The Willapa Hills Trail is already a great experience for any cyclist, but for those wanting to add a little extra spice to their journey, a side quest or two will do the trick.
As we head into 2023, the trail remains one of my favorite recreational resources. I’m lucky to live only an eight-mile bike ride from it, and even though construction is still ongoing on the overpass that will take trail users safely over SR 6 west of Chehalis, I’m always up for a drive to Adna to start a journey from there.
And speaking of Adna, when it comes to this guide, we’ll use Adna as our origin and destination points — again, because of the construction of the trestle cutting off safe access between Chehalis and Adna for now.
Setting the Scene
Adna to Pe Ell is a 36-mile out-and-back ride doable by any rider of any capability on tires with 700×32 or wider width. The trail more or less follows the Chehalis River for this section, winding back and forth along its northern bank for a few miles out of Adna, then entering a very straight stretch between Meskill and Doty. It climbs slightly up Doty Hill then curves toward another straight stretch, and before you know it you’re in Pe Ell.
While the trail is beautiful, more hardy cyclists might be angling for something with a bit more of an adventure feel that might have, say, a bit of elevation gain. With that in mind, here are two “side quests” that pair very well with the WHT and bring riders a full meal deal of climbs, descents, and country scenery.
Side Quest 1: Wells Road Loop
Wells Road is a small loop road outside of Pe Ell that is locally known for its access to Weyerhaeuser land and some rural homesteads in the foothills of the Willapa Hills. Wells doesn’t provide access to much else, if anything at all, but it does loop back around into the town of Pe Ell proper and makes for an interesting side quest for those looking to climb a bit.
To get to Wells, continue through Pe Ell on the trail for about a half-mile. You’ll come to the point where the trail intersects Muller Road, and it’s here that you’ll want to take a left instead of continuing on the trail to the High Bridge over the Chehalis River.
Once on Muller, stay on Muller for about 2/3 of a mile. You’ll pass the Weyerhaeuser log yard, and you’ll notice the road start to slightly increase in grade to 2 percent, then three. Muller intersects with Wells not far past Weyerhaeuser, and you’ll definitely want to hang a left on Wells. If you stay on Muller, you’ll have to double back.
Wells starts its climb right out of the gate. Ramping up immediately to an 8 or 9 percent grade, Wells Road gets the heart rate up and the blood pumping quickly. Gear down and get comfy in the granny gear, because while this part isn’t that bad, you’ll soon see the section that maintains a 10 percent grade and crowns at 16.
After the climb, you get a glorious sweeping descent that is fast and fun. The descent will get you all the way to the stop sign at Harkum Road, where you’ll want to take a left.
Harkum flattens out and will get you back into Pe Ell in no time. Just be mindful of where it curves to the right, becoming California Street. Then bear to the left where it becomes Kelso Avenue; immediately after this, you’ll see the Pe Ell Trailhead to your right and you can hop back on the trail.
The Wells Loop is a great climb if you want to add a nice punch to your WHT trip, and it stays relatively close to the trail so it’s hard to get lost.
Side Quest #2: Meskill Road
If Wells Road wasn’t enough (it’s nice, for sure, but for me it’s not usually enough climbing for what I’d like to do), or if you’d like to skip Wells and put all your climbing energy into a bigger quest, I present to you Meskill Road.
Meskill intersects the trail at about trail mile 12.5, and is home to a very small trailhead that not many people know about. Taking people eastward up the back side of Ceres Hill, it provides access to a couple homes and some more timberland. But unlike Wells, it’s a hefty climb and one that pays off with a view should you decide to descend Ceres Hill.
But first things first. Meskill Road is best approached if you’re traveling east on the trail, so if you’re coming in from Pe Ell or Rainbow Falls State Park, just look for the intersection at the very end of the longest straight stretch of trail.
Take a left onto Meskill Road and spin for about a 1/4 mile. You’ll pass the trailhead on your right and you’ll split from being conjoined with the trail. You’ll soon see a rock pit on your right, and this is the spot where the climb really starts.
Ramping up to 10-12 percent grade initially before tapering a tiny bit then turning to gravel, Meskill shows its teeth to all riders as they try to conquer the 1.5-mile, 600-foot climb to the top.
Once the road turns to gravel, it flattens out for a couple segments before ramping way up into the low to mid teens again a couple times. There’s a real thigh burner at the top, but once you see the Stop Ahead sign and the radio tower — you’ll know you’ve made it.
Take a left to head toward Adna using the Ceres Hill and Bunker Creek route (and do be mindful of the Ceres descent on gravel), or take a right to head toward the Ceres Hill trailhead. The descent on this road has several hairpins and switchbacks, and is one lane of traffic, so descend very carefully.
A Willapa Hills Trail ride is nice, but I think when it’s paired with climbs on adjacent local low-traffic roads, you definitely get your money’s worth with an excursion out to the west Lewis County area.
I’ve created a route that incorporates these climbs along with a Willapa ride. It takes you west on the trail from Adna to Pe Ell, then to the Wells climb, back to the trail for 9.5 miles, then over to the Meskill climb, back down Ceres Hill to the trailhead and back into Adna. The total mileage is 40.7 with a cool elevation gain of 1200 or so. Ride With GPS has it tagged as more, but my head unit reported 1200ish on my last completion of this route in December.
Ever ridden the Willapa along with any of these side quests? Or plan to? Let me know what you think in the comments.