Monte Cristo Railway. Photo credit: WESLB via Flickr CC
1. 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 Highway 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. Be sure to check out the Darrington Bluegrass Festival, held July 15–17, 2022.
The route: From Seattle, head north on SR-522 East through Snohomish, then on SR-92 East 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 West takes you from Darrington back home via I-5.
Stops along the way
Mile 29: Proper Joe Coffeehouse (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 United States, with lovely grounds and unique elements, including hanging “omikuji,” or fortune-telling paper strips. Shrine grounds are currently open Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Formal visits (Gosanpai) require an appointment, so be sure to visit the website for further information before you go.
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 with 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 7 miles round-trip.
Mile 47: Playa Bonita Mexican Restaurant (Granite Falls): Fill your bellies with family-friendly favorites at this popular local spot.
Mile 100: Old Sauk River Trail (Darrington): This easy trail 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 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 the rooms are clean and some have kitchenettes (360-436-1776).
Next up: North Olympic Peninsula