By Joni Kirk
There is something magical about making our way through the forest with snow or rain falling around us, side-stepping muddy paths, and warming chilled noses that motivates my family to leave our cozy home in early December to find the perfect Christmas tree in the inviting Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest off Highway 2 along the Cascade Loop.
We start out early, heading east on Hwy 2 from Everett towards the mountain foothills. Our tradition is to stop at a local restaurant to fill up on a hearty breakfast. Last year, we made our way to the Sultan Bakery. If you have growing kids like mine, or simply need to carbo-load before strenuous physical exercise, this is a great place to do it. The portions are huge, and the hometown tastes are amazing. I ordered a breakfast burrito, which easily could have fed three of us. My kids opted for pancakes, eggs and bacon, and were tickled that the pancakes were larger than their heads! My husband, ever the donut aficionado, ordered a bear claw that could have genuinely been the size of a bear’s paw. It was delicious and filling, and we plan to return this year. This is a popular spot, so come early to get a table, or come late for brunch!
Next, we head to the Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Information Center, at 320 Main St. in Sultan, to pick up our Christmas tree permit. This is a great place to learn tips about the local forests, including any scenic places to check out along the way, roads that are washed out and should be avoided, as well as historical information that brings the heritage of the Skykomish River Valley to life.
One such piece of history that I was intrigued to learn about is the “Woodstock” of the Sky River Valley – called Sky River Festival – that occurred in 1968. This three-day rock festival on a local raspberry farm featured an amazing lineup including the Grateful Dead, The Youngbloods, and Santana. More than 20,000 people converged on the small town of Sultan. After a long hiatus, the Sky River Festival is slated to take place again Aug. 25-27, 2017.
After getting our permit, we load up for the fun part – the journey into the mountains. As we head east on Hwy 2, we typically turn off into the forest around Baring. National forest is on either side of the highway, so we often let our children choose a direction when we come to a selection point. Snow does fall in the higher elevations, so we drive our truck and come prepared with a shovel, snow chains, and emergency supplies. Once we pick a stopping point, we probably hike for a half mile or so off the road to find the perfect tree. Because this is such a gorgeous place, we can easily be distracted by breathtaking views, following wildlife tracks, or discovering things in the forest; we have learned moderation on these trips because we’ll have to take the same trek back to the vehicle with a tree in tow.
When we ultimately agree on such a tree, the fun really begins as we get up close and personal with the tree in an attempt to get to the trunk. We then carefully wrestle with the branches as we slip and slide back to our vehicle, enjoying the fresh scents of hemlock.
On the way home, our tradition is to stop in at the Wallace Falls Café in Gold Bar because no matter what we’re craving, its diverse menu will fit the bill for each of us. From cheeseburgers and steak to Vietnamese Pho or jambalaya, the food is delicious and warming after a day in the woods. While getting a fresh-cut Christmas tree means much more work awaits at home, our traditions help pave the way for a fun, cheer-filled holiday.