National Forest Road 99 - Windy Ridge

Beginning of NF99, still in the forest.
Twisting and diving through sharp corners in a bare landscape with few guardrails to stop a wayward rider from a tumultuous fall down steep hills, Windy Ridge is a spectaculor ride not for the faint of heart. One of the most unique rides you could ever experience, every ride I've taken here has been an adventure with a new story to tell. From seeing steam rising from the volcano at the top to encounters with deer and elk to fog so dense you feel like you're riding on the edge of an abyss, I've experienced it all here.

Before proceeding with the review, I'll add a couple words of caution about this road and it applies to riding anywhere in the park. If you are riding here on a weekday or in the evening, make sure someone knows where you will be. I've ridden the length of Windy Ridge and NF25 without seeing a single car on weekdays, a crash could leave you badly stranded (cell phones don't work in the park.) Windy Ridge and National Forest Road 25 leading to it often have motorcycle accidents. St. Helens is an active volcano and the ground is unstable, combine that with an underfunded forest service and you have roads that are in poor condition in spots. Most of the corners on Windy Ridge are unmarked and can be very sharp, almost every year a death occurs from a vehicle traveling off the road. Lastly, watch out for animals. I don't typically see elk or deer on Windy Ridge but frequently come across them on NF25, especially on the Southern Half which has an overcrowding problem.

Smooth corners make up the top half of the road.

Windy Ridge is accessed from National Forest Road 25, the turnoff is pretty close to the middle of the trip between Randle and Cougar. Making the turnoff you are immediately greeted with a couple decent corners before hitting some straightaways seperated by gentle corners. You are still in the dense forest commong of the park but this will change soon. Another set of corners takes you away from the ridge NF25 rests on and onto Windy Ridge itself. The landscape quickly becomes more barren and the scenery is incredible as you continue up the ridge.

Road winding through new-growth forest.

One advantage to the treeless environment is the ability to see the road ahead. The road constantly winds back on itself and you can see several corners in advance. As you leave the last of the old-growth forest behind and visibility increases most riders will speed up but be cautious; the road will make unmarked turns you didn't expect and rocks are occasionally on the road itself. The first section of the road has rough spots but when you see a sign alerting you to twisty roads for the next 7 miles you are to the section that is smooth for the most part.

Views of the road winding back on itself. Continuing on your way you'll pass a handful of lookout points, each of which offers a different and always incredible view of St. Helens or the surrounding area. But the best view is at the top. A few more awesome hairpin corners and you're there. If you're lucky you'll see steam rising out of the volcano, it's been very active the past few years so your odds are good. If you have the time and don't mind a short hike in your leathers there is a stairway to a still more spectacular view, the stairs are behind you as you face the mountain. Taking the time to look around you can see the mass of dead logs floating in Spirit Lake below, left over from the erruption in May of 1980. Take some time to rest up because whichever way you are headed, you're probably only halfway there.

The ride is usually at least as good heading down as it was coming up. Hopefully you're noted which corners are particuarlly challenging or have rocks in them and can open it up a bit. Careful on the lower section on the way down, the road is bumpier going down then it was coming up. And don't forget to be extremly careful the whole time you are on Windy Ridge, the road probably eats more bikes than about any other short stretch of road around.

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