The Pacific Northwest is a dreamscape for outdoor
adventures, and Snohomish County is no exception.
From the shores of Puget Sound to the craggy heights of
the Cascades, the county includes one of the state’s five major
stratovolcanoes, Glacier Peak, as well as four river systems
— the Skykomish, Snohomish, Sauk, and Stillaguamish
Rivers — which carve their courses from alpine forests
through farmland to the sea. Bald eagles, salmon, gray
whales, migratory birds, the wildlife here is diverse and
Whether skiing, hiking, climbing, biking, camping, paddling,
fishing, kiting, or diving, year round there are outdoor
adventures aplenty to be enjoyed in Snohomish County.
World-class activities are close enough for day trips, or you
can easily make a weekend of it with prime options for
camping or lodging. But if outdoor sports aren’t your thing,
spending time outside this summer can be as simple as
embarking on a nature walk, picnicking at a park, hiking or
biking a trail, or stargazing from your campsite.
Whatever your pleasure, you’ll be sure to enjoy the
refreshing tranquility of disconnecting from your devices
and daily routine and opening yourself up to connections with
nature and your family and friends. The important thing is
that you get out there.
Chase the wind and waves off the shores of Port of Everett’s
Jetty Island, a world-class kiteboarding destination and
all-around excellent place to learn the sport.
Jetty Island was constructed in the 1800s as a breakwater
to make the harbor safer for ships. At two-miles
long and a half-mile wide, the island has no roads or
vehicles. Its sandy shores are accessible by boat or
a free foot ferry, which operates during the summer
months. Known as Jetty Island Days, the ferry runs
seven days a week between the Fourth of July and
Labor Day holidays.
More than 50,000 people visit the island each year
to play in the soft sand and warm, shallow water and
to observe the more than 45 bird species who call the
island home, as it serves as a bird refuge. But osprey,
shorebirds, hawks, eagles, cormorants, and ducks,
aren’t the only creatures splashing and soaring about
the island. As many kiteboarders take flight from its
shores, the beach has earned the nickname “Kite
Nation.” Kiteboarding not your cup of tea? It’s a great
place to watch riders perform jumps and tricks, and
the colorful sails cruising at high speeds are a wonder
in their own right.
Jetty Island has two kite launches. The “school
launch” at the far north end is a great place to dip
your toes in the water if you’re just learning to kiteboard.
This is where lessons operate and you’ll find
fellow newbies rigging and launching. It’s the launch
zone farthest from the designated swimming area and
also free from the congestion of the main launch area.
The “main launch” is directly west of the lagoon
(the lagoon is a no-kiteboarding zone). If you’re an
independent rider, you’ll love the prime conditions here.
But be warned, this area is very popular and can become
crowded with riders and gear, especially at high
tide. If it’s your first time visiting the island, you’ll want
to check the map to be sure about launching and riding
zones. Safety buffer rules advise keeping to a 2–3
Because of its popularity both among seasoned
riders and learners, there are a number of fantastic
outfitters and schools that serve the island. Most notably,
Urban Surf’s Kiteboarding School and The Kite
Lesson, which is based in Everett.
The island offers little shade or cover from the sun,
so plan ahead and bring sunscreen and water. The
Port of Everett parking fee is $3, and machines accept
credit cards or cash. Keep an eye on the time, as
the last boat off the island usually departs at 5:30 p.m.
You don’t want to get stranded without a ride back.
If you’re eager to experience the thrill of an ascent, the
alpine landscape of eastern Snohomish County beckons.
Gold Bar Boulders
Closest to the ground are the Gold Bar Boulders.
No need to make the trip up to Squamish or
climbing destinations further afield when Gold
Bar offers prime bouldering and views of the
Skykomish River and Mount Index. Drive east on
Highway 2 past Gold Bar and if you look to the
north, you’ll notice a field of granite boulders in
a clear-cut below Zeke’s Wall. A wide range of
boulders will challenge your problem solving, balancing,
and smearing skills. The white granite offers
good friction, and you can anticipate edges,
cracks, seams, slopes, smooth faces, and several
caves. Several of the largest boulders offer
top bolts. There are only a few trails, so in addition
to chalk and climbing shoes, you’ll want long
pants to cover your legs and protect yourself from
plants and clear-cut litter as you move between
boulders. Access is by foot only, so you’ll want to
plan ahead to park and hike.
Index Town Hall
About 15 minutes east of Gold Bar on Highway 2,
Index Town Wall awaits climbers of all skill levels.
