I Ate the State – Snohomish County (Part I – The Mountain Side)


Looking back over my lifetime in Washington State, there are many places I know I’ve taken for granted. I’ll initially contribute some of that to being young and without means – or transportation. Unfortunately, there was also a fair amount of time spent in Eastern Washington, for instance, where I really wish I’d given it more of a chance. The grass is literally greener on the western side of the state, but that doesn’t mean there are lesser prospects for finding beauty and adventure. Every time I go back to visit the “other” side of the state, I am constantly blown away by the full palette of opportunity. (A huge part of this travel project is not only to share the beauty of this state with others, but to ensure I never again take any part of it for granted.)

This oversight has never been the case where Snohomish County is concerned. I’ve now lived in Western Washington for quite a while and have spent several years straddling the border between King and Snohomish Counties. (Bothell represent!) I can say with total honesty I’ve never gotten bored with the area and have never been at a loss for something to see or do – or eat! One of my favorite, lazy-weekend activities is to jump in my car in search of random backroads and tasty treats. I am never disappointed with the hidden gems and unexpected opportunities that cross my path while wandering around Snohomish County.

Sauk River
The beautiful Sauk River

I’m going to divide my Snohomish County adventures into two sections; the “mountain side” and the “sea side,” with Part I tackling the mountainous portion of the county.  Both sections are spectacular and contain an amazing amount of adventure potential, with the overall county being very accessible from most parts of the state, at most times of the year. (The mountainous areas do pose a few more obstacles during the winter.) If you happen to live in the western part of the state as I do, Snohomish County is even more accessible. You very well might live in Snohomish County, considering it is the third most populous county in Washington State, behind King and Pierce Counties. (And 13th when ranked by size.) For extra coverage on Part I, I’ve consulted with a couple locals – AND brought along my long-time adventuring buddy (and WA State transplant) Beth, to help me explore some of the backroads. All the coverage, all the time – Snohomish County is BIG!

As it is one of Washington’s most populous counties, many people are familiar with the beauty within its boundaries. That might not seem apparent, however, once you make your way towards the mountains of Snohomish County. Just heading a few miles out of Bothell towards Monroe takes you away from the urban sprawl and into idyllic, rural farmlands and foothills – often without another soul in sight. It is completely possible within a few hours of exploration to experience the vibrant pulse of city life, serene suburban neighborhoods, gorgeous coastal shorelines, vital farmlands, sweeping forests and towering volcanic masterpieces. Snohomish County is like a ‘greatest hits’ tour of Washington state!

The North Creek Trail
Peaceful beauty on the North Creek Trail

Since a large part of Bothell is in King County, I’ll be covering it later in the project. (I’m saving King County for the end, on account of it being quite a behemoth.) The area of Bothell heading towards Mill Creek is generally Snohomish County, so that’s where I’m starting. And since that portion of the county sits on the east side of two of its main south-north thoroughfares, I-5 and I-405, I’ll be heading off in the direction of the beautiful Cascade mountain range.

When heading to Mill Creek, I typically drive north on the Bothell-Everett Highway (SR-527), through the Bothell and Canyon Park areas. It’s a main route and can be a useful alternative to I-5 and I-405. Heading through these areas, you’ll be met with a corridor of commerce with many great options for shopping, dining and general day-to-day needs.

A few of my go-to spots along the way to Mill Creek:

  • Russell’s Restaurant offers rustic dining in a renovated 1920s dairy barn and is a lovely place for a cozy lunch or dinner when in Bothell. You can find a more casual version of the fare at Russell’s Garden Café & Wine, located inside Molbak’s Garden & Home in nearby Woodinville.
  • If you’re looking for a great Bloody Mary with brunch or a tasty burger, the Crystal Creek Café in Bothell, just off I-405 is a good place to stop. In fact, you could pretty much just have the bloody Mary – it’s a meal in and of itself!
Crystal Creek
A very tasty Bloody Mary at the Crystal Creek Cafe in Bothell.
  • You’d never guess this unassuming sports bar on Bothell-Everett Highway would have a kick-ass, all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab feed on Monday nights, but they certainly do! Check out Thrasher’s Corner Sports Pub for all your sports bar – and Dungeness crab feed needs.
  • The Original Pancake House chain is always a great stop for traditional pancakes as well as their amazing Dutch-baby oven pancakes. I’m also particularly fond of their homemade corned beef hash. Mmmm… Located right off the Bothell-Everett Highway.
  • Local favorite Burgermaster, with their locally-raised, grass-fed and hormone-free beef, is one of my favorite places to get a quick burger – all from the comfort of the front seat of your ride. And those fries… And that tartar sauce… And the malts! Dreamy. (This location is conveniently situated directly off Bothell-Everett Highway)
  • Oprah loves it – and so do I! Ezell’s Famous Chicken is delicious. And so are their mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls and mac-n-cheese… (Uhhh, I’ll be right back – need to take a trip to Ezell’s) Bothell-Everett Highway for the win!
  • I’ve got a punch-card for Patty’s Egg Nest – and I am PROUD! Their Swedish pancakes are glorious. I occasionally venture off into their other breakfast masterpieces, but I’m a pretty devoted fan of the Swedish pancakes. Sigh… ALSO right off Bothell-Everett Highway.
Swedish Pancakes
Mmmmmm! Swedish pancakes at Patty’s Eggnest.

