A Guide to the Perfect Mountain Loop Road Trip
BY RICHARD PORTER FOR SEATTLE NORTHCOUNTRY
Summer road trips are just exactly the perfect thing. They’re all about spontaneous adventure and discovery. A drive off the beaten path gives you the joys of exploring new places and filling your phone’s camera roll with brilliant, color-saturated memories.
It’s time to explore the Mountain Loop Highway! It can either be enjoyed as a solid day trip, or it can be stretched out into a weekend or more of camping, hiking, fishing, and mountain biking. Or maybe your best bet is to simply sit by the river doing absolutely nothing at all.
No matter how you play it, you’re sure to create stories to tell for years to come.
GRANITE FALLS TO DARRINGTON
The small town of Granite Falls is the southern gateway to the Mountain Loop Highway. The Mountain Loop is a 52-mile scenic byway that takes motorists and bicyclists out into the North Cascades and back by way of the logging town of Darrington. Along the route are ample spots for pulling off the highway for recreation. Once you make a round trip back to Everett it’s a full 90-plus miles. A full day, indeed.
READY? LET’S GO!
Your best bet for breakfast is Lyla’s Cafe (106 S Cascade Ave #101). Located just inside town, Lyla’s specializes in brunchy pastries, sandwiches, and coffee. The small-town warmth and ample carbohydrates are just the thing to warm you up before your weekend of hiking.
Need basic camping supplies? Stop one block away at the Ace Hardware (108 S Granite Ave). Be sure to pack the “10 Essentials” for outdoor safety. You’ll find them here. Ace also sells maps, camping gear, and permits.
The traveler who is journeying with intention will want to visit the Granite Falls Historical Museum (109 E Union St). The town takes pride in its cultural heritage and goes to great lengths to celebrate its history of mining and timber felling.
Finally, before you leave town be sure to fill your cooler at the IGA grocery store (115 N Granite Ave). The deli has foods that require little to no prep (for those of you who aren’t cool with cooking over an open fire or on a camp stove).
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
One thing to remember before you head out: there aren’t any hotels in this neck of the woods, so Airbnb cabins or camping are your best bets. Reserve an Airbnb in advance, especially during the summer when folks are out and about in the hills.
Please check the signs as you head out of town. If a burn ban is in effect there are absolutely no fires.
ON THE LOOP
There are plenty of camping spots along the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River, offering glimpses of Mount Pilchuck, Big Four, and other prominent mountains in the Cascades, including the elusive Glacier Peak.
Welcome to the backcountry – a place of towering conifers, snowy peaks even into summer, and singing fresh water.
At its east end, the Mountain Loop turns from pavement to a dirt road at Barlow Pass. The outer reaches of the loop are a bit rough and potholed, yet offer some of the most memorable riverside camping spots for the intrepid traveler.
At the end of the unpaved section, you’ll pull into the town of Darrington. There are several restaurants to choose from, but I highly recommend a bite at The Burger Barn (1020 Emens Ave N) and/or stopping for a refreshing pint at River Time Brewing (S 660 Emens Ave).
Driving out of Darrington, Highway 530 runs parallel to the North Fork of Stillaguamish. The North Fork is legendary among sportsmen. This is the first river to ever be designated as fly fishing only — thanks to the advocacy of outdoorsmen. Even if you don’t fish, the views of the winding river through the valley are truly remarkable.
Stop off at a unique dining experience in Oso – meet the Rhodes River Ranch (22016 Entsminger Rd). It’s a combination horse arena and restaurant. Yep! You read that right. Diners can feast on steak and other hearty American fare while looking out over prancing mares and cavorting colts.
This is a one-of-a-kind experience, and an absolute must for lovers of a classic American West vibe.
When visiting Arlington at the end of your journey be sure to stop by Moe’s Coffee (434 N Olympic Ave) for a caffeine refuel.
From Arlington it’s a short jaunt back to the seaside city of Everett. We recommend that you lodge in comfort at the Hotel Indigo (1028 13th St) on the Everett waterfront. Enjoy hot water showers, delicious food courtesy of the in-house Jetty Bar and Grille, and breathtaking views of Port Gardner Bay in the Salish Sea. If you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of a migratory gray whale!
From the mountains to the sea at a leisurely pace (and all the delicious sightseeing in between). It’s all in a weekend’s work, thanks to the Mountain Loop in the beautiful Stillaguamish and Sauk River Valleys of Snohomish County. Now that’s the ideal road trip.