Situated just north of the quaint, riverside town of
Index, this 500-foot vertical cliff is one of the area’s
most beloved climbing spots. With steep,
fine-grained granite, it’s an excellent place to
practice technical rock climbing. Once an active
granite quarry, the wall supplied the stone that
built the Capitol Building in Olympia as well as
many historic buildings in the Seattle metro area.
The granite industry left behind a vertical surface
that offers more than 600 routes. Most are rated
above 5.10, though there are several popular
routes rated at 5.8 and 5.9. Index is the last stop
in Snohomish County on your way to Stevens Pass
and it’s a charming home base for adventuring in
Darrington’s Exfoliation Dome
To the north, Darrington’s Exfoliation Dome offers
two popular climbs. Its east flank, known
as Witch Doctor Wall, offers an 1,100-foot face
with a 75-degree angle and challenges in the
form of bushes and lichen. Its reputation as the
“the most difficult 4,000-foot peak in the State
of Washington” tempts with bragging rights. The
west flank, Blueberry Hill, is less steep and covered
with less vegetation. It offers crack, slab,
and face climbs. Exfoliation Dome is located
three miles south of Darrington on the Mountain
Want to sharpen your climbing skills closer to
home? The county’s indoor climbing options include
Summit Everett, which offers special packages
for beginners as well as classes with personalized
Take Highway 2 east through Gold Bar and Index, and
after about another 30 miles you’ll reach Stevens Pass
Ski Area, a 1,125-acre winter sports area. Tucked in
between the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Forest and the
Wenatchee National Forest, you’ll enjoy breathtaking
views of snow-covered Pacific Silver Fir, Mountain
Hemlock, and Subalpine Fir.
The park, which averages up to 460 inches of snowfall
each year, offers 39 major runs for downhill skiing
and snowboarding, as well as bowls, glades and
faces. The base area’s elevation is at about 4,000
feet and runs course the sides of two different mountains
— Cowboy Mountain and Big Chief Mountain.
Skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels will find trails
to enjoy, with 11 percent rated for beginners, 54 percent
rated intermediate, and 35 percent advanced.
Expect to see alpine, snowboard, telemark, and cross
country skiers. Six lifts are lit for night skiing. Some of
the best night runs include Showcase, Skid Road, Crest
Trail, and Barrier Ridge. The Nordic Center offers crosscountry
and snowshoe trails.
Closer to home, you can find snowmobile trails in
Darrington, as well as lots of dry powder and crosscountry
trails and snowshoeing trails throughout
Snohomish County’s north country.
Varied fishing experiences are available in Snohomish
County, and there are many guide services at the
ready. Cast for trout in mountain lakes and streams
or for steelhead on the Stillaguamish and Skykomish
Rivers. Charter guides can help you navigate the
Puget Sound for king, silver, and blackmouth salmon
fishing, as well as crabbing and shrimping. The county’s
largest lake, Lake Stevens is open for year-round
fishing. A 750-acre lake, Spada Lake, is known for
rainbows and cutthroat.
A special treat awaits hungry fishermen on the
Snohomish River. Order fish and chips or po’boy
sandwiches from Andy’s Fish House and they’ll drop
a line to your boat, some forty-feet down, with a
delivery of food ready to go.
If you’re eager to learn the fine art of fly fishing, consider
booking a trip with Michael Bennett and Joe
Ewing of Pacific Fly Fishers. They are familiar with the
area’s waters, know where to go for productive runs,
and can help you perfect your technique.
Edmonds Underwater Park
The 27-acre Edmonds Underwater Park at Brackett’s Landing
North is a riveting playground for cold-water scuba divers of
all skill levels. Located just north of the Edmonds-Kingston
ferry terminal, you can enjoy the sounds of ferries passing
nearby, which may seem like a terrifying prospect but you’ll
be at a safe distance as long as you stick to finning around
within the park’s boundaries. It’s a shallow dive site, with a
maximum depth of about 60 feet, but accessing the park
requires a somewhat long surface swim, so plan your dive
accordingly and conserve energy for your return.
The park’s submerged features are easy to navigate due
to a network of trails. There are 2.5 miles of trails marked
by anchored ropes and colored buoys. Visit manmade
reef structures of concrete blocks, tractor tires, and pipes;
wrecked ships and boats, including the Triumph tugboat; old
parts of the 520 floating bridge; a cash register; and a pickup
truck bed. Many of these features are named and some
are interactive. The swim-through “Tube Hinge” is a favorite.
