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Index: The Gem of the Forest

Deep in the Cascade Mountains, you'll find a tiny mining town where you can escape the city and find some room to breathe.

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The first thing you hear when you visit Index is nothing. Or, more accurately, the soothing sound of white noise.

When you cross the old suspension bridge into town and park your car next to an enormous rusty saw blade—a nod to the town’s history of timber and mining extraction—and step out of your car, there’s nothing to hear. No traffic. No ambient street noise. Nothing except the sound of wind blowing in the trees on the side of Heybrook Ridge and the running water of the North Fork of the Skykomish River.

Then you see the towering wall of granite on the north end of town, a sheer cliff face. The Index Town Wall. It’s then that you get the scope of outdoor recreation on tap here. The hiking on the forested ridges, the kayaking and rafting on the Skykomish River, the rock climbing and bouldering on the Town Wall.

You get why locals describe Index as “the gem of the forest.”

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The Past Informs the Future

Index, Washington is a riverside hamlet located on a square quarter mile in a small mountain valley a mile north of Highway 2. Its proximity to the mineral-rich Central Cascades helps explain its existence—120 years ago the town was booming with miners. Photographs from 100 years ago show regional hikers at the top of forested hillocks. Mt. Persis, Mt. Index, and the Heybrook Ridge rise in the back of these photos.

What’s striking, when viewing these historic photos today, is how little of the natural beauty has changed during the intervening century. The construction cranes and high rises of Seattle, though an hour away, feel far removed from the quiet forest of the Upper Skykomish River Valley. There are still groves of virgin old growth timber in the canyons that surround Index—a rarity in a region originally populated by loggers.

Today, the economy of Index is based around tourism. Visitors can stay at one of a half dozen BNBs like A Cabin on the Sky and walk, bike, or hike to nearby photogenic locations like the Heybrook Lookout, or Bridal Veil Falls. They can pitch a tent at Troublesome Creek or the San Juan Campground and access the nearby Alpine Lakes.

All About Index

Indigenous Peoples

Before Western settlement, Index was home to the Skykomish Native American Tribe. They spoke a language called Lushootseed and fished in the Skykomish River.


Striking Gold

A gold rush at nearby Monte Cristo in the late 1800s spurred a population boom and filled Index with hotels housing miners.


Heybrook Lookout

Just across the bridge, you'll find a hike that leads to a historic fire lookout with unforgettable views of mountains and valley.



Legendary Pacific Northwest musicians like The Walkabouts and Jerry Cantrell have recorded albums in Index.


Rock Climbing

Rock climbers come from around the world to climb at Index. Details are here.

The Corsons

Maybe nobody knows local recreation better than The Corson family of Index. They guide visitors down scenic Skykomish River with their Outdoor Adventures touring company. The Corsons are active investors in the community of 205 people, buying and lovingly refurbishing historic properties. The River House is the “command center” of Outdoor Adventures. The 1902 chalet-style lodge was in disrepair when Bill Corson bought it in 2007. Now it’s a cozy place to warm up after a day spent on the Skykomish River rapids, with a small bistro, a selection of local cider and beer, and a fireplace. The lodge decor is mostly vintage recreation gear—a nod to the town’s long-standing love of everything outdoors.

Bill’s son Blair Corson is restoring the Bush House Inn on the north end of town. Blair and his family have been working on the old property since 2011 and should have the place completely remodeled by the Inn’s 120th anniversary, later this year. Remodeling a 117-year-old 3-story building is an act of dedicated love, requiring a new foundation, new windows, new siding, and drywall.

The past meets the future with care, investment, and some elbow grease.

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The Gem of the Forest

All that quiet. All that history. Such natural beauty and centuries-old stories deserve protection and stewardship. Index and its surrounding environs regularly make “top destination” listicles on social media travel channels. New media attention attracts recreators by the droves, and not everyone who comes to enjoy the area recreates mindfully.

In recent years the Corsons have led efforts to blast graffiti off the rocks at Eagle Falls—a place that can best be described as stupidly gorgeous. For years, ATV enthusiasts tore up land at nearby Reiter Pit, before the town created structured trails and stringent guidelines for ATV use. The message is clear: come here to enjoy the area, but do so mindfully.

The Corsons and the people of Index are invested in protecting this “gem of the forest,” keeping it as it appeared a century ago. They view themselves as the stewards of the area. Bill Corson mentions that the North Fork of the Skykomish River draws kayakers from international destinations, and they often remark on the Yosemite-like beauty of the towering town wall.

The beauty here is both a blessing and a moral imperative—Index, the “gem of the forest,” is for enjoying, but also for stewarding. The sound of Index always will likely always be quiet wind and water— a beacon of tranquility for tech-raddled masses and travelers looking for respite in grandeur.


Book a rafting tour with Outdoor Adventure Center at www.outdooradventurecenter.com. Or call (425) 883-9039.

Driving directions to Index from Seattle:

  • Drive N on Interstate 5.
  • Take Exit 194, headed E toward Snohomish/Wenatchee.
  • Stay on HWY 2 until the exit on left for Index, Wa. The exit is at approx. mile marker 35.

For lodging and other info please visit www.snohomish.org to plan your full trip.

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