OKANOGAN COUNTRY: Plenty of trails and welcoming communities By Lane Lindstrom

The Okanogan Range may not be the tallest mountains in Okanogan Country, but you can see some of Washington State’s biggest mountains from here.

There are plenty of famous mountains in Washington State. Who hasn’t heard of Mount Rainier (elevation 14,411 feet), Mount Adams (12,281 feet), Mount Saint Helens (8,363 feet) or Mount Baker (10,786 feet)? Or, the Cascade Range or Olympic Mountains?

All those impressive mountains are kind of “glory hogs” when it comes to mountain ranges and mountain peaks, not only in Washington State but all of the Pacific Northwest.

However, most of those glory-hog mountains are off-limits to OHV riding, and second, there are lots of OHV riding options in the Okanogan Country, meaning there are hundreds of miles of trails and forest roads to explore, with several OHV-friendly towns along the way.

In fact, Okanogan Country is one of our favorite places to ride in the summer, winter or fall in Washington. This slice of Washington is mountainous and has 300 miles of trails and forest roads open to dirt bikes, ATVs and side-by-sides. To get an idea of where this area is, draw a triangle on Washington state, starting with Seattle and Spokane being the bottom points. Okanogan Country is in the upper center of that triangle.

We hit the Okanogan just right for the fall colors. The great colors and scenery just added to our adventure.


Those miles do include a few miles of challenging trails, but most are a mix of wide, smooth forest roads punctuated with some narrow two-track trails weaving through the woods and canyons. The scenery—well, the memory of the spectacular views of this area—will stick around long after your ride is over.

We hit the area in the fall, just as the leaves were changing and lighting up the mountains and hillsides with gold and yellow leaves. The Tamaracks were also a golden yellow, which really stood out against the green pines covering the mountains.

There is a small turnout at the top of Buck Mountain where you can take a break and take in the view.

Our hosts for the day were members of the North Central ATV Club (, who led us on an 83.3-mile loop through the mountains and hillsides, along forest roads and trails not so well defined through dense forest canopies, through a handful of water crossings, over some rocks, but across more downed logs and small stumps.

While there is riding all across Okanogan Country, our general area of riding that day was north of Highway 20, south of Conconully and west of U.S. Highway 97.

We started (and ended) our ride in the town of Okanogan, heading west on Dry Coulee Road up Windy Hill toward Buzzard Lake. Okanogan sits at 840 feet, but by the time we got to Buzzard Lake (about 3,400 feet), we had gained more than 2,500 feet.


Over the course of the 85 miles we traversed, we hit a lot of highlights in this area, including Buck Mountain (6,135 feet), Buzzard Lake, a former mining town and now ghost town of Ruby, Conconully Reservoir, Conconully Lake (different body of water than the reservoir), Sportsman Camp and more. It was obvious soon into our ride why one of the club members had a chainsaw on his side-by-side. We passed through several spots where the big downed trees had been cut so OHVs could get through. And, in some spots, we simply couldn’t avoid the smaller logs that littered the trail.

From Buzzard Lake, we rode along Rock Creek through a very scenic canyon (a stone’s throw from Highway 20) before turning onto a trail along the West Fork of Rock Creek. Along some stretches the trees were dense and the canopy thick, while in other spots it was more wide open and the sunshine streamed through the trees.

The North Central ATV Club members we rode with during our Okanogan trip were well prepared for situations like this, where fallen trees were blocking the trail. A few cuts with a chainsaw and we were on our way.

Our next stop was the Sportsman Camp on Sweat Creek, where we took a short break before heading up Buck Mountain. The trail up to the peak of Buck Mountain used to be in and out of the trees, but the Okanogan Complex fire in 2015 burned down a huge swath of forest in this area, more than 300,000 acres in all. The trail, while not terribly technical, does feature some fun, rocky sections. And, even before the fire burned down the trees, the views are some of the best in the entire area. The last part of the trail goes along a ridge before you get to a small turnaround where you can park and climb the fire lookout, which was almost destroyed in the fire but saved by firefighters.

The views from atop Buck Mountain are worth any effort to get there. You get a 360-degree view of this part of northern Washington, along with the entire surrounding area for dozens, maybe even a hundred or more miles. To the west were the snow-capped Cascade Mountains, while to the south was the Columbia River, which was visible. Off to the southwest is the Loup Loup Ski Bowl. It’s an out-and-back trail up to Buck Mountain from the main trail.

Buck Mountain is a great destination when riding in the area. A forest fire burned the surrounding forest, but firefighters managed to save the lookout.


Once back on the main trail, we took a number of trails, including Mother’s Day Trail (so named by the locals), that went in and out of the trees, featured a couple of creek crossings, and a paved section as we made our way to the town of Conconully (2,303 feet), where we stopped for lunch.

From Conconully we headed back to Okanogan along Salmon Creek. The forested sections near Conconully gave way to high desert and farm and ranch lands the closer you get to Okanogan.

While we covered a lot of miles on our Okanogan adventure, we didn’t see all the local landmarks like China Wall and any number of mining/ghost towns.

There’s plenty to explore when we ride the area again.

When silver was discovered in the area, several mining towns, including Ruby, sprung up overnight. There are few remains of the former mining towns, offering a glimpse into the mining past.


Elevation: 840 feet, Okanogan; 6,135 feet, Buck Mountain

Trails: 300 miles

Full-service town: Okanogan, Omak, Winthrop, Conconully

Nearest airport: Wenatchee (91.6 miles from Okanogan)

Getting started: Okanogan Country

Getting there: Okanogan is located on U.S. Highway 97 on the eastern slope of the Okanogan Highlands. There are several trailheads spread all over the area, most of which are easily accessible from major highways.

Bedding down: There are several lodging options in the area. Camping is also available. The Okanogan Country website has a complete list of all the options available. We’ve stayed in Winthrop, Omak and Conconully on separate occasions, and all our accommodations were great.

Eating out: There are also lots of dining options in the area as well. We had lunch at the Sit ‘n Bull Bar and Grill on Main Street in Conconully and had an excellent meal. We’ve eaten at Sit ‘n Bull a couple of times before while on a snowmobile trip to Okanogan Country and have always had a good meal there.

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