Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Big Backcountry Days in the Gifford Pinchot—Adventure Panties Not Optional

The EBitches' guide to the best eMTB rides in one of the PNW's most glorious (and most motorized) forests


Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

The first pair, the ‘America’ pair, due to the red, white and blue waistband, lay discarded on the pavement at the entrance of the campground, seemingly tossed out the window of a pickup truck, the inevitable result of an evening spent in a remote part of the woods, likely after a six pack of beer. Or at least that’s the story I made up in my head. We pedaled past them on the way to our trail, saw them in their crumpled heap, and thought, “Oh, panties. Weird.” And that was it.

Pair number two, the purple ones, barely registered as we began the ascent up the Wright Meadows trail, which was steep enough to relegate all unnecessary distractions as unimportant in the face of the next rooty step-up and rock ledge. “Wait, is that … ?” and then we passed, the purple fabric hooked on a tree branch, waving gently in the breeze.

Pair No.3, flapping in the wind in all their oversized-undergarment glory.

It wasn’t until pair number three, the oversized, silky blue pair with the tiny bows on the front, that the deeply-lodged part of our brains responsible for recognizing patterns in life raised the attention flag. Jen stopped, grabbed them off the branch they were hanging from, and held them up for view. They were glorious. Soft, almost shimmering in their deep-blue, high-waisted with the delicate, decorative bows attached.

Somewhat serendipitously, we had taglined our initial pitch for our Ebitches team with the description that our mission was to find the type of backcountry riding necessitating the need for both extra sandwiches and ‘Adventure Panties.’ And now here we were, on day 1 of our trip, on ride number one, within the first mile of trail, and we apparently didn’t need to worry about bringing our own panties. The Gifford Pinchot was delivering bigtime.

Encompassing 1.3 million acres of public land in Washington state, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest spans the distance between the Columbia River Gorge on the southern border of the state, to Mount Rainier National Park to the north. The forest envelops Mount St. Helens National Monument on its western border. First  designated by colonial settlers as the Columbia National Forest in 1908, the forest, one of the oldest in the country, was renamed the Gifford Pinchot in 1949, in honor of forester and politician who served as the first head of the U.S. Forest Service.

The Gifford, or GP, or The Giff, as referred to by locals, is spread out over a broad swath of diverse landscapes; glaciated volcanic peaks, temperate rainforest and old growth, and wild and scenic riverways. The terrain is vast, and wild, steep and rugged. On a clear day, it’s possible to see four major volcanoes: Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier in Washington, and Mount Hood and Mount Adams in Oregon.

Despite the close to three-quarters of a million annual visitors to Mount St. Helens National Monument, the surrounding national forest sees only a fraction of the use. Outside of the now-popular Lewis River Falls (“Thanks Instagram,” according to some longtime guides in the area) it’s quite easy to go for an entire three to four-hour ride, cover some 20-30 miles, and not see another person. The beauty of the Gifford lies in its remote nature, its ruggedness, its steep terrain, and its need for Adventure Panties. There is no cell service practically anywhere in the forest, no resorts, and the roads can be quite shitty. The Type 2 Fun nature of the Gifford had put it on our list to explore for quite some time.

It is fair to credit the current popularity of mountain biking in the Gifford to the efforts of the Trans-Cascadia enduro race promoters. Looking for the type of untamed terrain enticing to modern racers, the Gifford became a focal point for the organizers who spent countless hours cataloging trails in the area, and even more countless hours hosting volunteer parties to clear long-neglected singletrack.  To say that the Gifford is ‘popular’ with mountain bikers is still an understatement, but at least it is ‘used’. The most enticing part for us, looking to put together our adventure, was the fact that the majority of the trail system located to the east of Highway 25 (considered the Dark Divide area on Trailforks) is motorized. Being so remote, the majority of trail maintenance duties fall to the local motorcycle associations, a noticeable perk to staying on the motorized trails, where downfall was cleared with a diligence not seen on some of the non-motorized terrain.

A classic PNW chainring.

The EBitches started as a rotating collective of advanced women mountain bikers looking to use eMTBs as simply another way to ‘play on bikes’. The cast of characters changes based on ride and location, but loosely stating, we’ve all had several years of experience riding and owning eMTBs, if not more deeply held backgrounds in advocacy around them. All of us independently had different introductions to eMTBs, but what stuck universally was that when used on designated trails, they could be amazing tools for advanced riders to push our riding boundaries. We can explore farther, ride steeper terrain, and find solitude in remote, backcountry experiences. The parallel between what makes a great advanced dirt bike route and what qualities for the same on a mountain bike are fairly aligned. Intentionally seeking out motorized terrain opened up a whole new part of the map for all of us; stuff we might avoid otherwise, being the fickle creatures that we bikers can sometimes be. Electrifying our experience not only gave us a whole new way to explore our backyards, but also gave us a whole new way to look at travel destinations.