Heading into Mill Creek proper via the Bothell-Everett Highway, the area makes way for peaceful neighborhoods and parks, ample shopping areas and a great variety of dining options. Mill Creek is a pleasant community and is perfectly situated for commuting both into the Seattle area as well as locations on the ‘Eastside.’ (Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue) In recent years, the Mill Creek Town Center has brought much commerce into the central area of town. There are quite a few great options to check out in this area. Some of my favorites:

  • In need of a delicious Bundt cake? WHO ISN’T?? Check out Nothing Bundt Cakes to handle all your Bundt cake needs. Bundt cakes always remind me of this scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
  • Enjoy delicious Mexican and Caribbean fare at the Azul Restaurant & Lounge. Stop in for brunch on the weekends!
  • The Saw Mill Café is a great place for diner-style breakfasts, tasty burgers and classic comfort food.
  • Looking for homemade gelato, crepes or classic pasta dishes? Delizioso European Bistro & Wine Bar has a great selection of all the things – and wine!
  • Offering regular tasting events, small plates and a great Washington State wine selection, de Vine Wines is a cozy spot to check out. (Closed Sunday/Monday)
  • The classic UW staple, University Book Store has a Mill Creek location! A great place to grab a book and do some learnin’.
  • Central Market is one of my favorite locally-run grocery stores. I typically hit up the Shoreline location, but the Mill Creek location is pretty spectacular. An excellent seafood section, beautiful local produce, an amazing deli (the cheese!) and hard to find international items are just a few of my favorite aspects of this market.
  • If you’re a fan of maple bars AND bacon, you can have them at the same time at FROST This place makes delicious donuts as well as cupcakes and macrons. I won’t lie. I dream about their bacon maple bar…
  • A little further north on Bothell-Everett Highway, you’ll come to the Gateway Shopping Center and home to the Mill Creek McMenamins. A NW institution, McMenamins restaurants and hotels are some of my very favorite places to visit. (The Bothell Anderson School McMenamins property is fabulous and I’ll be covering it in the King County article) The Mill Creek property features outdoor seating, a brewery, (I love their Ruby Ale!) and a great menu featuring local ingredients. I’m particularly fond of the Quantum Leap BBQ pulled-pork sandwich with TOTS – or the blue cheese Captain Neon burger w/bacon. Yowsa!

The Mill Creek area has no shortage of beautiful parks, nature trails and outdoor opportunities. If you happen to be out and about in the area, a few great options to consider:

  • I am a great fan of Bocce Ball and the Buffalo Park – Bocce Ball Court is an excellent outdoor spot to knock your friend’s balls out of play. Yeah!
  • The North Creek Trail is a lovely walking/biking trail rambling from Everett through Mill Creek and into Bothell. The wetlands and wildlife are plentiful and there is much beautiful scenery to enjoy. Some of the trail markings and directions can be a bit elusive, but in general the trail starts at McCollum Pioneer Park (600 128th Street SE in Everett) and heads through Mill Creek to North Creek Park in Bothell. (1001 183rd Street in Bothell – AKA: The Sammamish River Trail at Blythe Park) You can enter the trail in Mill Creek just west of the Mill Creek Town Center.

I don’t normally head from Mill Creek over towards Stevens Pass (US-2), but for purposes of covering my favorite areas on the “mountain side” of Snohomish County, let’s head up nearby SR-522 out of Bothell towards the tiny town of Maltby

Maltby is a small stop off the highway, but it is a very worthwhile stop to make. All within a few hundred yards you can enjoy a solid day of delicious foods, shopping and adventure. Start off at the always amazing Maltby Café for a delicious breakfast or lunch. (Stop there on the way to the ski hill at Stevens Pass!) The side of bacon comes on a platter and their homemade cinnamon rolls are the size of a dinner plate… Nearby Maltby Antiques and Collectibles has an excellent selection and I’ve picked up many things I’ve absolutely NEEDED from them over the years. Cross hot air balloon rides off your bucket list and hop a ride with Over the Rainbow. (Passengers picked up at Maltby Café) And lastly, end your Maltby adventure with creamy, dreamy ice cream and custard at the Snoqualmie Scoop Shop. (Opens on 5/14 for the summer – I love their French Lavender ice cream!)

Maltby Cafe
A giant platter of breakfast goodness at the Maltby Cafe!

Heading out of Maltby, continue west on SR-522 and head towards the turnoff to US-2, to get to our next point of interest, the mountain-gateway town of Monroe. (For the record, I pronounce it MON-roe. My goofball brother thinks I’m ridiculous and says Mun-roe… The battle wages on. MON-roe. MON-roe. MON-ROE!)

