Winter or summer, Centennial Trail devotees ride on this old railroad line, biking through the rolling farmland and old lumber towns and on the railroad trestle where the Stillaguamish River rolls below. You can see leaping coho during their fall run if you time it right.
Some bike to the historic Bryant General Store, where chairs and picnic tables await weary weekend warriors who fuel up on coffee or fill their growlers with IPA.
Now, bikers can ride even farther north. As of November, a new link north of Arlington stretches the Centennial Trail to 30 miles, from the town of Snohomish to the Skagit County line.
It's one of the most popular multipurpose trails in Western Washington. Cyclists and in-line skaters, joggers and dog walkers, even horse riders use it.
Started in 1989 during the state's centennial (hence its name), the trail is built on a former Burlington-Northern Railroad line. Wider than the Burke-Gilman Trail, the Centennial Trail is up to 12 feet wide and flanked by an equestrian trail.
In the past two years, park officials have added 9 miles, sprinkling public artwork and picnic shelters along the way.
The biggest expansion is north of Bryant Lake, a rural, 4-mile, tree-lined stretch along Pilchuck Creek, where you can watch salmon runs. The area is dubbed Eagle's Landing for the frequent sightings of bald eagles soaring above the evergreens. Nearby is the historic Nakashima Farm, by the county line, with ample parking for horse trailers.
Currently, the Centennial Trail is a linear path running through or near the towns of Snohomish, Lake Stevens, Marysville and Arlington. Over the next five to 10 years, the trail will branch out or connect to other trails around Western Washington, said Tom Teigen, Snohomish County parks and recreation director.
Among the projects:
As regional trail networks go, "it would be one of the best places in America," Teigen said.
County tracking devices show that equestrians, cyclists and joggers use the Centennial Trail more than 500,000 times annually.
Few of those users rode the entire length. For years, a mile gap along the trail south of Arlington meant cyclists circled back or detoured onto a dangerous two-lane road to reach the trailhead on the other end. But two years ago, park officials spent $1.4 million in county and state funds to eliminate the gap.
To ride the whole length, start in downtown Snohomish, where city officials recently added a mile of trail through town.
Many users start farther north at the Machias trailhead/old railroad depot. It's a 48-mile round trip from here, with stops for coffee breaks and sweeping views of Mount Pilchuck. A few miles off the path are parks and local history museums.
Last year, Rick Schranck, president of the Centennial Trail Coalition of Snohomish County, rode the trail 121 times through this pastoral setting, often stopping by the Lake Cassidy trailhead, 3 miles north of Lake Stevens.
"It's so peaceful. It reminds me of the lakes in Minnesota. You just walk out on the dock and sit and listen to all the wildlife — the pileated woodpeckers, the song birds, the goldfinches and the chorus frogs," Schranck said.
The railroad trestle by Haller Park in Arlington, overlooking the Stillaguamish River, is another local favorite.
"On a fall day, we stood on that bridge and watched the salmon waiting for the rain to fall and the river to rise so they could swim upstream," said Schranck. "And just beyond the trestle — you look up and you feel like you're in Montana — the river, the trees, the gravel bar and the mountains in the back. (It's) just amazing."