Serving up Epic Adventures and Culinary Magic
BY ELLEN HIATT
No meal is more appreciated than the one earned after a day of hard work and adventure. Maybe that’s the reason a grilled steak and asparagus are so highly rated after river rafting with Outdoor Adventure Center in Index.
As one reviewer noted: “A good guide makes the day good. A great guide makes the day epic… We got wet, we laughed, went down needle at boulder drop… The steak dinner after was a great way to end the day!”
A good guide makes the day good. A great guide makes the day epic.
On the other hand, any dinner over the grill run by Bill Corson, alongside a locally sourced beer, is just as good if you never picked up a paddle.
“He really is a good cook,” raves his daughter-in-law, Kathy Corson. Bill showed off his stack of cast iron Dutch ovens in which he works his culinary magic. While other guides may toss Cliff bars to their weary rafters, Bill knows a good meal spawns good memories the way a river rafting experience can.
“What we serve here — it will be incredibly unique and it always is. It always has been,” he said, recalling with satisfaction the world traveler who had spent the summer in Europe before tapping her wine glass at the end of a kayaking tour around the San Juan Islands, and announcing that she came “here to have the best food I have had anywhere.” Bill and his family have dedicated themselves to the River House, their rafting business, Outdoor Adventure Center, and now restoration of the Bush House Inn, since they arrived in town 24 years ago.
“We all got together and looked at this building,” Bill said. “It was in really bad shape. My daughter, Jessica, stood in the doorway there and said ‘Dad, we can’t do this’.” Bill said. Over the next three years they remodeled the historic building, hauling out four, 40-foot containers of junk and rot. The timbers from a section of the old bridge crossing the Skykomish River were turned into beams to replace the outside deck.
Inside the River House, the walls are lined on one side with the historic bar and on the other with images of the loggers and miners who founded the town. Just one mile off of Highway 20, it’s missed by most travelers focused on making it to Steven’s Pass. But it’s a destination for those who want to climb the granite face of the Index Town Wall, hike Heybrook Ridge, or climb into a raft for a guided ride over the Class IV and V rapids of the Skykomish.
The River House is a place of imagination. Though it is hard to imagine the state of disrepair it was in after more than a century as the town tavern, at first in an era when loggers tread with their nail-soled boots across the Douglas fir floor, and in the decades that followed when it became more town watering hole than community gathering space.
The darkened holes from the corker boots are still there in the flooring, restored alongside the tavern bar. Everything about the place speaks of time past. But the River House isn’t living in the past — it’s celebrating it. And the proprietors, the Corson family, are creating a new appreciation for this bend in the Skykomish, the historic tavern, and community created around it.
On the deck fronting the North Fork of the Skykomish, a long-standing put-in for rafters over the many years the River House has stood, Bill can be found grilling steaks and sliding pizzas out of the wood-fired oven. With the opening of the Bush House Inn, another family project headed by his son, Blair, and Kathy, the events and weddings held in the River House have a new source for catering, as well.
This is incredible! I am fifth generation Seattleite but I have never ever been to this beautiful place.
In the summer, said Bill, “It’s really a bustling place. I’ll be cooking steaks and burgers on the deck overlooking the river, and we have heard folks say ‘This is incredible! I am fifth generation Seattleite but I have never ever been to this beautiful place’.”
The emerald waters of the Skykomish gurgle under the 5th Street Bridge, passing the River House, the rock climbing wall to its flank. In between are just two short blocks of homes, and one very connected small community. “Our community is small,” said Kathy. “But all of us are deeply committed to it.”
You’ll find the River House abuzz with activity any day of spring and summer
At once community gathering place, cafe, event venue, and weekend neighborhood grill, the River House has always served the town of Index and its visitors by offering up food, a cold beer, and connection — both to the Skykomish River and to each other.
You’ll find the River House abuzz with activity any day of spring and summer with rock climbers and hikers relaxing over a cold beer and conversation, river rafters gathering at the shore of the Skykomish River before meeting their guides, and base jumpers folding their chutes in the grassy lawn sloping toward the water.
Whether it’s an outdoor adventure you seek, or a leisurely Sunday drive, stop in at the River House, order up a latte, a beer, or a full dinner, and enjoy the view. It’s Index. You’re welcome here.
Outdoor Adventure Center river rafting reservations: www.outdooradventurecenter.com
River House cafe information and seasonal hours: www.outdooradventurecenter.com/river-house-cafe
River House Outdoor Wedding Venue: www.outdooradventurecenter.com/wedding-venue
Photos Courtesy Outdoor Adventure Center