And now here we were, on Day 1 of our trip, on ride number one, within the first mile of trail, and we apparently didn’t need to worry about bringing our own panties.

The Gifford Pinchot is perfect for eMTBs. The sheer mileage of motorized trails available, coupled with the steepness of the terrain, is an ideal location for them. Traditional riders tend to be more reliant on shuttles to access some of the best descents, but why shuttle when you can use ‘Turbo’ mode instead? When the opportunity arose both in 2020 and 2021 to put together an EBitch trip to the Gifford we all jumped on board. Between the two trips, we had the opportunity to cover most of the motorized trails. Below are some of the highlights.

The Panty Ride

Council Lake on Boundary Trail to Summit Prairie

Point to point ride, finishing back at Lower Lewis Falls campground

Distance: 34.62 miles Elevation Gain: 4,692’ Loss: 6,063’ Point to Point

The fourth and final pair of panties was draped across a trail sign at the intersection of Table Mountain and the Boundary Trail. The residual snowmelt lingering in the area turned the surrounding alpine meadows into expansive marshlands. The water running down the trail in thick rivulets, pooling in depressions, created the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes in a quantity to rival the best in Alaska. We saw the panties, we stopped (of course) and immediately were swarmed in thick black clouds of the annoying insects. The celebration of yet another discovery was short-lived, Jen swinging the panties above her head while the rest of us did a series of awkward contortions; swatting, and jumping and slapping the mosquitoes off any exposed skin. We still have no idea where the panties came from. I hope it was some crazy 4th of July ladies ride, but, regardless, we would like to offer a hearty Thank You to the panty droppers—you made our ride memorable.

Stats:

High points: Fast, rooty, seemingly endless downhill on Summit Prairie. Mix of flow and tech on Boundary. 

Start/Finish: We started at the Table Mountain trailhead off of Lewis River rd. and pedaled up to Council Lake. Technically you could shuttle all the way to Council, but the road was a bitch and it was faster to just pedal. Hop on Boundary trail at Council, descend down the amazing Summit Prairie trail. Finish on Lewis River Rd at the Summit Prairie trailhead and pedal back to the campground. You could also easily do this loop from the Council Lake campground/trailhead. 

Difficulty level: 3 out of 5 Panties

The Melted Shoe Ride

Wright Meadow to Craggy Peak to Cussed Hollow

Distance: 22.52 miles Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,924’ Loop

The rain that had been a soft drizzle upon leaving camp turned into a full-fledged mix of freezing sleet just in time for us to emerge from the protective tree cover onto the gravel road, leaving us exposed, and within minutes, soaked and cold. Then, I got us lost. The ‘Little Blue Dot’ takes a while to update locations at times, and I prematurely and over-confidently, pushed ahead up an increasingly steep doubletrack, eventually disappearing in thick scrub brush where it petered out. When all else fails, you sit down, in the sleet, and have a snack. You also notice all the battery life you drained taking a wrong turn. With some dubious signs in front of us, (like, no trail) we backtracked, and in the process, froze our hands on the downhill and lost the ability to do things like buckle our helmets or zip our jackets without assisting each other. The ride down Cussed Hollow was rowdy, made more so by a combination of slick roots, mud, and not being able to feel our hands on our handlebars.

Note to readers; when someone says they are accountable for watching your wet bike shoes dry by the fire after a ride like this, only half believe them.

Stats:

High points: Climbing Wright Meadows is an exercise in front wheel lifts over rooty step ups. This is especially real-deal when wet and slippery. The descent down Cussed Hollow is next level fun, with some rutted slalom course action thrown in towards the bottom. 

Start/Finish: Start at Lower Lewis Falls campground and ride the loop from camp. Climb Wright Meadows trail, take FS Rd 93 to Craggy Peak (option to add Blue Lake if clear of snow) descend Craggy to FS Rd 93, Finish on Cussed Hollow back to Wright. 

Difficulty level: 4 out of 5 Panties

The Bear Ride

Blue Lake Ridge to Yozoo to Hamilton Buttes

Distance: 24.78 miles Elevation Gain/Loss: 5,328’ Loop

“Bear.” Pause. “Bear!” No, “Bears!” Jen scrambled off the trail faster than I’ve seen her move in awhile, a distinct leap from singletrack to hiding behind a small spruce. I was still registering what the words meant when my brain caught up that the two (!) rapidly moving creatures were running straight toward us. We yelled whatever words came to mind, and with 10 yards to spare, the bears, one medium in size and pitch black, the other large and cinnamon-colored, bounded off the trail down the hillside, leaving us a little shaky; a nice reminder that despite all of our attempts otherwise, we humans are not always at the top of the food chain. This ride had some seriously steep elevation gain, and the original intent to finish on the Valley Trail singletrack to complete the loop was altered when Leslie’s battery dropped into the red, signaling her bike was about to be converted from a dreamy pedal-assisted machine to one heck of a heavy bike. We ditched out on a short section of dirt road to finish, passing by the ‘Party Camp,’ an assumption based on the blow-up doll proudly tied up to the top of a 5th-wheel trailer. Sadly, the blow-up doll did not have panties on, a slight disappointment knowing we could have ended up with a 5th pair.

