Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar and - our favorite - Startup all have their charms. The Sultan Shindig the second weekend of July. The Reptile Zoo, hard by Old School Barbecue. Roadside produce stands selling glorious Rainier Cherries for a fraction of the price in Seattle. But it's after you get east of these towns on U.S. Route 2 in Western Washington that you really begin to see why the road earns its designation as the Stevens Pass Scenic Byway.
The winding, tree-canopied two-lane highway wends past jagged peaks overlooking the small town of Index on the south fork of the Skykomish River. Then, eight miles east of Skykomish and another quarter mile east of the Deception Falls rest stop on your left, comes an unmarked U.S. Forest Service road on your right, 6088, that you'll barrel right past unless you know better.
A scant four-tenths of a mile south from Route 2 on FS 6088 is the Deception Creek trailhead. You want to visit this place. Just the spot to take the in-laws from Amarillo or a restless foreign trade delegation that's already taken the ferry to Bainbridge Island, been to Snoqualmie Falls, and had cherry pie at that nearby diner immortalized in Twin Peaks.
One-third of a mile in on the Deception Creek trail you'll come to a beautiful new bridge over the rushing creek - which, by the way, looks more like a river to this ex-Midwesterner. Then from the span or from the opposite side, enjoy postcard-perfect views of roiling Ecotopian Majesty.
Find a spot on wide flat rock, eat your sack lunch of sliced smoked duck breast on brioche roll with field greens and wasabi aioli. Sip something you've brought along - maybe a chilled Sparkling Syrah Brut from winemaker Juergen Grieb of Treveri Cellars in Yakima, one of many arresting Northwest bubblies.
Washington's Natural Capital
You may know that outdoor recreation contributes an estimated $31.2 billion annually to Washington's economy. That all starts with the, ah, outdoors.
Hikers in full-on Beast Mode can go to the Deception Creek trail's nominal end and back, a 10-mile roundtrip. Or even slither across the creek on a log at the five-mile mark and go another 3.5 miles to Deception Lakes, before returning.
My recommendation for adventuresome day-hikers is to go to the major campsite you'll see on the left at the three-mile mark, scramble down to the pebbly creekside sandbar for lunch in the shaded breeze. Then go another 20 minutes further on the trail to see some spectacular waterfalls, and turn back.
The overall elevation gain is modest - 1,700 feet for the full five mile "out" leg, but the return trip can be challenging due to abundant tree roots and rocks on the trail.
Develop a Data-Driven Natural Capital Management System - PLAN Washington Environment Goal #1
Make Washington a Magnet for Tourism, Investment and International Trade - PLAN Washington Economic Development Strategy #3
Deception Creek trail hike, Washington Trails Association
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest - U.S. Route 2 (click on "hiking" tab)