Our Hiking Time: 2h
Total Ascent: 300ft
Highest Point: 1080ft
Total Distance: 3 miles
Location: N 48° 5.7780, W 121° 51.9000
Required Permit: None
Unexpectedly nice weekday weather tempted us out to the Mountain Loop Highway and back to Robe Canyon Historic Park for a post-work hike along the Stillaguamish River. We’d already explored the west end of the park and the Lime Kiln, so we decided to start from the other end of the park; following the Old Robe Trail through the historic town site of Robe out to the railroad tunnels.
Robe Canyon Historic Park covers nearly 1000 acres along seven miles of the South Fork Stillaguamish River, and includes the historic Robe town site. The town of Robe was established by Truitt K. Robe in 1892 or 1893 as a lumber and shingle manufacturing center along the newly constructed Everett and Monte Cristo Railway. Robe quickly prospered, and by 1899, the town was producing 75,000 shingles a day. As the town expanded, it could no longer support its nearly 200 citizens, forcing leaders to abandon the original town site and move a few miles downstream to its current location. Although the public has been visiting the Robe town site for decades, the first portions of Robe Canyon Historic Park weren’t purchased until 1995. Over the next six years, the park expanded and the Old Robe Trail – first build by Boy Scouts in the late 1960s – continued to provide access to the river and remnants of Washington’s pioneer past.
Perhaps the trickiest piece of this hike is finding the trailhead, which is literally off the side of the Mountain Loop Highway, with parking limited to the highway’s shoulders. Beyond that hurdle, the trail is perfect for a short walk in the woods. The trail begins through young forest before quickly dropping to the railroad grade on the valley floor. Wander past marshes and swamps beneath mossy alders as you follow the rushing sounds of the Stillaguamish to the riverside. Along the way, you’ll note the lingering traces of Robe – crumbling bricks, twisted pieces of metal and abandoned pieces of lumber.
Eventually, after crossing a few ponds and fording a couple of streams, you’ll reach Robe Canyon and the railroad tracks. Or, at least, the cement impression of the tracks that were once there. Standing mere feet above the swiftly flowing river, the ingenuity it took to ram the tracks down the canyon is almost as impressive as the belief that it could withstand the frequent flooding of the wild Stillaguamish. Use caution if you chose to hike into the canyon. The cement can be extremely slick, and portions are loose or washed out.
The trail is currently closed before the first tunnel because of a recent landslide. For safety’s sake, we recommend most folks do not go beyond this point. Experienced scramblers should still use caution when crossing the slide, as it is still very unstable, and slipping into the fast-moving river at this point could be deadly. Beyond, the trail continues through two tunnels before abruptly ending in another landslide.
We recommend this three-mile jaunt as an after-work hike or just a quick visit to nature. For a short hike, this trail manages to cover a variety of landscapes and is steeped in history. While not at all something you need to break out the compass and gaiters for, it is still a little wilder than Mt. Si or Tiger Mountain.
To get there, take I-5 North to Exit 194. Follow Highway 2 for about two miles. Stay in the left lane and merge onto Lake Stevens Highway 204. Follow for two miles to Highway 9. Take the left onto Highway 9 toward Lake Stevens. In just under two miles, reach Highway 92 to Granite Falls. Take a right and follow for about eight miles to Granite Falls. Proceed through the town to the Mountain Loop Highway following it for six miles. Keep an eye out for cars parked on the right side of the road and a large brick sign across from Green Mountain Road. Park on the shoulder. -Nathan
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