The Colville is Calling

Story by Keith Jared Baric// Photos by Keith Jared Baric
July 2 2024

Little traffic, twisty roads and scenic look-offs keep bringing this rider back.

As the mighty Columbia River makes its remaining 1,200-kilometre journey from the southern edge of British Columbia to the Pacific Ocean, the river sinuously meanders through landscapes rich with natural beauty, culture, and history. From my home in the Okanagan, on the Canadian side, I find myself every year being summoned to load up my ride, rendezvous down the street with my fearless and highly skilled riding partner Jon, hop over the 49th parallel into Washington state, and criss-cross portions of the plateau that cradles this powerful and important river system.

One specific area within the Columbia plateau I often dial into my navigation is the Colville Reservation, which offers incredibly scenic and adventure-filled rides. Comprising an area of 1.4 million acres (roughly the size of the province of Prince Edward Island), the reservation is bounded by the Columbia River system to the south and east, to the north by the Colville National Forest, and to the west by the Okanogan River.

The name Colville, which is attached to the reservation’s name, does not have Indigenous origins, but rather can be attributed to Andrew Colville, a high-ranking official active with the Hudson’s Bay Company in the early- to mid-1800s. The Hudson’s Bay Company was, of course, the powerful business and fort-building entity that controlled much of the fur trade and commercial exploits in the Pacific Northwest (although I could find no record that Andrew Colville ever set foot in the area during his tenure).

Nice Discovery

Several years ago, while exploring the terrain just east of Omak, WA, I happened on the stunning Columbia River Road. Little did I realize that I was riding within the largest reservation in the state. This well-maintained paved highway is part of a substantial road network (1,665 km) administered by the Colville Confederated Tribe’s Department of Transportation. The Columbia River Road reminds me of those highways that manufacturers showcase in motorcycle promo ads with its perfect blacktop, sweeping curves, and striking vistas. Nevertheless, it is rather unknown to most travellers and even light traffic is rare.

The road first gains elevation through a tight curvy canyon, then cuts high above the tropical-like blue waters of Omak Lake, slowly ascending to a broad desert shrub-steppe plain, and eventually parallelling the slow southward trajectory of the river. It’s one of those sections of tarmac engineering that beckons to be ridden more than just once in a day!

Along the route the geological wonders of this area become pronounced like that of the “balancing rock.” It’s a short gravel ride off the highway to reach the base of the prominent…

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