Washington Scenic Drive: Mountains to Sound Greenway

Moutains to Sound Greenway (Interstate 90) is the primary east/west highway in Washington. It begins at the historic Seattle waterfront and travels east over the Cascade Mountains to the dry plateaus of eastern Washington.

As you travel east along this 100-mile byway, you experience lush green forests, the marine beauty of Puget Sound, pastoral valleys, and a dramatic mountain landscape. You also pass through a complete change in climate, geology, and hometown style.


Each year, more than 20 million vehicles travel this route, making I-90 a popular gateway between Washington's largest city and its diverse and striking landscapes.

Historical Qualities of Mountains to Sound Greenway

The byway's historic sites demonstrate different eras of modern history. Some sites possess the soul of the Old West, some seem to still embrace the spirit of early industry, and some retain the more obvious past of the last few decades.

The soul of the Old West is possessed in locations such as Fort Tilton, the site of an 1850s fort (also a wildlife wetland), and Meadowbrook Farm, a historic landscape in the dramatic shadow of towering Mount Si.

Meadowbrook Farm was the site of a Native American village that became the world's largest hop ranch at the turn of the 19th century. The Klondike Gold Rush Museum, located in the historic Pioneer Square district, houses photos and memorabilia from Seattle's turn-of-the-19th-century boom days.

And what would the Old West be without a few mining operations? Catch a glimpse of a 19th-century coal-mining town at Roslyn. The town hasn't changed much in all these years, except for sprucing up the main street for the 1990s TV series Northern Exposure. Roslyn also has a museum with photos, mining tools, and historical information; the historic graveyard is divided into ethnic zones reflecting the many nations that sent miners here.

The spirit of early industry is still embraced in places such

as Preston, a turn-of-the-19th-century Scandinavian mill town. Presently, Preston consists of the remnants of a small northwoods logging town along a river, including a number of historic homes and the church.

The Historic Thorp Grist Mill, built in 1883, is the oldest industrial artifact in Kittias County. The mill houses a remarkable collection of handmade wooden mill machinery and is open to the public.

In addition, Fall City Waterfront was the final upstream landing for early steamboats on the Snoqualmie River, Reinig Road Sycamore Corridor was the tree-lined main street of a former company town, and Mill Pond was the Snoqualmie Mill's former log-holding pond (and is now home to a variety of fish and wildlife).

Natural Qualities of Mountains to Sound Greenway

The western flanks of the Cascade Mountains, through which the greenway passes, are some of the best conifer treegrowing lands in the world. The combination of temperate climate and ample rainfall produces record growth of Douglas fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock.

Lumbering was Washington state's first industry, and trees from this region helped build San Francisco and many other 19th-century cities. You can still find remnants of the massive trees that once grew here.

Spend an hour in a beautiful old-growth forest just a mile from the interstate at exit 47 on the Asahel Curtis Nature Trail. Named for a naturalist, photographer, conservation leader, and a founder of the Mountaineers, the Asahel Curtis Nature Trail provides an excellent glimpse of the ancient forest that once existed. You are surrounded by towering oldgrowth cedar, pine, and fir trees, as well as underbrush that range from devil's club to Canadian dogwood. The atmosphere is completed by rustling streams crossed by log bridges.

This map contains the points of interest on Mountains to Sound Greenway.
This map contains the points of interest on Mountains to Sound Greenway.

Recreational Qualities of Mountains to Sound Greenway

Thousands of miles of recreational trails head from the byway. Most of these trails support hiking, but some of the trails are also great for biking and horseback riding. These trails range in length and difficulty. Some are great for day trips, and others take you deep into the backcountry.

Walkers and bicyclists can begin a journey into the mountains from the heart of Seattle on the separated I-90 trail that has its own tunnel and crosses the scenic Lake Washington floating bridge. A series of regional trails lead to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail just south of North Bend (about 40 miles from Seattle). This converted rail/trail crosses the mountains on a wide and gentle slope and includes a two-mile tunnel under the Snoqualmie Summit on its way to the Columbia River.

Another of the more frequented hiking areas is the Burke Gilman Trail, which begins in Seattle and goes to the suburban towns of Bothell, Woodinville, and Redmond and passes farmland before arriving at Marymoore Park in the shadow of the Microsoft campus.

At the Snoqualmie Summit, exit 52, you can gain access to the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. By taking the trail northward from this exit, you enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and spectacular high alpine country, dotted with hundreds of small lakes and profuse displays of wildflowers.

Another popular hiking area is in the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, the largest wild park in an urban area in America at 4,000 acres. This network through wetland and forest passes 19th-century coal-mining shafts and concrete foundations.

Another park, the Squak Mountain State Park, offers excellent hiking because its 2,000 wooded acres are a first-rate wildlife habitat.

The Tiger Mountain State Forest has the state's most heavily used trails. This web of trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians winds through 13,000 acres of working forest and conservation area. The two access points are just minutes from Seattle suburbs.

At 4,190 feet, Mount Si towers over the town of North Bend and is a favorite hiking destination with its strenuous eight-mile round-trip trail to the summit or its five-mile round-trip trail to Little Si.

Also, the Rattlesnake Ledge Trail climbs steeply (1,175 feet in 1 mile) from Rattlesnake Lake through classic western Washington forests to rock outcrops that provide sweeping views of the Central Cascades and Snoqualmie Valley.

The Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley, on the edge of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, has a variety of trails that wind among more than 100,000 acres of both ancient and recently harvested forests. The valley is minutes from North Bend but is lightly visited. An unpaved 12-mile road leads to a footbridge, the access to many miles of backcountry trails.

Other great places to hike around this byway are Twin Falls State Park, the Asahel Curtis/Annette Lake Trail, the trail to Denny Creek and Franklin Falls, Snoqualmie Pass Summit, the John Wayne/Iron Horse Trail and Snoqualmie Tunnel, and the Coal Mines Trail.

Find more useful information related to Washington's Mountains to Sound Greenway:

  • Washington State Scenic Drives: Mountain to Sound Greenway is just one of the scenic byways in Washington. Check out the others.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.


Highlights of Mountains to Sound Greenway

© Mount Stuart is visible from Mountains to Sound Greenway.
© Mount Stuart is visible from Mountains to Sound Greenway.

In 100 miles, the Mountains to Sound Greenway starts in the bustle of a major port city, passes through a suburban town where the interstate highway itself won a national award for highway design, and quickly enters dense forests.

The front range of the Cascade Mountains looms over the flat, pastoral Snoqualmie Valley at North Bend and from there, looking eastward, dramatic mountain peaks are continuously visible.


From the Snoqualmie Summit eastward, Interstate 90 passes two large lakes, which provide both recreational opportunities and irrigation water for the drier lands of central Washington.

At the end of the 100-mile byway, you can leave the interstate, drive north a few miles through the historic town of Thorp, and circle back westward on old Highway 10, a dramatic geologic landscape carved and eroded by the Yakima River. Highway 10 rejoins I-90 east of Cle Elum, where you can head east or west.

All the views along the drive are splendid; however, only a handful of travelers know about an especially magnificent viewpoint. Just west of Snoqualmie Pass, a spot exists where the corridor's diverse richness is most visible. The view extends from the rocky mountaintops of the Cascades to the flourishing green valleys of the Puget Sound lowlands.

A little farther west, the view from Snoqualmie Point, a promontory just south of I-90, becomes panoramic -- take exit 27, go right up the hill, and park at the gate. A short walk leads to a view that encompasses Mount Si towering nearby; Mount Baker is visible in the far distance on a clear day. The view follows the curve of the corridor past North Bend and on into alpine zones sheathed in silvery snow.

The term "greenway" is particularly applicable to this specific scenic byway. A sizable portion of this byway passes through national forests, enabling you to experience the grandeur of many varieties of trees. A blanket of thick forests of Douglas fir, true fir, hemlock, and cedar make this road truly a greenway.

Two kinds of trees that can reach enormous proportions are cedars and Sitka spruce. Many of the old cedars were logged, and you can see their disintegrating stumps dotting the landscape around the forests that have since grown in. With a bit of looking and luck, you may find patches of the old trees, which had diameters of more than 15 feet.

Mountains to Sound Greenway takes you through a variety of towns (listed here from west to east).

Seattle: Start your drive in Seattle, located on Puget Sound. Along the lively waterfront, ferries leave for outlying islands.

Seattle is also home to the famous Pike Place Market near the waterfront; the Pioneer Square District (Seattle's original downtown), which includes the Klondike Gold Rush Museum; and the 1962 World's Fair site, featuring the Space Needle and the Monorail. Alki Beach is a favorite of sunbathers, joggers, and divers, and Discovery Park is an in-city wildlife sanctuary and nature preserve.

Also not to be missed are the Seattle Art Museum, with collections of Native American art and contemporary art, and the Museum of Flight, which showcases air and space exhibits.

Snoqualmie Falls: Head east on I-90 to 268-foot-high Snoqualmie Falls, just before the town of North Bend. A trail leads to the bottom of the falls.

Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum : In the town of North Bend, the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum has displays of pioneer life from the 1890s and other exhibits (open April to October, Thursday to Sunday). Mount Si (4,190 feet) towers over North Bend and features a strenuous eight-mile roundtrip hiking trail to its summit.

Snoqualmie Point: As the road continues east there are some excellent viewpoints that look out over the Cascades and even to Puget Sound on a clear day. One is Snoqualmie Point, a promontory with a view to nearby Mount Si and beyond. Take exit 27 off I-90, go right up the hill, park at the gate, and walk a short way to the overlook.

Snoqualmie Pass: East of North Bend is 3,022-foot Snoqualmie Pass. In winter, it features downhill skiing and snowboarding, while groomed cross-country trails lead off into the backcountry. (Chains or other traction devices are often needed to get over the pass in winter.)

Lake Easton State Park: Farther east, near the town of Easton, comes Lake Easton State Park, a good place to camp, with access to hiking and backpacking trails and to cross-country skiing in winter.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area: Those seeking more solitude can head to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area north of the byway, where miles of hiking and backpacking trails head off amid hundreds of small lakes. (The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico, passes through here.) To reach the area, get off I-90 at exits 80 or 84 and go north through the town of Roslyn, following Cle Elum Valley Road.

Thorp: At the far eastern end of the greenway is the town of Thorp, home of the Thorp Grist Mill. Built in 1883, the mill is the only one of its kind in the country with its machinery completely intact.

Witness the amazing changes to the landscape as you travel Mountains to Sound

Greenway -- and don't forget to stop the car and hike some of the recreational trails along the way.

Find more useful information related to Washington's Mountains to Sound Greenway:

  • Washington State Scenic Drives: Mountain to Sound Greenway is just one of the scenic byways in Washington. Check out the others.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.