For outdoor enthusiasts and amateurs alike, a trip to the Pacific Northwest should include a stop at the small, rustic town of Index, Washington. Its population? Less than 200. Though it’s about an hour from Seattle, this town is a world away from fast-paced, contemporary urban life. Index is primarily a destination for in-the-know rock climbers, but this small town in the Skykomish Valley also draws in an eclectic crowd of adventurers of all ages, families, and those who want -- or need -- to escape to nature for a few days.
Named for nearby Mount Index, which is just a few miles south, the town is located in the foothills of the majestic Cascade Mountain range, off U.S. Highway 2. To the south is the sparkling Skykomish River; to the north is the Town Wall, a 1,000-foot-high granite cliff. Throughout the area are abundant forests and places to day-hike and explore. The town itself is relatively untouched by commercial development; there’s a general store, a quaint town hall, and an activities center and lodge where you can buy coffee (a staple of Northwest living) and rent equipment for outdoor adventures. In Index, the vibe is quiet and peaceful, given that humans are far outnumbered by mountains and trees.
What to Do
For rock climbers, this is a world-class destination with 5-star routes along its granite cliffs. At the activities center, visitors can rent kayaks and bikes and sign up for rafting tours. If you walk through the woods and cross over the train tracks, you'll be in complete solitude. A quick dip in the North Fork Skykomish River (just above the main channel of the Skykomish River) will cool you off during the hot summer months. And for rainy days, or if you're a history or photography buff, the Index Historical Society fits the bill nicely. It’s in the former home of photographer Lee Pickett, who captured images in the early 1900s.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of viable camping options, and waking up in a tent above the river on a nice day feels luxurious, even if you’re in a sleeping bag. Less outdoorsy types might consider quaint and affordable accommodations like A Stone’s Throw Bed & Breakfast. Here, your room is outfitted with a comfy bed and direct views of Mount Index. There's a refrigerator filled with breakfast supplies -- perfect for pre-hike refueling. (Rates are $115 per night, plus tax.)
Fly into Seattle/Tacoma International Airport and take the roughly 80-minute drive northeast from Washington State Route 522 to U.S. Highway 2.
Bonus: While the Northwest is internationally known for its perpetual rain, the summers are bright and sunny. Plus, the sun doesn’t set until around 9 p.m., so you'll have plenty of daylight hours to make the most out of your trip.