22715 Highway 2
Editor's note: this article was originally published before Coronavirus was a part of our lives. Please use safe traveling practices and call ahead to see which of these destinations are open.
“Sky” here meaning both “the Skykomish River Valley” and the actual sky-sky. Because if you drive far enough into the mountains of Seattle NorthCountry, something strange happens.
Land, clouds, rain, snow, and rocks get all mixed up. Rivers become fog. Clouds fill the trees. Waterfalls gush from cliffs. You realize that the mighty Cascade Mountains are permanently engulfed in neverending cycles of condensation.
This is why they call Washington the Evergreen State.
My story starts at a low elevation. I drove out from the coastal community of Everett, travelling east on Highway 2 to the Snohomish County line in the sky.
Here’s what I found, and what you don’t want to miss.
The Reptile Zoo is a barn filled with scaly crawling oddities like gila monsters, a mexican crocodile, and king cobras. It’s a trip to see these exotic creatures crawling and slithering in a barn in the PNW wilderness.
The Wayside Chapel is a roadside micro-church with four pews on the edge of a grassy field. Stop in for a moment of rest and meditation.
Zeke’s Drive-in is the last stop for greasy roadside fare before getting deep into the mountains. It’s located on a turn-off area past Gold Bar, Washington. You can order fish and chips, fried mushrooms, burgers, shakes, and fries. Zeke’s also has an indoor seating area to keep you dry and bathrooms. The fish and chips here are crispy on the outside, juicy on the in and the shakes are so thick you can stand your straw in them.
To find Index, Washington, drive to the middle of nowhere and take a left. Then you’re still a mile out of town. If you’re looking for an adorable and remote Northwest town, this is it.
The tiny community of Index is located at the base of a craggy mountain face next to a river. Mining and fishing is what brought early pioneers here. The sheer rock cliffs and the North Fork of the Skykomish River continue to draw people to this remote location — it’s the perfect town for climbers and kayakers. Just ask a climber, they have heard of Index.
Visit the Outdoor Adventure Center, an A-frame lodge that used to be the town tavern. It’s right next to river, and an ideal place to rent a kayak or a raft to float down the North fork of the Skykomish. The Outdoor Adventure Center has wetsuits, helmets, and paddles for rent.
After rafting, stop at the lodge for hot scones. The interior of the place is filled with vintage camping gear, a roaring fire (you’ll want to warm up), and coolers fully stocked with Washington cider and beer. I drank a smooth cider from Tieton Cider Works, a brewery in Yakima.
Two miles past Index on Highway 2 you will see the iconic hairy-guy: bigfoot. You can't miss it. This particular bigfoot looks familar and that is because it is carved as the likeness of the beloved "Harry" from the 1987 film "Harry and the Hendersons". This little stop along Hwy 2 was a film location for the movie.
While you're stopped you'll want to fill up at the Espresso Chalet: a small Airstream-style trailer converted into a roadside stand. Kitsch is king here. They sell ice cream and serve coffee, and also have a bathroom for paying customers. Most importantly, they offer the bigfoot statue photo op and other memorabilia like mini bigfoot figurines, t-shirts, and magnets. I counted five bigfoot statues on the premises. There may be more.
The beauty of a Skykomish River Valley road trip is that you can go out to the edge of nowhere, raft on wild rivers, get a hot meal, and be back to a city for a warm hotel bed and cocktails by sundown. This is the beauty of the Northwest, a place that hasn’t been completely tamed.