Driving up Highway 20 to recreation destinations in the North Cascades, the small town of Lyman registers as only a gas station and grocery. But those willing to get off the beaten path will find a quiet, picturesque town where residents enjoy life on the Skagit River without the river’s worrisome floods.
This isn’t Lyman’s official slogan, but it could be: The Little Town That Thinks Big. Despite a small city budget, officials in Lyman, population 438, were able to purchase the beautiful Minkler mansion at 8405 S. Main St. The pioneer home built in 1891 now stands as the Lyman Town Hall.
The sturdy home, with not a creak in the stairs, was built by pioneer mill owner and statesman Birdsey Minkler. It was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Lyman is the sort of place where the mayor is also the owner of the town’s only tavern. The Lyman Tavern, billed as the horniest tavern in the Northwest, is really just a friendly place to sit, share a brew and on some nights enjoy karaoke. Oh, and the walls are covered with antlers, hence the name.
Cascade Trail, a popular Rails to Trails project for walkers, joggers
and bicyclists, passes right through Lyman. Town officials hope to expand the park near the trail. Now the park offers barbecue pits, a covered picnic area, restrooms and a horseshoe pit.
Also nearby is the historic Lyman cemetery, which dates back more than a century and neighbors an early Native American burial ground.
Take a long look at Hamilton and two things jump out.
For one, the town of 301 people is especially vulnerable to flooding. Government officials estimate the town is underwater once every two or three years. The last such flood was in 2006, so the next should be coming any year now.
Second, Hamilton is one of those outpost towns, it sits on the Skagit River 13 miles east of Sedro-Woolley, that has seen more bustling days. Once a center for the mining, logging and paper-mill industries, Hamilton has since grown quiet.
And that suits those who live there just fine. Some families have stayed for generations; others are newcomers who sought affordable housing and respite from the bigger cities.
While Hamilton’s residents may be below the country’s median income level, they get along just fine through bartering and giving to one another. It’s a town where everyone knows everyone.
Many of the homes are built above the highest historic flood levels. The town’s fire department sounds an alarm heard throughout town when the river level goes one foot above flood stage.
The town park on Main Street features a public picnic area, a covered gazebo with kitchen facilities and restrooms. The town has a bar, grocery store and post office.
Janicki Industries recently built a state-of-the-art industrial composites plant on the edge of town.
This crossroads community up the Skagit River Valley is a nice stop along Highway 20 and a jumping-off spot for folks heading up Baker Lake Road to go camping, hiking and boating at scenic Baker Lake. Home to Birdsview Brewing Co.
There’s probably not a town anywhere quite like Concrete. Once humming, and dusty, with two cement plants, the industry that gave the town its name has since disappeared.
Today, town visionaries, many of them newcomers, are working hard to create a new future for Concrete. They’re starting modestly: a community garden and a collection of brightly painted birdhouses.
Much of the impetus behind these projects comes from Jason Miller, a newcomer whose passion for small-town living led him to take a seat on the Town Council and restart the town’s historic newspaper.
New businesses are sprouting up, bucking the general economic trend. New, local owners claimed the hotel and restaurant at the head of Main Street. Another business to start up in 2010 was the Concrete Theatre, which doubles as a fitness center.
The business community is active through the Concrete Chamber of Commerce, which is always keeping things fresh with new events, including the recent addition of the Fall Color Festival.
The chamber also has taken over the popular wintertime Eagle Festival. The chamber hosts Mardi Gras every year, even if there is snow on the ground.
The town pays its respects to the many ghosts said to haunt the old downtown with a Ghost Walk in October.
Concrete’s history began in 1909 with the merger of Cement City and Baker, each built around separate cement companies. Most of the buildings downtown were built with concrete after a major fire in 1921 destroyed most of the original wooden structures.
Historic plaques on many of the
buildings list their construction dates.
Visitors can stop in Concrete for food or coffee, or fill up the gas tank before ascending the North Cascades Highway. Public restrooms and a community resource center are available on your right as you enter town.
When you think of Rockport, think bald eagles.
The majestic national bird migrates by the hundreds to the upper Skagit Valley every winter after the chum salmon spawn. The epicenter of this show by Mother Nature is the small riverside community of Rockport.
For decades the town has celebrated the raptors arrival with the Eagle Festival. The event features guided walks, photography workshops, demonstrations with live bald eagles and performances by Native American musicians and dancers over four weekends in January.