Monroe is a smaller town, but the largest one you’ll hit until arriving in Leavenworth, just over Stevens Pass. What I like about Monroe (MON-roe) is it’s strategically located to still be a reasonable commute to the Eastside and also closely situated to excellent skiing and hiking opportunities. (My family often stops there to or from the ski hill) Additionally, it’s a great kick-off point for driving the stunning Cascade Loop via US-2 along with offering many great points of interest all its own.

Some great picks when visiting the MON-roe area:

  • For a good old-fashioned county fair experience, check out the Evergreen State Fair from August 22 thru September 2. (The fairground has events happening year-round!)
  • The Twin Rivers Brewing Co. / Adam’s NW Bistro & Brewery has a great selection of local craft-brews and tasty NW bistro fare.
  • For an excellent tap selection, check out the Route 2 Taproom right off US-2. They’ve also got some pretty tasty Smoked Pork Mac-n-Cheese and tots loaded with BBQ pulled pork. Awwweeeee yeeeaahhhh… (Looks like they’re opening a place in Woodinville as well – Route 522 Taproom. Going to have to check it out!)
  • Soooo, you like the creepy-crawly reptile thing? The Reptile Zoo just past Monroe on US-2 is the place for you. All things reptile – just waiting to creep up on ya! You will never run into me there, however, as I’m not into the creepy-crawly reptile thing. No. No. NO.  But hey – you do you!
  • For a leisurely stroll in the MON-roe area, check out Lake Tye. There’s a nice walk around the lake and there are all sorts of events going on year-round in the area.

A little further west on US-2 you’ll come to the small towns of Sultan, Startup, Goldbar and Index. They are all located directly alongside US-2 and can be a bit blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, but it would be a real shame to pass them by. There are many great spots tucked along the way and many excellent reasons to stop and spend some time. A few destinations to add to your US-2 adventures:

  • Spada Lake is a great stop located not too far off of US-2. There are several easy-going trail options, but it’s also a jumping-off point for several other cool trails, including Greider Lakes and The Sultan River Canyon Trail.
  • Beautiful Wallace Falls State Park is an incredibly popular spot for hiking, snowshoeing and camping. There are five cabins for rent (Book early!) as well as walk-in tent sites along with backcountry sites available at nearby lakes. (5-6 mile hike away) One-day parking fee or Discover Pass
  • There is much watery adventure to enjoy in the greater Sultan area. Rip Tide Fish is a great resource for options in the Skykomish River area and check out Outdoor Adventures for all things river-rafty. If you need a place to stay while adventuring on the Skykomish River, the lovely Bonny Sky Lodge is located right on the river.
  • I love the old Washington State fire lookouts. You can stay at the Heybrook Lookout, located in the greater Sultan area. It’s high on my bucket list to score a reservation!
  • The Mountain View Diner in Goldbar serves hearty, made-from-scratch breakfast, lunch and dinner in a cozy little spot right off US-2. YUM!
  • I love the classic Zeke’s Drive-In. They’ve got great burgers, fries and shakes and are conveniently located directly off US-2. (I must also mention they’re one of the last places to stop with a restroom before you reach the top of the pass. This is important to note.)
  • I have sworn testimony from a Sultan native that the Sultan Bakery is beyond compare. She’s been a companion on many of my recent foodie adventures and is also a pretty excellent chef in her own right. I trust her taste implicitly and so should you… Thanks for the tip, Ellie!

Taking it to the Snohomish County border, we end up in the tiny hamlet of Index.  In addition to the beautiful forests and mountainous areas, Index is also a filming location of 80s classic, Harry and the Hendersons. Check out the quirky Espresso Chalet for a shot of espresso and film nostalgia. Should you be looking for more of an adrenaline shot, Index Town Wall is a popular trail for rock climbing. It’s a beautiful area, but if you have an aversion to heights, you might consider shying away from this one. The same can be said for the lofty heights of nearby Mount Index.  It’s going to take a bit of training, but the Mount Index East Route is on my bucket list. One of these days…

For more adventure past Index and into the beautiful, neighboring Chelan County, check out my recent I Ate the State article for the tasty scoop.

Downtown Snohomish
Onto lovely downtown Snohomish!

Back near the Maltby area, head up SR-9 towards the beautiful county namesake, Snohomish. Known as the “Antique Capitol of the Northwest,” Snohomish nicely mixes the modern conveniences of a big-city suburb with the classic charm of a well-established small town. The entire downtown “historic district” and nearby Snohomish River Bridge are in fact listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Long inhabited by the Lushootseed Native American tribe (now known as the Snohomish tribe), it became first known as Cadyville by western settlers in 1858 and later in 1871 as Snohomish. (Note: Snohomish the county was established in 1861.)

Strolling down 1st Street in the historic district in an absolutely lovely way to spend the day. Parking can get hectic on weekends, but it is entirely worth the effort. 1st Street alone is chock full of antique shops, boutiques, restaurants and quirky bars and saloons, while the surrounding neighborhoods are filled with beautiful homes and strolls. (Note: Some of the establishments on 1st Street aren’t open on Sundays. This is the case in the off-season – summer might be different…) For a unique tour of the area, check out the Snohomish Walking Tour designed for your smart phone and download the handy accompanying brochure. (Courtesy of the Granite Falls Historical Society) For a detailed look at early Snohomish life, visit the Blackman House Museum (c. 1878) located just off 1st Street.

