camp near the trailhead, too. So many things to love!

I grew to love my new dropper seat post during this ride, too. This new biking toy allows me to raise and lower my seat by using a tiny lever on my handlebars. The seat raises using hydraulics; I just have to lift my butt. How nice. The added efficiency of raising my seat just a couple inches was truly amazing as I pedaled up the 2500 foot climb at Frisby Ridge. I popped over obstacles which before I wouldn’t have even tried, and climbing felt SO MUCH EASIER. Which is important when you are doing a lot of it!

I feel better about descending with my seat in a lower position, too, but it will take time to master big, technical obstacles. I have to approach this slowly and continue to increase my skill level in small increments. At the heart of it, I’m afraid of taking a bad fall on my bike from being too aggressive with this new toy. I’m taking it slowly with the downhill, and seeing improvements there already.

Two girlfriends stressed the importance of this mythical dropper seat post for mountain biking…thank you Alison and Heather. And now I am telling the world, for rides with a lot of elevation change, you must have a dropper seat post of your very own!

Category: Mountain Biking

Yesterday I tried something hard. And failed. I’m not used to that, and it felt like someone let all the air out of my balloon. Brian was very supportive. I didn’t shed any tears, but there was definitely some pouting going on. Brian said we could abandon this adventure whenever I wanted, and that was ok. I thought about it a couple more minutes and then I decided it was time to get off the mountain.

We had embarked on one of my most challenging mountain bike rides and one of the best in the area. It was Frisby Ridge in Revelstoke, British Columbia. It’s been a long time since my last big ride and I didn’t take Frisby Ridge seriously enough. We started late in the day and all I brought was a simple windbreaker for layering. Initially I hadn’t felt committed to completing the entire ride, but wanted to try. I figured I would ride the ridge out and back until I got tired.

So we began, and the trail went steadily uphill nearly the entire time. The surroundings were nice, although it didn’t feel much like a ridge. We rode through a forest full of cedar and huckleberries for five miles. I kept thinking the alpine riding would start any minute, but after hours of riding in the forest the big, open views I craved were barely starting to show themselves. A more accurate name for this trail would be Frisby Forest.

I wouldn’t see the good stuff until the summit. I pushed on, getting colder and colder as I gained more elevation. Then the saddle sores started because I hadn’t prepared for a long ride, just a feel good, out and back ride. No Chamois Cream in the pack! Oh no! I was also getting tired now that we had climbed 2000 vertical feet. I am not used to big rides like this right now. I am good at pushing through exhaustion for a time, but with the lack of warm clothing and saddle sores I was facing a trifecta of suffering. At least we had plenty of snacks!

Now the ride had become a push to the summit and nothing more. It also wasn’t good to climb higher into the alpine zone without warmer layers. It could have turned into an edgy situation if conditions changed or precipitation started.

Feeling my limits, I sadly turned around and tried to collect myself as I began descending. Focus on the positive. Think about what you’ve achieved. Think about the beautiful ride. Think about the huckleberries surrounding the trail and our plans to harvest them on the descent. What I really wanted was to ride my bike in the sun, on a Thursday afternoon, above treeline with big mountains looming on all sides. That was the stuff of dreams. Still, there were many wonderful things about the day to appreciate and I tried to think about those things instead of the one thing I had missed.

The positive thoughts were needed; the descent was very chilly at first. After about twenty minutes we stopped in the sun to pick huckleberries. Feeling the warmth of the sun was a great relief to us both, and we had also reached a lower elevation with a higher temperature.

Plus we were surrounded by tasty huckleberries, warm from the sun, and Brian said we could try the Frisby Ridge ride again in a couple days. All these things raised my spirits. It was time to let disappointments go and immerse myself in the present. We gathered huckleberries for about 10 minutes (trying not to eat too many of them) and took some with us in a one liter Nalgene bottle.

The rest of the descent was uneventful and we were happy to reach the van. We quickly went to a fantastic campsite near the trailhead we had scouted out earlier.

We reveled in scenic views of rivers and mountains and cranked the heater up to ninety degrees. We huddled under a blanket until our core temperatures returned to normal. We ate a tasty dinner and huckleberries for dessert. This was van life at its finest.

It can be hard to let go of a meaningful adventure like this one. Sometimes I wonder if these adventures have taken on an outsized sense of importance in my life. For me, adventures give meaning to living in a van. Otherwise it would be pretty boring sitting in a van in the middle of nowhere. Achieving goals and strengthening my mind and body matter more out here than they did when I was living in a house. Instead of something fun to do on weekends, they start to shape life and give it meaning.

I look forward to riding Frisby Ridge again in a couple days. This was a good reminder to take hard rides more seriously. I will start early, prepare for a long ride and take extra layers. Frisby Ridge, we shall have a rematch.


About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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