Route 2, along part of the Cascade Loop Scenic Highway, offers enough tiny towns, scenic wonders and offbeat attractions to warrant a weekend road trip.
Snohomish, with its historic downtown packed with restaurants and shops, is the ideal jumping off point for a Route 2 jaunt. The former “Antique Capital of the Northwest” now has a younger, hipper vibe and a fast-growing beer, wine and craft distilling industry.
“With eight breweries in town, you’d think we’d be upset by all the competition,” said Frank Sandoval, who runs the SnoTown Brewery with his wife, Keri. “But the more breweries there are in town the more Snohomish becomes a destination for people who love to drink great beer.”
In Monroe, about 10 miles from Snohomish, the Evergreen State Fairgrounds are home to the annual Evergreen State Fair, which runs for twelve days from late August through Labor Day, and the Evergreen Speedway, a top-10 NASCAR track hosting more than 140 events a year. Out on Route 2, there’s the family-friendly Reptile Zoo, with snakes, lizards, frogs, a two-headed turtle and an albino alligator named Baskar.
About 8 miles from Monroe is Sultan and, along the Sultan River, the 85-acre Osprey Park. Amenities include 2 miles of forest hiking trails and plenty of footbridges sited for viewing spawning salmon, including the pink salmon that only run in odd-numbered years. For a hearty meal or snack, follow the locals to the Sultan Bakery, noted for oversized meal portions, sandwiches made with thick slices of homemade bread and an overflowing pastry case filled with everything from cream-puffs and brownies to hefty apple cinnamon cups and Bigfoot maple bars.
Continue 6 miles to Gold Bar and to the turnoff for Wallace Falls State Park, which has 12 miles of hiking trails and a spectacular 265-foot, three-tiered waterfall. Or stay on Route 2 for another 9 miles and take a mile-long zig into Index, on the North Fork of the Skykomish River. There, Lynn Chamberlain and David Meier, proprietors of A Stone’s Throw Bed & Breakfast, can see 5,991-foot-tall Mount Index from their backyard and from their front porch can spot expert rock climbers making their way up the 1,000-foot vertical granite cliff known as the Town Wall. “The climbers sometimes sleep up there too,” Meier said. “You can often see them hanging there in colored sacks.”
Tiny towns in the Northwest never fall short of outdoor amenities. The Outdoor Adventures Center offers equipment rentals, instruction and organized tours for everything from river rafting and kayaking to gold panning, hiking and horseback riding. “We get three types of customers,” said Outdoor Adventures founder Bill Corson. “Visitors to the region who get captivated by the beauty of Washington’s North Cascades Mountains; adventurers determined to climb the wall or get out on the river; and people from cities such as Seattle or Tacoma who wonder why they’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest all their lives and never knew all this existed.”
From Index, it’s still 25 miles along Route 2 to the top of Stevens Pass. Recommended stops along the way include the restored railroad town of Skykomish, a tiny town, where visitors can tour a museum inside the original 1898 depot and take unlimited free rides on the ⅛-scale trains of the Great Northern & Cascade Railway.
At the Iron Goat Trail Interpretive Center, at milepost 58 on Route 2, there’s a red caboose on display and information boards sharing historic details of the Great Northern Railroad that once rolled over the Cascades. A 7-mile hiking trail following the railway’s route starts from here and nears the former resort town of Wellington, a railroad stop with a chilling past: The 1910 Wellington Disaster. The disaster was an avalanche which claimed ninety-seven lives and a place in history as one of the country’s worst train-related tragedies. A 7-mile hiking trail following the railway’s route starts from here.
End your adventure at the Stevens Pass Mountain Resort at the top of Stevens Pass, elevation 4,091 feet. Summer visitors have a wide menu of outdoor activities to choose from, including hiking, mountain biking, disc golf, trailhead yoga classes, oversized games of chess and Jenga, and scenic chairlift rides.