There are so many excellent shops on 1st Street and around the historic district. I will fully admit to girding my wallet on my last visit as there were many bits and baubles I positively needed. BUT – I was really, really good and only picked up a few necessities. Pretty much… A few spots to get you started on your Snohomish visit:

  • It’s the tiniest shop in Snohomish (true story!), but Lather and Salt is big on delicious smells from their amazing soaps and more. (I have a weakness for handcrafted soaps. I cannot say no. And I didn’t. But come on – everyone needs soap!)
  • Faded Elegance made me want to sit in the middle of the store, in a cozy chair, enjoying a spot of tea… just taking in the lovely antiques and home items. Like it was my home or something!
  • Worthy is very worthy of your antiques browsing endeavors. SO many lovely items to bring home… Stay strong!
  • When I find myself (finally) decorating my dream home/cabin, I’m heading to Retreat home store to help outfit my digs. So many dreamy items to choose from. They have a “bar” where you can create your own terrarium!

There are many fine options for dining in the Snohomish area. 1st Street in the Historic District is a goldmine of restaurants, but greater Snohomish has many additional selections. A few places of note for your Snohomish visitation:

  • Snohomish Pie Company. It’s a company that makes PIES. Need I say more? They also have soups and sandwiches – and cookies. My work here is done. Located on historic 1st (Now also in Mountlake Terrace!)
  • Larry’s Smokehouse is an excellent place to check out for great BBQ and delicious smoked salmon. They also do great catering and are an incredibly nice bunch of people to work with. I’ve driven out of my way on more than one occasion to procure their smoked salmon. Located on SR-9.
  • If you’d like your lunch with a side of ghostly super-sauce, The Oxford Saloon is the place for you. Serving pub-style food and tasty drinks, The Oxford Saloon has been in operation since 1910 and is purported to be haunted. Spooky! They’re family friendly during the day and offer music in the evenings. And ghosts. Located on 1st Street.
  • Also located on 1st street, The Repp features tasty NW bistro fare and cocktails with regular live music. Closed Mondays.
  • The Center Public House is an exceptionally cool, non-profit pub serving great food and drinks. Their proceeds benefit local charitable organizations such as Take the Next Step, Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services, Snohomish Community Foodbank and Sarvey Wildlife Center. Right around the corner from 1st Street. Family friendly, closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

If you’d like to check out the beverage offerings of Snohomish, there are many options. Just a few of the hot spots:

  • Trails End Taphouse & Restaurant – Located a few minutes away from the 1st Street core, they have a great tap list and a tasty menu.
  • The Skip Rock Distillery offers an excellent selection of spirits and tastings and is located in a very quaint brick shop just off of 1st Street. I’m a fan of their Skip Rock Rye Whiskey. (Closed Sundays)
  • Randolph Cellars tasting room is located on 1st Street and is a lovely stop amidst the antique browsing. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly and the tasting room relaxing. I very much enjoyed their 2015 Petit Verdot. Delicious!
  • For a great overview of Northwest beverages, check out the Snohomish Wine Festival on March 7, 2020 or hit up the Snohomish Ale Trail for a taste of all things Northwest and hoppy.

Walking around 1st Street and checking out all the antique shops can indeed offer some exercise, but chances are, you’ve added a bit of food and drink into the equation. While the overall combo might even out, add a few more steps to the Fitbit with one of the great walks and hikes in the Snohomish area. A few popular options:

  • Centennial Trail – Walk, bike or ride (a horse) on 30 miles of trail connecting Snohomish, Lake Stevens, Arlington and the Skagit County border.
  • Lord Hill Regional Park – Hike, bike or ride (horses!) around this beautiful nature preserve and check out one of the many ponds within the wetland areas.
  • Snohomish Riverfront Trail – Walk along the winding Snohomish River and enjoy the peaceful scene. It forms a one-mile loop trail with 1st Street and Maple Avenue. A good one for walking off that wine-tasting and dinner!

The Snohomish area has many beautiful stretches of farmland and with that comes many options for visiting the local farmers. Fall and winter bring with them a score of pumpkin picking, corn mazes and Christmas tree gathering, but many of the farms have events going on throughout the year. A few of the prime (pumpkin) picks:

  • Check out Bob’s Corn & Pumpkin Farm during the harvest season for their corn maze and U-pick pumpkins. They also have a great country store open mid-August thru the end of October.
  • The Thomas Family Farm also features corn mazes and a pumpkin patch and is open during the fall. Additionally, they host events throughout the year. Two intriguing upcoming events are the whiskey distillers’ night, Snohomish on the Rocks (4/27/19) and the Snohomish Hard Cider Festival (8/11/19).
  • In addition to corn mazes and pumpkins, Stocker Farms also has Christmas trees, as well as a country market. (All open seasonally) In October, be sure to check out their “Stalker” Farms
  • The Farm at Swan’s Trail has all the usual fall farm activities with the addition of U-pick apples and early-bird breakfasts on weekends. They also have a concession stand in the fall. (Open end of September thru end of October)
  • Craven Farms rolls out all the fall hits from September 21st thru October 31st and also plays host to cool events during the year including NW Vintage & Vino (May 17-18) and the Antique Tailgate Sale. (6/29)
  • Hagen Farm doesn’t do the corn-maze/pumpkin-patch bit, but they DO sell grass-fed, naturally raised meats as well as offer up the farmhouse for “haycation” rentals. They also have private hiking trails and a roadside store called Milk House Mercantile.
Snohomish County Backroads
Beautiful scenery on the Snohomish Co. backroads (Photo credit: B. Skoczen)

Next up on the tour is a visit to tiny Granite Falls, in the shadow of beautiful Mt. Pilchuck. From Snohomish, we took SR-9 up to SR-92 and into Granite Falls. There are several other back-road routes into Granite Falls, but this one works best for me when coming from the greater Seattle area. (The Jordan Road-Canyon Creek route is an option when coming from Arlington.) It is on the drive to Granite Falls, when the roads become much less traveled, that I really start to feel the tug of mountain adventure. (This is also the case when heading out of MON-roe, but as US-2 is a state thoroughfare and often quite busy, it can be harder to achieve the desired level of peaceful exploration.)

Mt Pilchuck
Granite Falls, in the shadow of Mt. Pilchuck

Mount Pilchuck is definitely the most imposing Cascade peak as seen from Granite Falls, but in reality sports about half the elevation of the highest point in Snohomish County. Seen looming in the distance from Granite Falls is the beautiful Glacier Peak, towering over the area at an impressive 10,541 feet. Glacier Peak is the most remote of the five active volcanoes in Washington State, a list which includes Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker and Mount Adams. Its threat potential has been labeled “very high” by the USGS, along with Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Baker. (Mount Adams is slacking and has only made it on the “high” threat potential list.) Additionally, the threat levels of Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier are currently listed as 2nd and 3rd in the US, behind Hawaii’s very active Kilauea. It’s never a dull day for the geology of Washington State.

Eruption Awareness
Important info regarding the local volcanic situation.

If you’re interested in hiking or climbing in the area, there are many options. For a good workout, hike up to the Mt. Pilchuck lookout via Mt. Pilchuck State Park or try one of the many hikes in the Glacier Peak area. If climbing is your thing, consider the Glacier Peak / Disappointment Peak Cleaver route. Start training!

If you’d like to get fueled up for your hiking adventure, check out Hanky Pies for a delicious cup of coffee and a spot of breakfast or lunch – Or PIE! They also do a lot of great community work and sponsor local events. (Closed Sundays) For a great pizza pie, hit up Omega Pizza just around the corner for delicious pizza, salads, gyros, calzones and more.

The Granite Falls Museum and Historical Society (open Sundays, 12-5) is a great resource for not only the Granite Falls area but for all of Snohomish County. Stop by the museum proper for a well-curated look at local history or strike out on your own with their Granite Falls Walking Tour. Just download the brochure from the website, call the number listed and enter your stop number from the brochure for a guided tour! They have additional tours for the Snohomish County area, one of which is the Snohomish County Living History – Guided Mobile Tour, covering all the museums in Snohomish County. Download the brochure from the site and follow along with maps and info. Very handy!

Just out of Granite Falls lurks one of the coolest roads in Washington State, the Mountain Loop Highway. (And we have a lot of cool roads!) It is only fully traversable in the warmer months (unless you’ve got a beefy snowmobile or are rockin’ snowshoes), but even then it can give you a go as portions are a bit narrow and graveled. Who’s up for an adventure?!

Mt Loop Highway
Get ready for an adventure!

The Mountain Loop Highway heads out of Granite Falls towards Verlot, past the ghost towns of Silverton and Bedal (formerly Monte Cristo) and ends as you near Darrington. It’s a serious mountain trek filled with beautiful hiking, camping, backpacking, fishing, climbing and general communing-with-nature opportunities. It’s truly unique and removed from the city hubbub only a couple hours away. Check out the Granite Falls Museum Mountain Loop Tour for commentary along the way. (There’s very spotty cell service, if any, so download the brochure before you head out. GPS should still work on your phone.) For the record, on this particular journey, part of the road was still closed due to winter conditions. We did, however, go as far as we could on both sides of the closure. (There was a fair amount of driving involved as well and several times Beth and I looked at each and agreed we should probably turn around. Sporty Spice is AWD and good in snow, but sometimes you gotta make the icy roads call… We’ve learned our lessons over the years.)