You can still access the park’s original feature, a 325-foot
dry dock, which was sunk in 1935. Divers can swim in and
out of its ribs, making it a popular destination. Do take
extra care when exploring the dry dock, as it is the closest
feature to the ferry terminal area and you will want to
avoid wandering out of the park.
Thanks to these structures, which offer habitat, marine life
is plentiful here and visibility is quite good, so you can enjoy
observing much of what swims and sways among the surface’s
sandy bottom. Look but don’t take, though, because
you can only bring home what you capture on camera. The
area is well-known for attracting huge lingcod (think really
big, like five-feet long, gator-sized lingcod), as well as cabezon,
seaperch, spotted ratfish, rockfish, and giant pacific and
red octopuses. You’ll find lots of other small amazements,
such as invertebrates, white and orange plumose anemones,
algae, seaweeds, eelgrass, sea stars, urchins, and hooded
As many as 25,000 scuba divers visit the park each year;
some are tourists but many are among the state’s 250,000
certified divers. There’s a reason this is the most popular of
the state’s ten underwater parks. In addition to its size, its
well-maintained structures and trails are the result of the
efforts of one committed volunteer, Bruce Higgins, for whom
the park’s trail system is named. Since 1977, Higgins has
coordinated volunteer efforts and spent his weekends building
and maintaining trails and submerged structures. Visit
frequently enough and you’ll note changes. Each year a
couple of wooden boats are sunk and added to the park to
replace those lost to decay.
The park’s amenities include showers, restrooms, and
maps, with zones marked by skill level. You’ll want to bring
an underwater camera and a good compass for navigating,
as the descent is gradual, which makes it hard to orient
yourself to the shore. Though there’s not really much of a
current here, tidal exchanges can affect visibility somewhat,
so you may want to time your dive for smaller tidal exchanges.
A good idea is to stop in at Edmonds Underwater Sports
Store to fill up your tanks and check on conditions before
you dive. If you’re new to the sport, sign up for one of
Underwater Sports’ many classes or guided tours.
Volunteer Spotlight: Bruce Higgins
The trail system at the Edmonds
Underwater Park was named for Bruce
Higgins in 2007 — about thirty years after
Higgins started spending his weekends
volunteering there. Higgins, who has
a degree in oceanography, knows the
history of the Edmonds waterfront and
the park’s submerged features and trail
systems probably better than anyone.
He also revels in the wildlife he is able
to encounter up close underwater. “The
neatest thing is that I get to see critters I
don’t see anywhere else,” Higgins said.
“Diving is an opportunity to explore the
bigger half of our environment.”
Visit the park on Saturday or Sunday
mornings and you’re likely to encounter
Higgins and his crew of volunteers
building and maintaining trails to keep
the park safe and beautiful.
Among our most precious natural resources, Snohomish
County’s waters include four major rivers, many
lakes, and of course, the Puget Sound. There are
many ways to enjoy time on the water: kayaking,
canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, or rafting.
If whitewater is what you’re after, there are many options
for river rafting. Book a tour on the Sauk River
with Adventure Cascades. You’ll enjoy access to Mt.
Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Class-III river rapids,
all the gear you’ll need, a trail lunch, and a van ride
back to the launch site in Darrington. All that water
make you thirsty? Stop by River Time Brewing, for a
North Cascades River Expeditions is a Snohomish
County classic. Under the same ownership since 1980,
this tour company offers ten different river trips and
boasts a perfect safety record with a ridership of more
than 45,000 paddlers.
Bald Eagle Float Trips
In the winter, many outfitters feature bald eagle float
trips, which make for a one of a kind opportunity
to view wildlife from the vantage point of the river.
Chinook Expeditions provides guests with a hot riverside
lunch during a day spent scouting bald eagles and
spawning salmon in the Skagit River Basin.
Though you can launch your kayak at many of the area’s
lakes and streams, kayakers especially take to the
sloughs of the lower Snohomish River — Ebey, Union,
and Steamboat. Paddling these sloughs will present
the opportunity to see wildlife, follow miles of breathtaking
shoreline, and explore islands and grassy, shallow
Bring your canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards
to Lake Stevens, the county’s largest lake. With
8 miles of shorelines, this 1,000-acre lake has public
beaches and boat launches. Mark your calendar for
Aquafest, the annual festival for lake-minded locals.
Catalyst Yoga offers paddleboard yoga classes at Silver
Lake and Mukilteo’s Edgewater Beach with boards
provided by Hydrology Stand Up Paddle. Not sure you
want to test your balance in the great outdoors? You
can practice indoors by taking classes at the Forest
Park Aquatic Center and Snohomish Aquatic Center,
both of which offer heated pools.