Stats:

High points: Despite the significant amount of elevation gain, the pitch on the climbs is not as steep as several other route options out here. Yozoo was the most technical of these trails, with some loose shale and chunky rock. Once you hit Hamilton though it’s smooth sailing down a fast and flowy descent to the bottom.

Start/Finish: Adam’s Fork campground off of FS Rd 21. Climb Blue Lake Ridge to Yozoo and finish on Hamilton Buttes. The Valley trail can be used as a connector back to Adam’s Fork. 

Difficulty level: 4 out of 5 Panties, mostly due to the elevation gain.

 

Bougie Snacks Ride

Sunrise Trail to Juniper Ridge to Tongue Mountain

Distance: 24.80 miles Elevation Gain: 5,030’ Loss: 6,322’ Point to Point

Find a ‘Mate Tait’ (i.e. a very kind EBitch husband) to shuttle your ass from Tower Rock U Fish RV Park to the Sunrise trailhead. As if mountain biking in the time of $10,000 bikes couldn’t get any more elitist, we ate a series of Patagonia Provisions sustainable tinned fish, mussels, and organic nut and seed crackers at the top of the Sunrise Peak viewpoint and joked about our bougieness. Also, we were shooting photos for the products. Also, they were delicious, so bougieness be damned.

Stats:

High points: The view from Sunrise mountain is stunning. The descent off Sunrise on the Juniper trail is techy, loose, and chunky. Things smooth out a bit as you head towards Tongue, only to tick up a notch in sheer steepness as you drop off the ridge down to the valley. 

Start/Finish: Start by climbing the Sunrise Peak road, FS RD 2324. Head up the very steep Juniper Ridge trail towards Sunrise Peak, stop and hike the detour up to the top of the peak lookout. Eat snacks. Continue on the rowdy descent down Juniper to the final Tongue Mountain trail. Enjoy the human size ferns on Tongue Mountain. Finish FS RD 28 near Tower Rock campground

Difficulty level: 5 out of 5 Panties for difficulty. 

The Western Boundary Ride

Boundary Trail to Craggy Peak to Wright Meadows

Distance: 24.21 miles Elevation Gain/Loss: 5,370’ Loop

Utilizing the far western part of the Boundary trail, access this ride off of Hwy 25 at the Elk Pass trailhead. Start by climbing the Boundary trail. There is an optional steep push up to the top of Badger Peak, which is well worth the views. Descend down the Craggy Peak trail to the intersection with Wright Meadows. Take Wright Meadows to FS rd 2559 back to Hwy 25. Pedal several miles back to the trailhead.

High points: Accessing the least used part of the Boundary trail, we saw no one this entire ride. Scenic views as you head to the Craggy turn off. Loose, rocky shale and some exposed ridgeline. 

Stats:

Start/Finish: Elk Pass trailhead off of Hwy 25

Difficulty level: 4 out of 5 Panties, mostly due to the exposed and loose nature of the ridgelines on Boundary. 

The First World Problems Ride

Sunrise Peak Road to Juniper Ridge to Dark Meadows

Distance: 17.07 miles Elevation Gain/Loss: 4,327’

Have you ever found yourself complaining that your knuckles hurt from all the wildflowers smacking into them? Yeah, we did. Flower injuries = First World = Big Problems.

Climb Sunrise, detour to Sunrise Peak and grind your way up a steep and rutted trail, eat more snacks! Backtrack down a hell of bumper car style descent and head south on Juniper Ridge, past Jumbo Peak, to the intersection with Dark Meadows. Dark Meadows was continuously steep and rowdy until the lower portion where you will bliss out in big trees and lush ferns. The finish on this one requires a big creek crossing. Don’t forget – it’s Type 2 fun here.

Stats:

High points: The view from Juniper ridge! If you time it right, the wildflowers are amazing up there. Roots and more roots and so much loam on Dark Meadows.

