To begin this drive, head 45 miles North from Seattle to the city of Granite Falls.
Technically, the Mountain Loop Highway is not a loop, but only 52 miles of a loop route. Don’t worry about the technicalities, you can still drive the entire loop. The track shown here is 124 miles, but includes the drive from Everett and a quick “I’m not paying attention to the GPS” jaunt down a side road.
The road begins as a paved highway, with some neat bridges.
It passes Silverton. In the early 1900s, Silverton had stores, a school, hotels, and a newspaper, but now there are just a few houses remaining. There were eleven mining companies. Copper, silver, gold, and cinnabar (for mercury) were mined. Part of the road was actually constructed along an old rail route that went from the mining town of Monte Cristo (now on private land) to Granite Falls. The train tracks were taken out in 1936, and the road was finished in 1941.
Then the road heads out into the forest and follows the South fork of the Stilliguamish River.
If Sasquatch is real, he probably lives here. Everything is covered in moss, and the trees grow so close together in some places that it is almost dark on the forest floor.
If you are looking to camp, just pull over and set up your site near the side of the road. Spots are plentiful, and many people were camping when I visited. Some areas require a NW Forest Pass or an annual America the Beautiful Pass.
I am not proud of this, but it actually took three separate tries over two months to complete this entire loop.
The first attempt was a total disaster. I just heard about the drive and was perhaps too excited to go out and do it. It was super cloudy. I cannot stress this enough; do this drive when it is sunny out. Despite Seattle’s reputation as always being rainy, there are actually several days of gorgeous weather in the summer. However, I made it to the Four Peaks Picnic Area, and it looked like this.
Discouraged and slightly freaking out; as I had not anticipated having no cell phone signal (it is absent the majority of the loop), I turned around and went back to the city.
The second time, I had just gotten into Seattle and needed a place to take care of some business paperwork. The picnic area magically transformed into the best office ever.
The stone fireplace is all that remains of an extravagant tourist resort turned Coast Guard station that was built in 1921 but burned in the late 1930s.
Before I knew it, it was 8pm and would be getting dark soon. The voice of reason told me I’d miss all of the scenery if I did the rest of the loop in the dark, so I vowed to make it next time.
A week or so later, after working overnight, it was Sunday; Fathers Day. The weather was perfect and the world had more important people to contact than me on Fathers Day, so I didn’t worry about having no signal all day. With the sunroof on the rental car open, I began my adventure.
There are numerous hiking trails that begin off of this road, and if I had a week or so to live in the woods, I would have checked them all out, especially the one to Lake 22, which may be an excuse to go back again. In the picnic area I saw a sign for Ice Caves Trail. It is only 1.1 miles out, but my curiosity was sparked by the signs.
From a desert rat’s point of view, this is amazing!
The trail crosses the river and gets close to the base of the mountains, where you are greeted several warning signs, and a warning rock.
Informing people of the risks and letting them choose for themselves what they are comfortable with, as opposed to putting up fences and barriers everywhere, preserves the beauty of this place.
Beware, it is simple to make this quick two mile walk into nearly a two hour event.
Continuing on from the parking lot rewards you with this view:
Soon after, the pavement ends and the road narrows. Your passenger car will do fine, provided you keep it out of the potholes and ruts, and you don’t mind if it gets covered in chalky road dust. There are a few passes where there is a cliff on one side, and a drop into the river on the other. I wouldn’t recommend large RVs attempt this route, but I did see one out there. Occasionally this part of the road gets closed due to landslides and floods.
There are even better camping spots along this section of the road.
The pavement returns thirteen miles later and eventually you approach the small town of Darrington. Continue back to Granite Falls to complete the loop.