Much effort in recent years has gone into the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass corridor, with groups such as "MidFORC," the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Outdoor Recreation Coalition, and Mountains to Sound Greenway making great strides in buying private lands and protecting forests.
But real wild country is far more abundant near U.S. highway 2 - the Stevens Pass highway, the "other" way across the Cascades. And the heart of this wild country is the valley of the North Fork Skykomish river.
From the attractive mountain town of Index, the valley of the North Fork Skykomish stretches north and east to the crest of the Cascades. From an elevation of only 500 feet at Index, the terrain rises to over 7000 feet atop Columbia and Kyes peaks. In between are some of the most extensive natural forests in the Cascades, and some of the best remaining reaches of salmon spawning habitat near Puget Sound. The waters of the North Fork Sky have a pleasing blue-green transparency, and are home to some of the healthiest populations of wild fish in the Puget Sound basin.
Anadromous fish (those that spawn in fresh water but live most of their lives in salt water,) such as salmon, and their relatives steelhead trout, ascend the North Fork Skykomish river to within five miles of the Cascade crest, going farther up the North Fork than any other river in the Cascades. Steelhead jumping the rocky falls of the North Fork just above Bear Creek are an unforgettable sight.
The waters and forests of the Skykomish area to the north of Highway 2 were in large part protected by the Wild Sky Wilderness act of 2008. This remarkable piece of legislation is considered by many to be the finest piece of conservation legislation ever enacted for the Cascades.
The Wild Sky Wilderness protects over 25 miles of salmon spawning streams, a first for the Cascades. It also encompasses well over 60,000 acres of natural forests, including 14,000 acres of low elevation (under 3000 feet) ancient forests, with many "cathedral groves" in places such as along the North Fork below Deer Falls (the "Hubbard Grove,) and others.
Perhaps most remarkably of all, the Wild Sky Wilderness includes over 6000 acres of mature, naturally regenerated second growth forest. These forests, mostly in the North Fork valley but also in the Beckler, grew up naturally following railroad logging in the early 20th century. Never replanted, and fully wild, these forests grow on the richest, most productive sites to be found on National Forest lands in the central Cascades. Many places now have trees 3 to 4 feet thick and over 150 feet tall. Left to themselves, and protected inside the Wild Sky Wilderness, they will soon be once again true "old growth" ancient forests.
The Skykomish country, both north of Highway 2 on the Wild Sky side, and south of the highway on the Alpine Lakes side, has so much fascinating country that it would take several lifetimes to explore it all.