The Centennial Trail

A long paved trail through the Snohomish County countryside.

Hike Length: 8 miles, or much more.

Elevation Gain: minimal

Hike Difficulty: moderate

Map: Street map of Snohomish County

The Centennial Trail follows the former grade of the Seattle, Lake Shore, and Eastern Railroad (S.L.&E.) up the Pilchuck River valley. Seattle’s popular Burke-Gilman Trail was also built on a right-of-way of this railroad line. The paved, multi-use Centennial Trail travels through pleasant rural scenery--not very exciting, but good for a few hours exercise. The section of the trail near the village of Machias provides the most scenic reward for the walker.

The construction of the trail started in 1989, Washington State’s centennial year, hence the name “Centennial Trail”. And the work hasn’t stopped: the latest phase of trail construction, which will extend the trail from its current end at Lake Stevens to Arlington, is now in progress.

Start of Centennial Trail in the town of Snohomish (photo credit: Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons)


Getting There

In downtown Seattle, catch Sound Transit 510 express bus to Everett Station.

At the brand new, state-of-the-art Everett Station ( which features a waiting room, a train station, Greyhound bus service , and restrooms), catch the Community Transit 270 or 275 bus and ride it to downtown Snohomish.

Bus service is available weekends.

The Hike

From the bus stop on 2nd Street, walk north on Pine Ave a long half mile. Where Pine intersects Maple, the wide, paved Centennial Trail begins. The trail follows the east side of Maple Ave (which soon changes name to Machias Road) and heads out of the suburbs to rural country along the flood plain of the Pilchuck River. A horse trail paralleling much of the trail provides a softer alternative path to walk on.

Two miles from Snohomish, the trail passes the Pilchuck Trailhead parking lot, then soon passes underneath Highway 2, which crosses the river valley on a high viaduct. For the next several miles, the trail closely follows Machias Road, whose noise detracts from the ambiance somewhat. But the trail does offer some inspiring Cascade mountain views in compensation: to the east rise the mile-high granite pyramid of Mount Pilchuck and glacier-capped Three Fingers Mountain, adding a bit of drama to the otherwise low-key scenery. At the 5 mile point, the trail crosses Machias Road, then abandons the noisy road and strikes out on its own, passing through a pretty wetland preserve. Soon the trail arrives at Machias Trailhead, in the quaint former railroad village of Machias. Restrooms, drinking fountains, and picnic areas can be found at the well-equipped trailhead.

Beyond Machias, the trail remains peaceful and pleasant for another mile, as it passes by a picturesque diary farm complete with cow-dotted pasture. Little Pilchuck Creek, actually a sizable waterway, is crossed at a long 6 miles from Snohomish. Here, the trail rejoins Machias Road, and stays close to it until crossing 20th St NE, at the 8 mile point.

To get your bus ride home, go left (west) onto 20th St, and follow it past wooded Catherine Creek Park a half mile to the small downtown core of the City of Lake Stevens. Just beyond the 124th Ave intersection, on the north side of 20th St, is a sheltered stop for the CT 280 bus.

As a short, pleasant alternative walking route in this area, take the unsigned but obvious gravel path that begins on the west side of the Centennial Trail, a hundred yards or so before its end at 20th St. The trail winds around in some pretty woods and wetlands. Go left at an junction; when the trail ends at a cul-de-sac, cross the street to a playground where the trail resumes. Cross Catherine Creek on a footbridge, then at the next junction go right (north) into the SE corner of Catherine Creek Park. A multitude of trails in the park lead north to 20th St., which you follow as described above to downtown Lake Stevens.

The Centennial Trail north of Lake Stevens

The “Phase 2” of the Centennial Trail is is now complete, extending the trail to Arlington. Eventually, the Centennial Trail will reach the Skagit County line north of Arlington, which should provide enough mileage for the most dedicated of walkers.

This “Phase 2” section between the Granite Falls highway (SR 92) and Lake Cassidy is a very pleasant , easily bus-accessible hike. Here, the trail stays away from major roads and provides a quiet walking experience in mostly wooded rural countryside. There’s a park at Lake Cassidy, a good destination and turnaround point. The round trip distance from SR 92 to the lake is about 6 miles.

A Community Transit 280 bus stop is conveniently located on SR 92 next to the trail, which crosses the highway via an underpass. This point is about a mile north of 20th St, the suggested end point for the hike described above. This stop is an alternative end point, although waiting for a bus on the high-traffic SR 92 will be a noisy experience.

Machias Trailhead