Land of Loops 4: Skykomish River Valley
Author: Richard Porter | Photographer: Jake Campbell
The Skykomish River Valley is full of the verdant natural beauty that can only be experienced in this corner of the country.
The river valley’s route and arterial, Highway 2, begins near the Salish Sea in the west and goes to Stevens Pass and the Cascade Mountains in the east. Highway 2 is part of the Cascade Loop. If you follow the highway over the mountains, will take you to the Eastern Washington cities of Leavenworth and Wenatchee.
The Skykomish River Valley (abbreviated by locals to the poetic “Sky River”) is the picture postcard embodiment of the Pacific Northwest: waterfalls, mom and pop diners, and tiny railroad towns. You can cruise directly to the mountains or meander at your ease along the route.
Get your camera ready, because these attractions are worth pulling off the highway to experience directly.
Wallace Falls State Park - Gold Bar
“Come forth into the light of things. Let nature be your teacher.” - Sign at the trailhead of Wallace Falls.
When you approach the Cascade Mountains you realize that they’re aptly named.
The mountainsides of the Cascades are indeed filled with waterfalls that tumble and out of mossy rock faces and form shifting walls of mist.
Wallace Falls is a prime example of a tree-lined Northwest cascade. There are nine falls at the park. Hikers can enjoy a 5.6 mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of 1,300 feet. That’s a lot of switchbacks. If you’re not feeling up to it, you can call it quits at the lookout over the middle falls; it’s worth the photo op.
However, the intrepid hiker who presses upward will be rewarded a the top of the trail with a breathtaking view of not only the upper falls, but also the conifer-covered rolling foothills of the true PNW.
Tip: Wallace Falls is a popular hike and is busy in the Summer, the best time to visit is in the offseason.
The Heybrook Trail/Lookout - Index
The Heybrook Trail goes back to the days of fire lookouts in the mountains. Before aerial photography and satellite imaging, volunteers would post up in raised platforms on mountain peaks to scan the surrounding hills for smoke.
The trail itself is still a good hike today. The Heybrook Lookout has since been renovated by dedicated trail volunteers the Mountaineers. You can book the space in advance. Be warned: it’s an incredibly popular spot and the reservation slots do fill up fast at the beginning of booking season.
The Mountain View Diner - Gold Bar
The last sit-down restaurant stop before you hit Stevens Pass. This diner is located right off of Highway 2 and features comfort food and warm cups of coffee. The true appeal here is their rotating pie case. Nothing like a slice of pie and coffee before (or after) you hit the slopes.
One of the locals-only claims to fame for this diner is the old fashioned pie display case that rotates so that you can see all of the passing pastries on tap.
Enjoy the greasy spoon vibe (in the best way possible) of this small roadside restaurant.
Mountain View Diner
1306 Croft Ave, Gold Bar, WA 98251
Sky River Bakery - Monroe
Charming downtown Monroe, Washington has undergone a transformation in the past decade.
The city has added better on-street parking, broad walkable sidewalks. Local businesses have seen foot traffic increase thanks to these renovations to the historic core of the city.
One business here that has stood the test of time is the Sky River Bakery. The small mom-and-pop place has been on Main Street for almost three decades. The business has checkered tile, little diner tables, and a big glass pastry case filled with day’s wares. Stop in for a cup of coffee at the cafe, or take it to go as you stroll the boutiques and tiendas of Monroe’s downtown
Sky River Bakery
117 1/2 W Main St, Monroe, WA 98272
The last big stop before you hit Stevens Pass is the town of Skykomish. The small town has about 195 residents now, but in its heyday as a railroad town it had several thousands. The city is so rural that it seems to be protected indefinitely from sprawling suburbia.
The little mountain town acts a nice terminus to the Sky Valley: a good place to get gas, look at the scenic hills and explore the heritage of the Great Northern & Cascade Railway.
Great Northern & Cascade Railway
101 5th St N, Skykomish, WA 98288
If you’re planning to stay and enjoy the snowy slopes of nearby Stevens Pass, consider stopping at the Stone’s Throw B & B in the town of Index. You’ll likely need to make reservations in advance, because the charming two-person cottage is a most desirable place to call it a night. The house offers views of the craggy face of Mount Index.
Bookend your trip with a stay at the coastal communities of Seattle NorthCountry: Everett, Lynnwood, and Edmonds. You can sleep in a hotel with warm bed sheets and hot beverages before and after making your foray up Highway 2 to the snowy foothills of the Cascades.
Nothing puts a cap on cold outdoor recreation like some cocktails and a terry cloth bathrobe.
Plan your trip and view lodging options here.