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Land of Loops 2: The Mountain Loop is a Trip Into the History of the Hills

There are many reasons to see the Mountain Loop Highway in the Central Cascades.

Natural beauty and recreation therein is, of course, an excellent and worthy motive for making a journey into the interior of these peaks.

But here’s another cool thing that you can do: take a trip into history by driving into the mountains. Go down the decades as you pedal, drive or hike into the hills. Experience the stories of the people who called this place home before us.

If you’re interested in experiencing the PNW from a historical angle, it’s worth considering that this neck of the woods has been home to miners, pioneers, mountaineers, climbers, and lumberjacks of all stripes — drawn to the woods, cliffs, rivers of the region for their bountiful ore.

These natural riches brought to the Northwest a procession of people looking to make money in a relatively untapped area, resource-wise.

A good history book will give you some context for your travels on the Mountain Loop.

To get more context, visit The Granite Falls Museum, or download their virtual tour app, which takes you on a self-guided tour of ‘Loop.

A larger historical context reveals that there is nowhere in this region, even the seemingly-far flung wilderness of the Central Cascades, that hasn’t been attended to and stewarded by the hand of man.

The following are some top historical attractions you’ll want to visit to get a sense of where we came from and who we are.

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Monte Cristo Mines

The Monte Cristo mines were in operation during the late 1800s. At the peak of the rush for ore, there were thousands of workers in the hills,. When the market for the ore disappeared, the small mountain village quickly became a ghost town and never recovered.

Today, hikers enjoy trekking through the forest to the town where abandoned shacks still stand and occasional industrial mining equipment litters the ground.

Read more about the surprising history of Monte Cristo here.

Big Four Lodge and Ice Caves

These mountainous ice caves are a big attraction for regional, national, and international visitors. The Big Four Mountain has a unique ecosystem that preserves the ice caves year-round on the north face of its peak.

There used to be a recreational lodge here, until it burned down. People would take a trolley on a line from Everett for a weekend of cross-country skiing, and warm evenings by the fire. You can still see the basement and the chimney where this resort once stood until the 1940s.

A note if you visit: please don't get too close to the ice caves, even for photo ops. They have collapsed and even killed people.

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Bedal/Bedal Mountain

The Bedal family were pioneers in the deep Stillaguamish River Valley. The Bedal patriarch married an indiginous Stillaguamish woman. Their young daughters were hired to carry supplies into Monte Cristo.

The remains of the Bedal cabin are there in Bedal, but the location is not widely advertised, as it’s a highly sensitive historical spot and not to be desecrated. A truly avid history fan can find their whereabouts through a thorough online search.

Mount Pugh

This mountain (pronounced “pew”) is known locally for its fire lookout built and manned by Darrington-based mountaineer Nels Bruseth. Today it dominates the landscape and invites serious climbers to attempt its hather-covered slopes and peaks.

Whitechuck Lookout

Whitechuck Mountain is an area that was once filled with loggers who occupied mobile traincar “camps.” Today, there’s a nice lookout are that you can access from the Mountain Loop. Also on Whitechuck are flocks of transplanted mountain goats who have been flown in by helicopter and airlifted from the Olympic Mountains to their new territory here in the Cascades.

There are many more places that history lovers and hikers can enjoy on the Mountain Loop. Read more about the charming lumber town of Darrington, the wonders of the Glacier Peak Wilderness and Mount Pilchuck, as well as the popular Pacific Crest Trail.

History and natural beauty await you on your next trip into the peaks of the true PNW.