Chuckanut Drive is gorgeous any time of year, but it's absolutely stunning in the fall. This is the only place where the Cascade Mountains meet the salt water. So there're lots of things to stop and see alone the way. And lots of things to do, as well.
It was once the only road from Burlington to Bellingham. Now, it's considered a detour… A breathtaking one.
The 19-mile trip begins in the heart of Skagit Valley farmland where curiosities are beside the road... And inside this longtime business.
Bonnar's Trading Post specializes in memories from virtually every era, at any price.
"Old fashioned antique store because I have stuff from 10 cents to 3,000," said Bonnar’s Trading Post owner Bonnar Mitchelle.
If it exists, chances are Bonnar's had it in stock.
Most everything comes from estate sales. Bonnar considers himself a "temporary collector".
"I like getting it, I seen it, I see it for a few days, then it can go," said Bonnar.
He finds buyers for even the strangest inventory.
Though he's still trying to convince customers this yellow taxi is worth $2,000.
"They die, they think I'm crazy,” said Bonnar. “I might be."
Head a few miles further north and Chuckanut Drive is suddenly covered by a canopy of trees.
Around this bend, you'll find the Oyster Creek Inn, where the best seat in the house is every seat.
"You're welcome,” said Oyster Creek Inn Owner and Chef Thomas Palmer. “How's the garlic roasted crab, sir?"
The menu is second only to the view. Virtually every table overlooks the creek below, but the owner insists, it's fine dining without formality.
"We try to take the pretentiousness out of that,” said Palmer. “We want to make it comfortable and friendly at the same time, you can dress up, dress down. We're comfortable both ways."
Anyway you look at it, this is an inspired location for a restaurant, but the original owner may have had other motives for opening back in 1932.
"It was built by a gentleman who was distilling spirits off the shore here and needed a convenient way to distribute his alcohol,” laughed Palmer.
He wasn't alone. Chuckanut was built for logging, but during the Prohibition Era, it became an illegal pipeline from Canada. The press called it "The Liquor Runners' Road."
As years passed and laws changed, it transformed into a scenic byway luring visitors like Chef Palmer away from Seattle.
"Twenty years ago, we took a weekend off and ended up in the Skagit Valley, and we've never left," said Palmer.
It helps that he doesn't need to travel far for ingredients. Taylor Shellfish Farms is just 300 yards further up Chuckanut Drive.
"So just like any other farm on land, we just grow product that grows underwater,” said Taylor Shellfish Farms processor Nicole Hopper. “Which is pretty unique."
This part of Samish Bay also has a lot of history. Producing commercial shellfish since the early part of the last century.
Even now, many of the practices remain the same. Oysters are still hand-sorted, washed, and bagged. Fresh shellfish is sold on-site at the retail store along with charcoal for anyone who wants to have a picnic at the farm, barbequing beside a lighthouse made of oyster shells.
"The view is beautiful, the San Juan Islands are right out here,” said Hopper. “We look across to Samish Island.
"On a cloudy, rainy day we have people out here on picnic tables and on a beautiful sunny day, we do too. So it really says something that people like to come here and enjoy it."
The drive on Chuckanut wouldn't be complete without stopping once more…And doing absolutely nothing.
A few minutes at one of the look-outs is the cheapest form of therapy around.
The last few miles of the trip may be the most impressive, winding carefully between mountains and sound.
Chuckanut Drive ends in the town of Fairhaven. There's an entrance to I-5 here, too, but you may be tempted to turn around and go back the way you came.