Anyone who says there’s nothing to do in Western Washington in the wintertime clearly hasn’t visited a tiny little town called Index. With the critical scholastic loads that come along with the beginning of Winter quarter, it is understandable that few venture out to this tiny town (population 140) other than avid skiers on their way to Mount Stevens.
Still, those who can spare a weekend might want to consider unloading all those textbooks, stocking up on carbs, and using their backpacks for something a little different—like some of the most compelling hikes in Washington State.
Which, incidentally, are some of the reasons Index is a small town worth spending a weekend in. One example: the Heybrook Lookout Trail, one of the available day hikes in the Mt Baker Snoqualmie National Park, which surrounds Index. This hike climbs its way up to an historic monument: one of the lookout towers that people like Jack Kerouac used to sit in for days or weeks at a time, keeping a close watch for forest fires on the surrounding mountainsides.
The Heybrook tower (picture, this page) would have been a perfect place for a fire lookout—from the top (there are no gates here; any hiker is welcome to climb to the top of the tower, provided fear of heights doesn’t get in their way) you can see Mount Index, Mount Baring, and Mount Persis, to name a few. All of these pine-covered cliffs look absolutely stunning covered in snow.
This hike is good for winter months in part because it is on the southern side of its mountain, so it is possible to make it to the top without snow shoes. It’s actually a relief when hikers reach snow-friendly elevation, which happens at the very end of the hike. It’s only a little over a mile up, but much of that is a steep climb, so the coolness afforded by fresh snow is both welcome and gorgeous.
Heybrook is a simple hike compared to other options around Index, which include the 7 mile round trip hike to Lake Serene. While it sounds like a bit of a journey, everyone who has made it to the little-known lake sequestered at the base of Mount Index seems to have found it to be worth every bead of sweat. The word “awe-inspiring” is used quite a bit by hikers describing their visit to Lake Serene; The Washington Trails Association calls it a “stairway to heaven.” It just takes a few minutes standing by a lake like Serene to remember that nothing can be too bad.
If 7 miles sounds way too far, even to be awed and inspired, Bridal Veil Falls can be found on the same trail, but with a lot less effort. It might not offer quite the satisfaction of a pristine lake at the end of a 7 mile hike, but if chasing waterfalls is your thing—and for most hikers, it probably is—this one is spectacular.
Besides the hiking, Index is of course a gateway to Mount Stevens, a popular ski destination. In addition, the North Fork Skykomish River runs through the town, and is replete with whitewater rafters in the summer and shivering but appreciative onlookers in the winter.
Another perhaps little known feature of Index is the Index Town Wall, which is really not what it sounds like—a manmade monument to a favorite mayor, perhaps? No, the Town Wall is an all natural collection of sheer cliffs that climbers can enjoy. It offers, according to Go Northwest, the “most technical climbing in the state.” The cliffs are up to 500 feet tall, so go prepared.
Located about an hour outside of Everett, Index is a bit of a drive, but it’s well worth it to take advantage of the natural resources that our state is full of. Watching the snow fall on a cluster of mountains from the very top of a very tall lookout tower might be just the right trigger to make this winter a happy one.