Many of the educational events during the Eagle Festival take place at the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center, one block south of Highway 20 at Howard Miller Steelhead Park. The center is open weekends in December and January. Find out what’s happening on a particular weekend by visiting www.skagiteagle.org or calling 360-853-7626.
Rockport is a fishing and rafting hot spot. Anglers and boaters launch from Howard Miller Steelhead Park. The park also features a playground, RV hookups and sites for tent camping.
Just outside town at milepost 96.5 on Highway 20 is Rockport State Park, a 670-acre, day-use park featuring old-growth trees and a trailhead that begins the climb to the top of 5,541-foot Sauk Mountain.
Rockport has a population of 109, according to the 2010 census.
The Skagit Eagle Festival in Rockport includes guided walks, photography workshops and demonstrations with live bald eagles, plus performances by Native American musicians and dancers in January.
Most of the events during the Eagle Festival happen at the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center, one block south of Highway 20 at Howard Miller Steelhead Park. The center is open weekends in December and January.
www.skagiteagle.org | PH: 360-853-7626.
Summer boat tours on Diablo Lake run by Seattle City Light
and the North Cascades Institute. The popular educational and scenic boat tours introduce visitors to the area’s natural, and manmade, wonders.
www.SkagitTours.com | Email: reservations@Seattle.gov | PH: 360-854-2589
Welcome to the American Alps.
So reads the sign that greets visitors entering Marblemount, at the doorstep of North Cascades National Park.
The town in essence is a backcountry retreat, for residents who never tire of the North Cascades’ majestic beauty and for visitors from around the world who use Marblemount as a jumping-off place for their hiking and climbing adventures. There’s also rafting, kayaking, canoeing, mushroom hunting, photography, most everything outdoor enthusiasts could want in the mountains.
Marblemount, population 203 in 2010, is fairly bustling in the eyes of those looking to get away from it all.
The town has two gas stations and several eateries and places for overnight stays, from campgrounds and cabins to hotel rooms.
Skagit River Resort west of Marblemount, owned and operated by the pioneer Clark family, offers RV hookups and cabins with fireplaces. From there, take a shuttle to destinations for fishing, hiking or kayaking.
Marblemount is rich with the history of the gold rush, and a few buildings of the era still stand.
One is the Buffalo Run Inn, a hand-hewn log structure from the town’s early heyday. It’s part of an enterprise that includes the Buffalo Run Restaurant and Buffalo Run Ranch.
Tourists can stop at a visitor information center, 59831 Highway 20, Friday through Sunday during the summer and on occasion in the winter, when the North Cascades Highway heading east is closed. Call 360-873-4150 or 360-873-2103.
Information also is available at the North Cascades National Park Service Wilderness Information Center on Ranger Station Road, off Highway 20. Call 360-873-4500, ext. 39.
NEWHALEM AND DIABLO
These two towns built by a major utility are both beautiful and last-chance stops for travelers heading to Eastern Washington on the North Cascades Highway.
The towns were built around Seattle City Light’s powerhouses at the bases of Gorge and Diablo lakes. They serve dual roles now as company towns and tourist stops. Seattle City Light and the North Cascades Institute run popular educational and scenic boat tours.
For information about this summer’s tours, visit www.SkagitTours.com, e-mail SkagitTours.Reservations@Seattle.gov or call (206) 684-3030. The website has information on other activities around Newhalem and Diablo.
A ferry runs on Diablo Lake in the summers, mainly to accommodate anglers.
The two towns are inside North Cascades National Park, one of the most rugged and beautiful places in the national park system. Trails and campgrounds, waterfalls and eye-popping vistas await the traveler.
The better amenities are in Newhalem, at Milepost 120, eight miles west of Diablo. The Skagit General Store offers snacks, drinks, gifts and camping supplies. It’s well-known for its homemade fudge.
In the winter, the North Cascades Highway is closed just a few miles east of Diablo due to extreme snowfall and avalanche danger.
See an ancient forest at Rockport State Park. The old growth was never logged, and the entire ecosystem remains in place, creating a rare, natural forest with a canopy so dense that minimal sunlight penetrates to the ground. The park stands at the foot of Sauk Mountain, which has an elevation of 5,400 feet and a steep but climbable trail to the top.
Watch for waterfalls. The North Cascades are well-known for the abundant waterfalls that lace the mountains. One of the best-known is Gorge Falls between Newhalem and Diablo along Highway 20.
Stop in Newhalem for snacks and provisions and take the short Trail of the Cedars Nature Walk. The level loop trail of 0.3 miles through large old cedars starts at the suspension bridge south of the store and includes interpretive plaques.