The Stress Reliever
Departure Time: As usual, earlier is better, but during the week you'll find most of this route relatively empty and not even that busy on weekends either.
- Good Tires and Brakes
- Tire Patch Kit and Compressor
If you know me at all then you know I've always felt most at home on the road. I've always been that way. Back in highschool, I used to skip class and drive this route to clear my head and I still do. The Finn Settlement Road is slightly more populated now and Highway 9 and 530 are a bit busier, but for the most part these roads covering north Snohomish and parts of Skagit County have remained unchanged and relatively empty.
This quick 100 mile drive can be relatively easily enjoyed in any car in good condition, but the weather conditions around Concrete and Darrington can vary greatly from those in Arlington so check the weather before you leave. Other than that, the only thing to consider is you'll lose cell coverage for about half of this drive, which to me is a plus.
The Arlington Safeway Fuel Stop is a good start for this and the best place to fill up for this route. There are plenty of places to stop on this drive and it's not very long, so don't worry if you decide you want a Red Bull 50 miles in.
As you head up 9 expect some mild traffic until you get through the map dot that is Bryant, WA. As soon as you leave Bryant the fun starts, but don't get carried away and miss the turn to Finn Settlement Road. It's not very well marked, but as soon as you cross the Pilchuck Creek Bridge you'll know you're almost right there.
Finn Settlement / 44th / Granstrom road is usually empty, but does have some logging operations further off the side roads so watch for trucks. There are several spots to pass however, so be patient and don't crowd the locals (who always seem to be going 10-15 under the limit). This road has a lot of variety in turns, straights, and some minor elevation, but don't get too carried away that you have to jam on the brakes to make the tight turns at the end. Take a left at the T onto Lake Cavanaugh Road (a right will take you around Lake Cavanaugh), and you'll had back toward 9. There aren't many houses or people out here so you should be able to have some fun and not slow down too much for the curves.
As you head north along 9 again take it easy through Big Lake and don't speed through town. There's not much up here but there is often a Sheriff and some occasional traffic leaving the Walker Valley ORV Park. You can stop at the Big Lake Bar and Grill for a decent lunch on your right if you're hungry. You'll take the left just after Clear Lake onto South Skagit Highway. This mostly forgotten stretch of old highway is in surprisingly good condition and usually quite empty thanks to Highway 20 taking almost all the traffic.
A very important footnote here: If your car is very low, use extreme caution past the Concrete Sauk Valley Road Cutoff. The road is in deceptively poor condition ahead, specifically past this point, and you will bottom out on the many dips in the concrete. My stock height Z06 and GTR were both perfectly fine, but a friend with a very low E30 M3 had to slow down to about 15 mph to finish the drive without damaging his car. You have to be very careful, but the road is still fun and worth the drive. If you need to, just get back on 20 at the cutoff shown on the map. This drive is still great even if you have to skip that section.
As you leave the Sauk Valley Road you'll probably want to get some great photos on the one lane metal bridge, so it's a good place to stop and rest with little worry of traffic. As you get back on 530 you'll drop into Darrington (don't speed in Darrington) where you can take a break at the Mountain Loop Country Store before you head back toward Arlington. If you've got time you can stop by the Kangaroo Farm on your way back into town.