There are indeed many great hikes and adventures to be had along the way on the Mountain Loop Highway. Here are a few cool spots to get you going:

  • Lake 22 Trail is a beautiful jaunt with lush views in the Granite Falls area near Mount Pilchuck. It can also be a good snowshoe trail in the snowy months, but due to avalanches on the road, travel in the warmer months is recommended.
  • There aren’t many structures or remnants of the old mining settlement left, but the Monte Cristo Ghost Town is definitely worth investigating. It’s a nice round trip hike out of the Barlow Pass area. (Only accessible in warmer months due to this portion of the highway being closed during winter.)
  • The Big Four Ice Caves are located out of Verlot and offer a great view of Big Four Mountain and the icy caves at its base. (Don’t walk on or in them!) The hike is fairly easy, but not really accessible in the winter months.
  • For great snowshoeing with beautiful forest scenery and views, hit up the Mallardy Ridge trail area just past Verlot for great winter adventure.
  • Bedal Campground is a low-key, drive-in campground near the Sauk River with a great hike to the North Fork Sauk Falls located close by. (Also easily accessible out of Darrington)

Popping out on the other side of the Mountain Loop Highway, you wind up in the little foothills town of Darrington. Nestled right at the edge of beautiful forest land and framed by spectacular mountain peaks (Spectacular!), Darrington is a great place to hang out as well as an excellent jumping-off point for local adventures.

Part of Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, the Darrington Ranger District has long been safeguarding the area.  The Darrington ranger station, Miners Ridge Lookout and Green Mt Lookout are all on the National Register of Historic Places. The ranger station is located right in town and is a great resource for learning all about the local hikes, fishing, camping and more. On our recent Darrington visit, we spotted the local forest ranger taking it to the streets – with cross-country skis in tow.

On the topic of hiking and adventuring in the beautiful local forests and mountains, here’s a list to send you on your way:

  • You can’t miss the amazing Whitehorse Mountain rising up behind Darrington. It dominates the skyline and is truly mesmerizing on a sunny day. The Neiderprum Trail 653 is a good trek, but the ascent of the actual mountain should only be attempted by experienced mountaineers.
  • Yet another spectacular point in the Darrington skyline are the peaks of Three Fingers. It’s a stunning site just viewing it from town, but there’s a cool trail which provides quite a day’s work-out and stunning views from Tin Can Gap if you’re willing to make the trek. (Or backcountry camp overnight if you want to break up the work-out!)
  • The historic Green Mt Lookout (c. 1933) is accessible by a relatively moderate trail and provides excellent views and lush forest scenery.
  • The Old Sauk River Trail is an easy going, family-friendly trail through lush forest with streams and the Sauk River in the background.

In addition to the stunning natural beauty of the Cascades, Darrington is also well known for its contribution to the state’s music scene. Every 3rd weekend of July, Darrington welcomes musicians and fans from around the world for the Darrington Bluegrass Festival. It’s a great time to visit, but arrange lodging early.

If all the hiking, driving on crazy backroads and basking in the local beauty makes you hungry, there are some great options in Darrington to curb your appetite:

  • The Burger Barn is an old-school burger joint in the center of town with great burgers, fries and shakes. Outdoor seating available – great for taking in the mountain view while enjoying a burger.
  • Check out the Hometown Bakery Café for delicious baked goods, pizza and salads.
  • River Time Brewing is a cozy spot with locally crafted beer, tasty sandwiches and flatbread pizza.

SR-530 is the main route out of Darrington towards Oso and Arlington. In the hopefully not-too-distant future you’ll also be able to hike, run or bike the 28 miles to Arlington via the Whitehorse Trail. (With a connection to the Centennial Trail.) Currently, only 6 miles of the Whitehorse Trail are open to the Swede Heaven Trailhead, but it’s a nice, family-friendly jaunt in the meantime. Keep an eye on the project website for updates on trail status and openings.

On the way towards Arlington and the I-5 corridor, you’ll come to the tiny – and mighty – area of Oso. On March 22nd 2014, Oso experienced a horrible, catastrophic landslide directly alongside and across SR-530. An enormous part of the hillside came careening down across the valley, taking with it homes, livelihoods, a mile of SR-530 and most tragically, the lives of 43 people from the community of Steelhead Haven.

As of March 2019, the 23-mile portion of SR-530 between Arlington and Darrington been renamed the “Oso Slide Memorial Highway” in remembrance of this tragedy. A mailbox sculpture near the site pays tribute to the nineteen mail and newspaper boxes that was once a neighborhood gathering spot.

On a happier note, there are many wonderful spots to be found between Darrington, Oso and Arlington. Check out the Boulder River Wilderness area and in particular, its namesake Boulder River Trail, set with beautiful waterfalls and river views. Also in the area is the old Trafton School (c. 1912), located on Jim Creek Road. The one-room school house is sadly no longer open, but I’ve read it’s been sold and may soon have a new mission. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is worth a stop, if only to check it out. If you’re up for a unique dining experience while in the area, stop in at Rhodes River Ranch and dine while looking out over their indoor horse-training ring. They also feature regular entertainment and brunch on weekends.