Start/Finish: Sunrise Peak road FS Rd 2324. Finish on FS Rd 23

Climb Sunrise, detour to Sunrise Peak and grind your way up a steep and rutted trail, eat more snacks! Backtrack down a hell of bumper car style descent and head south on Juniper Ridge, past Jumbo Peak, to the intersection with Dark Meadows. Dark Meadows was continuously steep and rowdy until the lower portion where you will bliss out in big trees and lush ferns. The finish on this one requires a big creek crossing. Don’t forget – it’s Type 2 fun here.

Difficulty level: 4 out of 5 Panties for difficulty, due to the descending off of Dark Meadows, and the steep grind up the Sunrise trail to Juniper.

The Mozzie Ride Part 2 (aka let’s never do that one again)

Green Mountain to High Lakes

Distance: 19.18 miles Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,881’ Loop

We stopped and checked Trailforks again. Could there really be 1,000 feet of elevation gain per mile on the climb up to the Green Mountain overlook? Is that even possible? Did someone ‘eff’ up their user-created content? Two guys on motorcycles rolled up with chainsaws strapped on to their dirt bikes as we were busy contemplating our climb. “Are you going to be upset with us? Some hikers yelled at us the other day,” they asked. We shook our heads no and then asked if they had been clearing downfall, which we viewed as incredibly helpful. Apparently some hikers felt otherwise about the downed trees.

Due to the remote nature of the trails, much of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintenance is handled by the moto folks. We were thankful for their effort. As we started to ride away, one of the guys stopped us, noticing that we were on eMTBs. He grabbed a handful of belly as he sat astride his dirt bike. “I gotta get one of those,” he said with his grip still firm on his mid-section. “I don’t like to climb like I used to.” We smiled.

They warned us about a sort of sketchy river crossing; logs lashed together with rope straddling a deep, rushing section of river. What they really should have warned us about though were the 18 million mosquitoes on the High Lakes trail, because … well … lakes. Unintended marital spats happen when your partner tacks on extra time carefully removing and putting their shoes back on at creek crossings while you are under direct siege from flying, biting things. Moto guys—there’s your next advance warning.

Stats:

High points: So much flow coming off of the viewpoint on Green Mountain! Not necessarily a ‘high point’ but the chunky volcanic rock on High Lakes was memorable, and a truly challenging section of trail. 

Start/Finish: Start at Olallie Lake campground, pedal out FS Rd 5601 to the Green Mountain trail. Climb your legs off! Connect to High Lakes, don’t stop pedaling (mozzies) and finish back at the campground. 

Difficulty level: 5 out of 5 Panties, due to the relentless chunk of the High Lakes trail. 

Boundary and Table Mountain

Council Lake to Boundary to Table Mountain

Distance: 24.84 miles Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,507’ Loop

This ride overlaps much of the description of the Boundary to Summit Prairie, but utilizes Table Mountain as the descending trail. Table Mountain is an amazing trail in its own right, and if you have time, it is well worth riding it as well. We rode this as a loop from our campsite at Olallie Lake.

Stats:

High points: The descent off of Table is EPIC! It’s so friggin’ good. 

Start/Finish: The GPX track shows starting at Olallie Lake campground off of FS Rd 5601, but starting at Council lake is generally more popular. 

Difficulty level: 3 out of 5 Panties. 

Where to stay:

Lower Falls Campground

To access the Wright Meadows and Craggy Peak trails, and even some of the Council Lake loops or shuttles, we recommend the Lower Falls campground. This is a popular campground and books up quickly. Reservations can be made at Reservation.gov.

Olallie Lake or Takhlakh Lake Campground

Council Lake, Boundary trail and Green Mountain and High Lakes rides can easily be accessed from either of these campgrounds. With a short drive, so can Sunrise to Dark Meadows. Olallie Lake is small, five-six sites and is first come, first served. Takhlakh accepts reservations. Note: Bring ALL THE bug spray.

Tower Rock U Fish RV Park

The crown jewel of camping had to be Tower Rock U Fish RV park, partly because of amenities, but mostly because we all felt the need to call it by it’s entire name, every time.

This small RV park felt more spacious than most, more like a campground with quirky Americana decorations thrown in, and the option to do laundry. The owners, Pam and Pete, were fantastic, and I think generally regarded bikers with a warm sort of curiosity as to how these people stumbled upon their place. Located near Randle, this campground provides great access to Juniper to Tongue, Dark Meadows, and the Yozoo/Blue ridge/Hamilton Butte region.

Where to eat:

The only town with any real restaurant options is Packwood, a 15 minute drive from Randle.

Cliffdroppers

Best. Burgers. Ever. For reals, Cliffdroppers is great, definitely get burgers there.

Packwood Brewery

Packwood Brewery has a small menu of street tacos, and some delicious beer.

The Mountain Goat Coffee and Bakery

We heard this place was really good, although we never went as we were too busy each morning making our own coffee and stuffing our faces with carbohydrates before our big rides.