Rural, But Not Too Rural: Monroe, Washington

Rural, But Not Too Rural: Monroe, Washington

by Korey Hope


The Pacific Northwest is commonly touted for its one-of-a-kind big cities combined with its natural beauty. Sure, we do have rocky beaches and a reputation for rain. But Washington is actually the 21st driest state in the nation, and rocky beaches can be magnificent, too! Plus, the Pacific Northwest has become a multi-cultural meeting place for countless types of people and activities. From Seattle to Asotin and Okanogan to Lake Oswego, chances are you can at least find an adaptation of what you’re looking for. And if you’re looking for something in between a big city experience and an isolated outdoor adventure, the city of Monroe, Washington may just be the perfect adaptation for your criteria.

Only 25 miles north of Seattle, 35 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, and 50 miles west of the Cascade Mountains, Monroe encapsulates every aspect of the Pacific Northwest. With the mountains as a backdrop, you have an abundance of history-laden wilderness with which you can adventure and educate.

Monroe was officially founded in the year 1902, but its history really began at least half a century sooner. Like the rest of the western U.S., Monroe greatly benefited from the industrial boom of the railroad system in the United States during the late 1800s. In fact, some cities came into existence only because of the Great Northern Railway; founder James Hill was known for erecting the beginnings to small towns along his railway. Eventually, cities like Everett, Wenatchee, and even Spokane began to grow their cities around their new railway. Nearly every business greatly benefited from having railway access. For example, the railroad significantly helped accelerate the logging business around Monroe, which was the town’s most profitable sector for some time. This means that, in a way, James Hill is the man responsible for making it possible for towns like Monroe and others to flourish throughout the Pacific Northwest.

And flourish is exactly what Monroe has done. One person who knows much of Monroe’s history and has written about much of it herself, is Polly Keary, former editor of the Monroe Monitor newspaper. The paper itself is a living antique of the town’s history, considering it was founded in 1899 and has never missed a year of publication. Keary, who also tours with a local rock band, was the editor of the Monitor for more than 10 years from 2004 to 2014. In her time there, she learned a lot about the current state of the city. However, she also understands Monroe’s beginnings and the importance of the railroad.

“It’s safe to say Monroe would not exist in the magnitude it does today without the Great Northern (Railway). It was the equivalent to pouring a nice cement foundation for your house as opposed to not having a foundation at all,” Keary said.

Located on what is Washington State Route 2 today, the city has largely expanded in both business and population since the logging days. Agriculture became another staple of Monroe’s economy. Since Monroe is located in between the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers, its lands are extremely fertile, which has led to the development of many farms around the outer edges of today’s town.

So, what is it that you’d like to do? If it’s the rest of Monroe’s history that I’ve got you interested in, the Monroe Historical Society and Museum is something you’ll want to see. They have guided tours, hands-on exhibits, and a list of various historical buildings within a five mile radius that played a significant role in the forming of Monroe. If history isn’t your thing, I’m surprised you’ve read this far. But since you have, you’re about to be rewarded for your patience, because Monroe’s history accounts for only half of its beauty.

The other half of its beauty is visually beautiful. There are mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, wildlife, and countless hiking trails to take you through them. Al Borlin Park has one of the city’s more popular hiking trails, which briefly runs past an abandoned Great Northern railway stop and along the Skykomish River. The trail is quite wide and flat as well, making it appealing for the whole family. Or, if you’re a bit more serious about your hiking, the Wallace Falls trailhead is located right outside of Monroe in Sultan. It’s a more challenging hike containing a steeper climb, but rewards its conquerors with spectacular views of a waterfall enveloped in trees and just below majestic Cascade Mountains.

Rod Lingren, a frequent climber of the Wallace Falls trail, had high praise for its natural beauty. “Speaking in terms of waterfalls, you won’t find any within 40 miles that look like (Wallace). There are some up north in the Okanogan (National Forest) that are quite a bit bigger, and those ones really are gorgeous, but (Wallace) stands alone down here,” Lingren said.

Now, with a population of only about twenty thousand, Monroe can’t offer a raucous professional sports event or a buzzing nightlife. Although Seattle can, and as I mentioned way back in the second paragraph, Monroe is only 25 miles north of the iconic city. So if you somehow can’t get behind learning some history or feasting your eyes and soul upon some natural beauty, take the short drive to Seattle. Otherwise, Monroe is a small town you won’t regret experiencing.

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