Rounding out the mountain side of my Snohomish County journey, I spent a bit of time in Arlington. In addition to exploring the area on my own, I also hit up my good friend and Arlington native, Mallen, for a few deep-root tips. The Arlington area has a lot to offer and it was good to get a few secret-squirrel tips from a local. (Thanks, Mallen!)

Located near the Stillaguamish River (named for the local Stillaguamish Tribe) and the Sauk River Valley, Arlington is well-situated for great outdoor adventures as well as being an important contributor to the state’s agricultural bounty. Its close proximity to the I-5 corridor also makes it easily accessible to Seattle and Vancouver BC and a great jumping-off point for travels around the county, in addition to neighboring Skagit County. (I Ate the State article coming soon!)

Beautiful scenery on the way to Arlington

If you’d like to sample the local wares, consider checking out one of the area’s farms to experience the bounty firsthand. A great way to plan your path is to consult the Red Rooster Route for a list of family farms in the Arlington, Oso and Darrington areas. Take Exit 208 off I-5 to follow the entire route. A few suggestions if you’d like to do things à la carte:

  • A Northwest classic, Biringer Farms (since 1948) is the quintessential place to visit if you love strawberries – and the other berries, too! Check out their Strawberry Fest in mid-June and sign your kids up for their “Be-A-Farmer” tours from mid-June thru mid-July. To further celebrate your love of the strawberry, hit up the famous Strawberry Festival in neighboring Marysville, June 8th – 16th.
  • For crisp fall air, farm-fresh produce, pumpkins and corn mazes, visit Fosters Produce & Corn Maze from September 15th thru Oct 31st to get your harvest fill.
  • You say you don’t really dig the strawberry? Head over to Bryant Blueberry Farm & Nursery for U-pick blueberries and lovely flowers! (July 2 – Early Sept) Also, how do you not like strawberries?
  • The Garden Treasures Nursery & Organic Farm has an excellent selection of organically grown produce. Check out their U-Pick page for harvest details.
  • For a taste of all the farms together, visit the Arlington Farmers Market for a sampling of all your favorites. (June 1st thru Labor Day Weekend – Legion Memorial Park, Saturdays, 10a-3p)
  • Learn about the history of the valley and all the stories that make it the beautiful and bountiful area it is today at the Stillaguamish Valley Pioneer Museum. (Open Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays from 1p-4p. Closed December and January.)

Given its proximity to rivers and forestland, Arlington is situated for some pretty spectacular outdoor activity. Hiking, biking, camping, fishing, boating, hanging out with kangaroos – Arlington has it all! I’ve heard some pretty entertaining stories from my friend, Mallen about his youthful exploits… Arlington seems like a great place to grow up with potential adventures around every corner.

A few cool places to enjoy the fresh Arlington air:

  • As if kangaroos in Washington weren’t interesting enough, the Outback Kangaroo Farm also has wallabies, lemurs, llamas, peacocks Nigerian dwarf goats, miniature donkeys and MORE. Check out their 40-min tour and say hi to their very unique menagerie. (Closed Mon-Wed, open 10a-4pm during rest of the week)
  • Located on the Stillaguamish River (affectionately known as “The Stilly”), River Meadows Park has traditional campsites as well as a yurt village! They also host a Stillaguamish Tribe event every year called the Festival of the River, featuring live music, a fun run and a traditional alder wood salmon bake. (August 10-11)
  • Looking for a cool, capped full-pipe? Who isn’t?? Hit up the Arlington Skatepark at Bill Quake Memorial Park and get your moves on – And wear a helmet and pads. Aunt Dayna cares.
  • Haller Park, where the north and south forks of the Stillaguamish River converge, has a lot to offer. The Centennial Trail follows along the old Burlington-Northern railroad tracks and there are great tide pools to check out near the river. The Great Stilly Duck Dash and the Pedal, Paddle, Puff Triathlon events over the 4th of July are great for the whole family. (My friend Mallen says you can win lots-o-money at the Great Stilly Duck Dash by purchasing a duck for the river “race.” If your duck is the fastest – you win!)
  • Head over to the Arlington airport for the annual Arlington Fly-In. (Aug 16-18) Classic air-show attractions and festivities for the whole family.
  • If you’d like to cast a line in pursuit of the “big one,” Arlington has many great opportunities to help you on your path. (Or maybe you could just kick back in your rowboat with a beer… And then stop at the fish counter on the way home. Your call.) Lake Armstrong, Lake Riley, Twin Lakes and the North or South Stillaguamish River all offer a chance at making your dreams come true.
Downtown Arlington
Great old buildings in downtown Arlington

There are many great places to grab a bite in Arlington. I recently had one of the best burgers I’ve had in a while – at a very unassuming spot. While there are many more places I’d like to check out, we’re pretty lucky to have the list rounded out by an Arlington foodie.

