One rainy day when I was in high school, a buddy and I threw our bikes in the back of a truck and drove halfway up Lauck Hill east of Marysville. We parked near where a primitive unmarked trail made a gash in the woods. We grabbed our bikes and rode off into the unknown, heading south.
This was the Centennial Trail back then. The rough path following a former railroad led us through brambles and spindly trees. As we pedaled, brush scraped our legs and limbs slapped our faces, regularly reminding us of our folly. We dodged traffic crossing 84th Street before disappearing into the thicket again. This was not a leisurely ride with a picnic basket. This was a wild mountain bike ride with no signs — and only hope pushing us forward.
When we emerged from the underbrush, we crossed Highway 92 and entered Lake Stevens. We might as well have been on Mars. In our childish minds, we had biked for hours and made our way to a different dimension. I remember wheeling our bikes past a fence keeping us out of a large fabricating business that seemed to work in metal, and thinking it was something exotic. We wound up at Lake Conner Grocery on Hartford Drive, parked our bikes and stumbled inside, seeking refreshment. We then rode the long, rough way back home. We finished our adventure by hosing the mud off ourselves in my friend’s yard.
The Centennial Trail has come a long way since then. The track we rode years ago is now fully paved and offers families the chance to take a leisurely ride, with no hosing off afterward. After years of planning and hard work, the Centennial Trail stretches 30 miles from Snohomish up north through Arlington to near the Snohomish-Skagit county line.
The trail is used by more than 400,000 people each year. But in 2020, that number was likely more. With our indoor haunts closed due to the pandemic, we went outside. Bike sales shot through the roof, and our trails were crowded with people needing to beat cabin fever.
With vaccines rolling out and COVID-19 infections dropping, the hum of normal life is returning. But it’s no time to ignore the great outdoors. Don’t let that bicycle gather dust now that you can attend Mariners games and meet friends at the pub. Get out and ride — even if there’s no mud involved.
Three great rides
The Centennial Trail offers a wide, paved path that’s suitable for all ages and abilities. On the way, there are plenty of places to stop for a rest and lunch.
Easy: Machias Trailhead, south of Lake Stevens, north to Getchell Trailhead, east of Marysville. (15.2 miles round trip)
Ride north through farmland and past Bonneville Field on the outskirts of Lake Stevens Community Park. Just past the Lake Stevens Trailhead, you can turn right and visit the same Lake Conner Grocery my friend and I stopped at over two decades ago. There, buy some goodies for a picnic lunch and hop back on your ride. Bike under Highway 92 and continue until you see a bench and a small path leading off the main trail in a westerly direction. Follow the spur and enjoy a picnic lunch on the dock at Lake Cassidy. After lunch, bike a few more minutes to the Getchell Trailhead. This portion is easy due to few road crossings and flat terrain.
Shorten it: Start at Highway 92 Trailhead and head north. (7.6 miles round trip)
Moderate: Lake Stevens Trailhead south to Snohomish. (16.6 miles round trip)
Head south from Lake Stevens. Take a break at the Machias Trailhead and let the kids, if you have ‘em, run around on the playground. Or keep going and enjoy a stroll along the Pilchuck River at American Legion Park. Get ready for the stretch ride up into downtown Snohomish. Once there, have lunch at Pilchuck Drive-in and grab dessert at Grain Artisan Bakery. Want to take a load off and enjoy a pint? Stop at Trail’s End Taphouse, just off the trail, before heading back. This is a bit tougher ride due to the longer length, a few busy road crossings and some elevation gain as you ride into Snohomish.
Shorten it: Start at the Machias Trailhead and head south. (9.6 miles round trip)
Difficult: Bryant Trailhead south to Wade Road Trailhead in north Marysville. (17.2 miles round trip)
Riding south from Bryant, the trail follows Highway 9 into downtown Arlington. If you have time, take a break at the Mary Neil Blackburn bench. If it’s hot, visit Haller Park and let the kids play in the new splash deck. Lebanon Park on the other side of downtown has nice shade, too. Then pedal to Nutty’s Junkyard Grill for burgers and shakes. Finish your ride by burning those calories on the path to Wade Road Trailhead. This is the longest ride of the three. Keep your head on a swivel when biking with kids. There are a number of busy road crossings and plenty of pedestrian and vehicle traffic to dodge in Arlington.
Shorten it: Start at Bryant and stop for lunch at Nutty’s in Arlington. Then turn back. (9 miles round trip)
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the summer issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.