Monte Cristo Railway. Photo credit: WESLB via Flickr CC
The mountain loop
Distance from Seattle: 175 miles round-trip, 4.5 hours of driving time
There’s gold in them thar hills! Known for bluegrass music, a rich mining history and occasional Sasquatch sightings, the Mountain Loop is the wilderness gateway to Glacier Peak, one of our region's most active volcanoes. This state scenic byway is peppered with tight-knit communities that depend on tourism for their economies — a fact that’s even more poignant since the massive mudslide that ripped through Oso in 2014. Much of the route follows the old Everett & Monte Cristo Railway, where many relics of the mining era remain. Save the date: Make this trip in mid-July to hear the sounds of the Mountain Loop at Darrington’s Bluegrass Festival.
The route: From Seattle, head north on SR-522 E. through Snohomish, then on SR-92 E. to Granite Falls and the Mountain Loop Highway. The road twists and turns through the emerald canyons of the central Cascades until you reach Darrington. SR-530 W. takes you from Darrington back home via I-5.
Stops along the way
MILE 29: Proper Joe Café (Snohomish): Here’s your morning pit stop for lattes (they roast their own beans) and gluten-free muffins.
MILE 45: Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America (Granite Falls): This Shinto shrine on the Pilchuck River is the only one of its kind in the continental U.S., with lovely grounds and unique elements, including hanging “omikuji,” or fortune-telling paper strips (open daily 10 a.m.–4 p.m.). Note that the inner shrine will be open Sunday, April 7, 2019 for the Great Spring Ceremony.
MILE 46: Granite Falls Historical Museum (Granite Falls): Wondering how much gold was really up there, or why the railway to Monte Cristo was scrapped? Answers here (open Sundays noon–5 p.m. or by appointment, 360-691-2603).
MILE 47: Lime Kiln Trail/Robe Canyon Historic Park (Granite Falls): This easy trail follows the Stillaguamish River along the long-gone Everett & Monte Cristo Railway, built in the 1890s. Look for artifacts of the limestone mining era all along the trail, from moss-cloaked saw blades to a 20-foot-tall lime kiln. Turn around at the kiln, and you'll have traversed five miles round-trip.
MILE 47: BBQ Bucket (Granite Falls): Perfect post-hike grub. Order the brisket plate with your favorite sides and sauces, such as rhubarb-habanero sauce.
MILE 100: Old Sauk Trail (Darrington): An easy trail that meanders alongside the beautiful Sauk River through a mossy wonderland. The first portion of the trail is gravel and can be hiked with a stroller.
MILE 103: Mountain Loop Books and Coffee (Darrington): Stop in for delicious sandwiches to eat here or take with you; kids can load up on reading materials.
MILE 117: Boulder River Trail (Oso): If towering, moss-draped trees and pounding waterfalls are your thing, you’ll love this trail because it has plenty of both. The second waterfall, just over a mile in, is a good turnaround point.
Where to stay
Darrington Motor Inn (Darrington): It’s one of the few hotels in the area and nothing fancy, but rooms are clean and some have kitchenettes (360-436-1776).