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Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - Page updated at 02:31 PM


A great place to play

Times Snohomish County Bureau

Whether you're driving, walking, hiking or biking, the county offers some great opportunities for outdoor activities

Autumn colors — especially the crimsons, oranges and yellows of vine maples, big-leaf maples, dogwoods and huckleberry brambles — are about to come into display throughout the countryside. That doubles the reward for families and solo adventurers heading out to explore the county's numerous pumpkin patches and corn mazes, mountain hikes and bike paths.

Fall drives and hikes

The county's two most popular recreational routes offer distinctly different moods and views.

The Mountain Loop Highway, in the county's northeastern reach, is a two-lane meander into the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, offering a range of hiking trails and picnic spots. The Stevens Pass Greenway (locals call it Highway 2) is a faster-paced tour of the agricultural river valley as it heads east from Everett toward the Cascades.

Visitors who plan to park at national forest trailheads or parks must purchase a Northwest Forest Pass ($5 per day or $30 per year), available weekends at the Verlot Ranger Station east of Granite Falls and at many businesses throughout the county. Vendor locations:

Mountain Loop Highway

This beautiful forest drive no longer is a true loop; repairs are under way to replace several sections washed out in an October 2003 flood. But the National Scenic Byway has lost none of its magic. Many popular trails still are accessible from its paved southern portion, which stretches 32 miles east of Granite Falls. Its 18-mile northern portion, which includes an eight-mile gravel section, is reached from Darrington, the county's most remote town.

Popular autumn walks include:

Big Four Ice Caves: A trail 14.5 miles east of the Verlot Ranger Station is the Mountain Loop's most frequented foot route. The one-mile, well-maintained trail leads to a year-round snowfield at the base of a towering rock wall. During the summer, melting snow cascades down the rock face, creating caves as the rivulets pass through the icy lower deposits. Visitors are warned to not enter the caves, which often collapse by early fall. The caves typically are inaccessible by foot during the winter, when snow often closes the highway several miles west of the trailhead.


Independence Lake and Coal Lake: National forest rangers say fall is a beautiful time to drive up the 4.8-mile Coal Lake Road, the first left beyond the Big Four Ice Caves. At 4.4 miles comes Coal Lake, a lovely picnic spot just a stroll from the road. The more difficult Independence Lake Trail, a 0.7-mile path that winds in part through an old-growth forest, starts at the road's end.

Stevens Pass Greenway

Highway 2 travels east from Everett to Stevens Pass and beyond. It serves an array of purposes for county residents — it's a commuter route, a farmers' access road, a tourist attraction and a gateway to sites for hiking, climbing, camping and snow sports.

Through Snohomish County, Highway 2 is the principal east-west corridor. As you drive it from west to east, the scenery evolves from pastoral dairy pastures and corn fields to rugged, snowcapped mountains and the whitewaters of the South Fork of the Skykomish River.

Well-known hiking destinations along the way include:

Wallace Falls: The state park, two miles northeast of Gold Bar, features nine waterfalls that drop a combined 800 feet over a half-mile stretch of the Wallace River. Traditionally, the park's biggest draw has been its 5.5-mile round-trip Woody Trail, which climbs 1,200 feet along a series of switchbacks through a mature second-growth forest.

Several viewpoints along the way offer memorable views of the waterfalls.

Until recently, the shortest route to Wallace Lake, above the falls, was more than 12 miles round-trip. Last month, the park opened a new two-mile trail segment, built mostly by teens working with the Washington Trails Association, that created an eight-mile round-trip alternative with a 1,010-foot elevation gain.

Troublesome Creek: The campground and its half-mile nature trail in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are year-round attractions, offering a beautiful and easily accessible foray through old-growth cedars and firs.

From Highway 2, take the Index turnoff (North Fork Skykomish River Road), then pass Index and drive 11.5 paved miles to the first right-hand turnoff for the campground.

Bicycle rides

Centennial Trail: The paved trail, which meanders 17.5 miles between Snohomish and the Arlington area, is one of the county's great recreational draws. A horse trail runs parallel to the 6-foot-wide paved path, which is shared by joggers, stroller-pushing families, bicyclists and skaters.

Its southern stretch offers a semi-rural excursion along Machias Road and the Pilchuck River. The more remote and forested 10-mile northern portion was added last year, with views of the Cascades, Olympics and the rural upper Marysville valley.

Detailed map and trailheads: (click on "Centennial Trail").

BIKES Club of Snohomish County

The Everett-based club organizes weekly rides on trails and roads throughout Puget Sound for fun and exercise. Trips range from 10 to 100 miles in length, with varying levels of difficulty.

Ride schedules:

Corn mazes and pumpkin patches

The approach of Halloween offers inspiration to visit Snohomish County's farmlands, which stretch to the north and east of the urban core.

All over the county, family farms have turned to agribusiness, finding creative ways to lure tourists into their barns and corn fields. Corn mazes seem to get more elaborate every year, with fields carved into elaborate patterns which, from the air, form distinctive pictures.

Other attractions include petting zoos, hay rides, refreshments and games.

Pumpkin patches featuring corn mazes include:

Biringer Farm, off Highway 529 between Everett and Marysville. Information: 425-259-0255 or

Bob's Corn, 10917 Elliott Road, six miles south of Snohomish off Highway 9. Information: 360-668-3043.

Carleton Farm, 830 Sunnyside Blvd S.E., off Highway 204 between Everett and Lake Stevens. Information: 425-334-2297 or

Craven Farm, 13817 Short School Road, south of Snohomish. Information: 360-568-2601 or

Foster's Produce, 5818 Highway 530, west of Arlington. Information: 360-435-5095 or

The Farm, 7301 Rivershore Road, west of Snohomish. Information: 425-334-4124 or

• Stocker Farms, 10622 Airport Way, south of Snohomish. Information: 360-568-7391 or

Fall sports

Fishing for king, silver and blackmouth salmon on Puget Sound runs through the end of November, with steelhead fishing on the Stillaguamish and Skykomish rivers at its best in October, November and December. For information:

Kayaking programs and river trips are available through the North Sound Sea Kayak Association, based in Everett. Information: Everett Parks & Recreation classes: 425-257-8300 or Wave Trek classes: 360-793-1705 or

River rafting on the Skykomish, Snohomish, Sauk and Stillaguamish rivers runs year-round, with several guide services available. Information:

Rock climbing is a natural pursuit for adventurous types living this close to the Cascades. Cascade Crags, 2820 Rucker Ave., in Everett, offers classes on its indoor climbing walls as well as outdoor mountain classes. Information: 425-258-3431 or The Everett Mountaineers offer climbs and courses. Information: 425-385-3660 or

• For scuba diving, the Edmonds Underwater Park, north of the Edmonds-Kingston ferry dock, is the most popular diving site in the state. About 25,000 divers of all ability levels visit the park each year. Information: 425-771-0227 or

Snow skiing usually runs from late November into the spring at Stevens Pass, 50 miles east of Everett on Highway 2. Terrain is suitable for all skill levels of downhill and cross-country skiers.

Information: 206-812-4510 or

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