  • Hit up the always packed Blue Bird Café for classic diner fare. I’ve been assured it’s the go-to breakfast in Arlington.
  • If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, head to Bistro San Martin for a nice meal on your next date night.
  • I love that the Moose Creek BBQ is located in Smokey point – How could you not get a smoky perfect brisket with a name pedigree like that? “Pretty legit old-school BBQ,” says my friend, Mallen.
  • Chinese food on pizza? Sign me up! Hit up the very unique Pedeltweezers if you’re curious.
  • I’ll admit it. I have a long-time affection for both bowling and bowling alley/diner food. Rocket Alley can hook you up with both – as well as some entertaining eating competitions. Additionally, I’m told the owner is also a sawyer, who sells the wood rounds he cuts up mixed with sawdust for self-burning campfire wood. Bowling, tasty food AND campfire goods – that’s a turkey right there! (Yes. I just made a bad bowling joke. Carry on.)
  • The hidden-away Ellie’s at the Airport is a great place for lunch or breakfast. Airplanes and omelets – good morning!
  • For an excellent burger, fresh-cut fries and a delicious milkshake, head to Nutty’s Junkyard grill. It truly was the best burger I’ve had in a long time and the décor is worth checking out in and of itself. I can honestly say, I’ve never seen a bathroom floor laid with pennies. Very cool!
  • Head over to Skookum Brewery for locally crafted beers in their Smokey Point taproom. They also host local food trucks and events. (Closed Mon/Tues)
  • I’ve seen some good shows and actually won a few dollars at the Angel of the Winds Casino & Resort. They have a nice selection of restaurants, an onsite hotel and are easily accessible from Seattle or Vancouver BC. You can’t go wrong! Well, except maybe at the craps table. I suck at craps.
  • Set in a historic Arlington building (c. 1898) that’s seen many incarnations over the years, the Mirkwood Public House hosts live music, a café with vegetarian and vegan options, gaming, drinks and a tattoo shop called Mordor Tattoo. All the orcs love it. Sauron would be proud.
  • Looking for a dive-bar kinda night? The Cedar Stump is the place to go. (But my buddy, Mallen tells me everyone just calls it ‘The Stump.’) I’m betting the farm it’s named after the famous Big Cedar Stump, now located at Smokey Point Rest Stop off of I-5 North…
  • If you’re out for a ride on your Hog, check out the Longhorn Saloon. It was voted one of the 5 best biker bars in the greater Seattle area by KISW!
  • For drinks, pool and the Hawks, check out the Whitehorse Saloon in downtown Arlington.
Mirkwood Public House
Where Sauron goes for lunch! (Photo credit: B. Skoczen)

Arlington is a tight-knit community with a great local focus, but they also reach out on the larger scale. Until recently, my friend Mallen was a Volunteer with the Arlington Fire Department. He spent many years on the force and was also able to witness and participate in much of the great community work the department performs. One such event involved the somber endeavor of the department traveling to New York City to bring back a piece of steel-column from the World Trade Center to honor the tragedy of 9/11. The piece is now housed at local Fire Station 46 where the public is welcome to visit.

This brings to an end my “mountain side” adventures in Snohomish. Time to hit up I-5 South and head home… Stay tuned for Part II where I’ll mosey around the beautiful “Seaside Loop,” starting at Stanwood and heading down through Everett, Mukilteo and Edmonds. There are SO many more amazing spots to check out in the diverse lands of Snohomish County. DO join me!

See you soon!

I Ate the State: Snohomish County – The Playlist – Check it out on Spotify

  • Keep on Runnin’ – Journey (from Escape)
  • Half-Life – Duncan Sheik (from Daylight)
  • Crooked Teeth – Death Cab for Cutie (from Plans)
  • Wait Until Tomorrow – Live at the Nokia Theatre – John Mayer (from Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles)
  • The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room) (Live) – Flight of the Conchords (from The Distant Future)
  • Wonderboy – Tenacious D (from Tenacious D)
  • Only Happy When It Rains – Garbage (from Absolute Garbage)
  • Good Morning! – Duncan Sheik (from Daylight)
  • Someday You Will Be Loved – Death Cab for Cutie (from Plans)
  • I Think I’m Paranoid – Garbage (from Absolute Garbage)
  • Still They Ride – Journey (from Escape)
  • Robots (Live) – Flight of the Conchords (from The Distant Future)
  • Stop This Train – Live at the Nokia Theatre – John Mayer (from Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles)
  • Wherever Is Your Heart – Brandi Carlile (from The Firewatcher’s Daughter)
  • Are You Alright? – Lucinda Williams (from West)
  • Merry Go ‘Round – Kacey Musgraves (from Same Trailer Different Park)
  • Come with Me Tonight – Bob Schneider (from I’m Good Now)
  • 3×5 – John Mayer (from Room for Squares)
  • Step Off – Kacey Musgraves ((from Same Trailer Different Park)
  • Wayside / Back in Time – Gillian Welch (from Soul Journey)
  • Speed Trap Town – Jason Isbell (from Something More Than Free)
  • The Moon Is Made of Gold – Rickie Lee Jones (from Balm in Gilead)
Mt Loop Highway
Beautiful views on the Mt Loop Highway

For more I Ate the State Adventures:

3 thoughts on “I Ate the State – Snohomish County (Part I – The Mountain Side)

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