Description: This is a route of scenic big-sky. The Okanogan Highlands is also popular with birders, and you may occasionally share the road with mountain bikers. Vehicle traffic is light and local. For several miles, the road curves and climbs through mostly sagebrush before becoming farmland and forests with breathtaking views and lakeside stops. Watch for deer that often congregate along the sides of the road. Chesaw offers a pleasant rest stop. The return trip includes the hill town of Havillah and spectacular views of the Cascades.
Directions: From Oroville, turn east on Central Avenue and left on Cherry Street which becomes the Oroville-Chesaw Highway. Approximately 10 miles up the highway, turn left and follow to Molson. You will return back this same road turning left at the stop back onto the Oroville-Chesaw Highway. After reaching Chesaw, return along the Oroville-Chesaw Highway for 2.5 miles and turn left on Hungry Hollow Road to a left turn onto Havillah Road which takes you 20 miles down to Tonasket. To return to Oroville, take Hwy 97 north.
Time: 2 hours Distance: 71 miles
Eight miles out of Oroville, watch for the turn-off to tiny Molson. Once a boom town, thanks to prospector frenzy and the Poland China Gold Mine that operated here in the early 1900s, Molson has shrunk to a ghost town, (pop. 19). Its outdoor museum contains remnant buildings of what was and is open April through November during daylight hours. More artifacts are housed across the street in the two-story, former brick schoolhouse (open Memorial Day through Labor Day) with a tea room operating during the summer. Just beyond town are Molson Lake and larger 120-acre Sidley Lake, offering riders a scenic spot to turn around. On the way back to the highway, you’ll pass another piece of the Molson history, the town cemetery, a short walk up a dirt road.
Named for Chinese placer miner and merchant, Chee Saw, this once booming town is home to fifteen residents today. On many days the loudest sounds you’ll hear are the crickets. The Chesaw Tavern is the town hub. You may wish to plan your trip to either attend or avoid July 4 when Chesaw’s population balloons to several hundred for the annual amateur rodeo, with lots of booths, bulls and beer. Riders note: To facilitate the arrival of attendees, the road closes until the rodeo begins. Wait it out or pay the small admission fee and you’re good to go. Yee haw!
Settled in the early 1900s, Havillah, meaning land of gold in the Biblical not the geological sense, was once a thriving hill town. Today only a handful of residents inhabit Havillah proper, consisting of photogenic Immanuel Lutheran church, a flour mill-turned school house-turned-antique store with intermittent hours, and a farm house. North of town, up a short dirt road is historic Havillah Cemetery.
Named for Chief Tonasket whose tribal lands stretched along the Okanogan River from a few miles south of present day Tonasket to Oliver, BC, the town of Tonasket is home to 1,032 citizens today. Out-of-towners know the little town of Tonasket for its annual hosting of the Okanogan River Garlic Festival in August and the Okanogan Family Faire (called the Barter Faire by long-time locals) that attracts over 10,000 visitors in October.
Along Highway 97 at the south edge of Tonasket (west side of highway) is a U.S. Armed Forces Legacy Project, a monument and service center honoring living and deceased American vets. http://veteranlegacyproject.org
Detour possibility: Esther Bricques Winery
If you finish arrive in Tonasket near the end of the day, a stop at Esther Bricques makes a relaxing setting for a glass of wine before returning to Oroville. The winery holds weekly wine tastings in combination with live music and other planned activities. Check the schedule ahead of time. Eight miles north of Tonasket on Hwy 97, turn east at O’Neil Rd just north of Ellisforde. Follow signs to Esther Bricques Winery and Vineyard on Swanson Mill Road.
Click on map to view details, including street views by clicking and dragging the little man to a position on the route: