Beloved for the rural farm roads that meander through rolling wheat fields, Walla Walla is celebrated as one of Washington’s top road cycling destinations. Cycling in Walla Walla offers terrain for any skill level. The nearby Blue Mountains offer experienced riders steep climbs and sharp turns to attack. The flatlands and paved trails that run through Walla Walla’s historic neighborhoods and farmlands offer a leisurely cruise.
And every spring, cycling enthusiasts flock to Walla Walla for the first race in the Tour of Washington series, aptly named Tour of Walla Walla. The race is organized each year by Allegro Cyclery owners Michael and Kathryn Austin. More recently, the Walla Walla Noon Rotary and Visit Walla Walla, along with an army of local volunteers, joined forces with the Austins to help enhance this exciting community-wide event. The Tour of Walla Walla promotes a healthy lifestyle and welcomes a range of visitors for cycling in Walla Walla.
The Tour of Walla Walla takes place over three days in April every year, and consists of four stages. There are two Road Races and a Time Trial, which take place north of Waitsburg. The Criterium takes place in downtown Walla Walla. Walla Walla destination lodging partners, local shops, wineries and breweries, bakeries and eateries all open their doors (and patios, weather-permitting) to the cyclists and cycling community who travel from all around the nation to participate and spectate.
Where to stay
Walla Walla has a wealth of lodging options near downtown Walla Walla perfect for cyclists and race spectators alike. The Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center is a Walla Walla mainstay within walking distance of downtown. Fewer than five minutes of easy cycling will get you to the Courtyard by Marriott or budget-conscientious Quality Inn & Suites.
If you’re interested in staying in the heart of downtown Walla Walla, consider the FINCH Walla Walla. Because of their location, the FINCH is ideal for Tour of Walla Walla race-goers. But it is the team of recreation-lovers, wine aficionados, and foodies eager to share their knowledge of the valley that really sets a stay at the FINCH apart.
Come ready to make new friends. The oversized sitting areas, outdoor wood-burning fireplace, and open-air courtyard provide common areas to meet other cycling enthusiasts during your visit.
Because it’s often the friendships you leave with that truly make a getaway memorable.
Race day fuel is important, whether you’re competing for primes (pronounced preems) or watching from a welcoming patio on the route. So start your day with breakfast at Maple Counter Cafe on Alder Street. Third-generation restauranteurs Kory & Rachel Nagler treat customers like family. Inspired by his parents’ restaurant, The Oak Table Café in Sequim, WA, Kory’s commitment to quality and exceptional customer service is evident in everything from the seasonal specials to the smiles on the faces of the staff and the whimsical décor.
Locals tip: do not leave without having a pancake, because there’s something truly special about pancakes at Maple Counter Cafe. All of their batters come from a sourdough barrel; this old-fashioned process of nurturing yeast makes the Maple Counter Cafe pancakes light, fluffy, one might even say otherwordly. Any omelet or scramble on the menu comes with three of these works of art, so you don’t have to go strictly pancakes on your pre-race breakfast! Spectators, feel free to indulge in an Irish coffee, topped with whipped cream and colorful sprinkles for a touch of whimsy.
Watching the Tour of Walla Walla
There are two great downtown patios to enjoy during the Tour of Walla Walla. Big House Brew Pub has a wonderful outdoor space. Plenty of picnic tables and yard games to keep you entertained between sprints. But the patio is fully fenced in, so while Big House Brew Pub is a great place to revel during race time, you might opt to cross the street to Wingman Birdz and Brewz if you’re eager to watch each sprint.
Wingman Birdz and Brewz is a kid-friendly restaurant specializing in designer chicken wings. Their modern-industrial location features an entire wall of clear window garage doors that open in good weather to create an expansive open-air feel. But April showers don’t have to mean you miss the race at Wingman. Wingman is perfectly situated on the corner of Main Street and Palouse, so you can watch cyclists whip by at record speeds from just about any table in the establishment.
What to order? Nothing says comfort food like nachos made out of french fries (what Wingman Birdz and Brewz calls a “Bird’s Nest”). It’s the perfect mid-race refuel to pair with their extensive selection of local craft beer and wine.
The Tour of Walla Walla Criterium Route
Of course, there’s the actual race for cyclists to enjoy. Historic downtown Walla Walla is the perfect “cityscape” for a road race. The route has cyclists cruising through Whitman College campus, across Mill Creek, and past the aforementioned local businesses and a host of others. Many downtown merchants open their doors to offer race-day specials for shoppers and spectators. Racers can take home a piece of Walla Walla for their efforts as well. Neighboring businesses often donate primes (special gifts and awards) for race participants who don’t win the cash prize.
The Tour of Walla Walla downtown route finish line: Public House 124
The Tour of Walla Walla Criterium route has cyclists crossing the finish line at a local favorite watering hole: Public House 124. Owners Jim Sanders, Matthew Price-Huntington, & their Crew, create some of the most captivating food and beverage in downtown Walla Walla. Public House 124 is the ultimate destination for a post-race celebratory experience.
Adventurous cyclists should order an “Audible 124.” This special menu offering allows the bartender on staff to literally call an audible and go off-menu to create a custom cocktail featuring the spirit of the spent cyclist’s choice.
Seasonal ingredients and local produce always play a starring role at Public House 124, from the beverages to their ever-changing chef-inspired menu. If you’re craving some post-race carbs, the truffle fries are a sure hit!
Cycling in Walla Walla Summary
While the Tour of Walla Walla is one of many excellent excuses to visit Walla Walla in the early spring, cycling enthusiasts can enjoy our beautiful views and quiet country roads nearly year-round. Whether you’re a racer, an enthusiast looking to explore new roads, or you simply kick the white-walled tires of a beach cruiser on sunny days, Walla Walla’s roads (and accompanying small-town charm and hospitality) await.