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Off the Beaten Path in Sky Valley

State Route 2 in Snohomish County offers easy roadside delights. As it whisks drivers across the county, it reveals its little easy-to-access gems to passersby.

Consider the classics: the Wayside Chapel, roadside farm stands, the Reptile Zoo, and Espresso Chalet. These are all great places. 

But if you venture just a bit off the beaten path, you’ll find some other attractions that deserve your attention.  These are attractions that are easily missed by your average motorist on the interstate caught up in stunning mountain views. 

This autumn and winter, try to take the side roads, the detours. Lesser-travelled paths lead to rewarding experiences. Here are some ideas. 

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Find yourself on a secret forest island – Al Borlin Park 

Monroe keeps the coolest park on the down low. It’s on the other side of town from SR2, which gives you a five-minute opportunity to drive through charming downtown Monroe.  

Al Borlin Park (not to be confused with the Richard Karn character Al Borland in the tv show Home Improvement) is 1.2 miles of soft gravel trails through giant big leaf maples. It offers 90 acres of wild river views of the Skykomish River, occasional eagle spotting, and views of deteriorated railroad trestles.  

Al Borlin Park comprises Buck Island, which sits at the confluence of the Skykomish River and placid Woods Creek. In summer it’s a great place to swim, but in the autumn and winter months, Al Borlin Park offers a quiet and contemplative stroll through brilliantly colored deciduous maple leaves.  

One other thing I want to mention. Al Borlin, namesake of the park, was a longtime teacher and city council member in Monroe and was a lifetime advocate of local parks and outdoor education. If that’s not the most wholesome thing you’ve read today, I’ll eat my hat. 

Quick note: sometimes the park floods in winter. You may want to check ahead with the City Parks Department before visiting. 

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Cozy cabins 

Let’s talk about cozy autumnal cabin life. You hear the soft rain pattering on the corrugated metal eaves and big leaf maple leaves. You toss seasoned fir logs into the fireplace and send sparks dancing up the chimney. You laze easily indoors, peeping out the windows at the mist and evergreens that make our state famous throughout the world. 

There are over 800 rental cabins in Snohomish County.  They range from expansive compounds extended family getaways, to tiny a-frames tucked on the riverbank, to chalet-style lodges with mountain views. There’s an abundance of choices just along Highway 2. A simple search on AirBnB will pull up desirable options, perfect for when you need a weekend out of the city. Feel free to either unplug or find a cabin with Wi-Fi and work remotely as a way to escape the office.  

There’s no time like cabin time. Don your plaid flannels and long underwear. Grab that bottle of whiskey and find some peace of mind out in nature this autumn. 

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Mycology for all 

Rain and Washington State autumns go hand in hand. When the skies open up in fall, before snow starts to blanket the higher elevations, there’s a perfect window for mushroom hunting. Abundant rainfall swells the fruiting bodies of mycorrhizal and – voila! -- mushrooms start popping from the forest floor, leaf detritus, and tree trunks overnight. 

If you’ve never been on a foray in the Sky Valley, you might be missing out. Many people consider it a meaningful experience. 

Consider getting a solid guidebook, or better, linking up with a local mycological society before heading out into the woods. Even expert mushroom-hunters can sometimes be duped by toxic lookalike species. There are few hard and fast rules to mycological taxonomy – just because a mushroom looks delicious, doesn’t mean it should be eaten. Plus, as in any outdoorsy endeavor, there’s basic etiquette to follow.  

Here are some basic, non-negotiable rules to the hunt: 

- When in doubt, definitely don’t eat it. There's no obligation to eat anything. You can just look or take photos instead.

- If you eat any mushrooms, eat a small portion so you don’t get sick. 

- Bring a basket to forage. As you travel, the spores from your gathered fungi will spread, helping to repropagate the forest. 

-Don’t trespass on private property. 

-As always, leave no trace. 

The iron goat trail

The Iron Goat Trail  

The worst natural disaster in the history of Washington State happened near Stevens Pass over a century ago. In the spring of 1910, a nighttime avalanche roared down from the mountain and knocked two train cars into a ravine, killing 96 people. The location, a city called Wellington, became infamous for the much-publicized disaster, so much so that they renamed their town Tye. The outpost was an outpost for employees of the Great Northern Railroad. Tye, nee Wellington, was abandoned by the 1930s when an alternate rail route directed locomotives through the 7.8-mile Second Cascade Tunnel. 

Today an interpretive trail called the Iron Goat will take you along an abandoned railbed and into the ghost town of Wellington. Well, it’s sort of a ghost town. It’s so thoroughly disappeared that all that remains is a single set of stone steps and snow sheds buttressing the mountainside. 

The “Iron Goat” of the Iron Goat Trail is a nod to the Mountain Goat that was emblazoned upon rail cars of the Great Northern Railway. Volunteers built this interpretive hiking path in the 1980s as a way to pay respect to the area’s railroad heritage. 

If you’re a hiker, or a history buff (or both, as is so often the case), then you owe it to yourself to trek into the past along the Iron Goat Trail. 

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An exhortation 

There is much to see in the fall and winter. Just because the summer’s over doesn’t mean that you can’t don your raincoat and thermal layers to explore what’s out there. This is the season for you to go and do.  

Best of luck and tell me what you find out there on the roads less travelled. 

The cabin image in this article was used with permission, courtesy ofri the Tye River Cabin Co -- @tyehaus


Too much adventure? There's also the path more travelled.


Meet the impossibly desirable mountain town of Index.

Go to there

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