It has to be one of the shortest road trips in Washington: From Carnation to Duvall is just 7.3 miles, and no more than 90 minutes from most places in the South Sound. But this little stretch of state Route 203, winding serenely beside a green Snoqualmie River, is packed full of history, beauty and food so fresh you probably picked it yourself.
In other words, it’s a perfect tiny road trip, especially in summer. Here’s our guide for how to do it.
A river runs through it
You’re never far from the water on this trip. If you come from the south, you’ll cross the Tolt River just before the town of Carnation — take the first left and you’ll get to the Tolt-McDonald Park, where the rapid Tolt and the broader Snoqualmie meet. While you probably don’t want to swim here (numerous signs warn of the dangers of two river currents combining, plus it’s cold), you can explore the banks for wildlife. Or you can cross the swaying suspension bridge to peek into history through a steampunk viewing globe on the railing that superimposes an image of the old 1922 bridge onto the real-life view of the 2008 one, all trusses, arches and steel.
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You also can camp here, either in a tent, a yurt or a revamped shipping container that has bunks and a table inside and a vine creeping up the outside.
Here, also, you can find the 27-mile Snoqualmie River Trail, a wide gravelly path that used to be a railway and hugs the river all the way to Duvall and beyond. Peaceful, flecked with olive-gold and fringed with willowy trees, the river winds around slow bends, and from the bike trail you get the best views of lime-green pools on one side, dotted with lily pads and fertile farmlands on the other that stretch down the valley.
At Duvall, you can get down to the water at McCormick Park, one block off Main Street at Stephens Street. Bring a picnic to the flat grassy area, or head down the steep beach (hold hands with little ones) to where the water’s not so cold and not so swift. (There’s no lifeguard, so take care.)
7.3 Distance in miles between the towns of Carnation and Duvall.
A few miles along Carnation Farm Road, just north of Carnation, you’ll find the Chinook Bend, transformed from farm to wetland and lush with lime-green water plants, frogs and swooping herons — another good place for a picnic.
Vintage, thrift and history
If you get nature on the trail, on the road you get history. Start off in Carnation, a Snoqualmie tribe village settled by whites in the 1850s, incorporated as Tolt in 1912, later renamed by the Carnation milk company (yes, that one) and name-confused ever since. It’s not a big town, but some historical buildings still stand: the old 1913 town hotel, now apartments and piped with blue trim; the butter-yellow Eagles (Oddfellows) Hall of 1895, with gambrel roof and diamond shingles. Other houses to look out for are the ornate Victorian 1906 Hjertoos farmhouse (now Carnation tree farm) and the river stone-fronted Entwhistle House of 1912.
You can still buy goods in the 1938 Miller Mercantile building, now a rather hipster homewares and souvenir store, and at Tolt Yarn and Wool, where keen knitters settle into comfy chairs. Around the corner on West Commercial Street is Re-In-Carnation thrift store, which you should visit for the name alone.
Along the road to Duvall, founded in 1913, you’ll see beautiful old barns in red, blue or cream, in photogenic disrepair.
Duvall itself has a sweet historic Main Street along three blocks from Stephens to Virginia streets. Country Collections, in a blue clapboard storefront with awning, does vintage kitchen wares and lacy cowgirl dresses, while Tuxedo’s Antique Mall two doors down is a treasure chest of antiques: skis, typewriters, doctor bags, hats, cast iron pans, cameras.
Just down the road is Duvall Books, closing at the end of summer and selling off not just second-hand books but local history in the form of posters, old school photographs, even bookcases. Look for the giant March Hare out front.
Farms and food
Most folks know Remlinger Farms, and that’s still a great place to bring your kids for u-pick raspberries, hay mazes, tractor rides and the like. But if you keep driving through Carnation, you’ll find some much more personal farm experiences.
As soon as the Snoqualmie valley had been logged, farmers realized how fertile it was. Dairy was big, and the place became known as the “Home of Contented Cows,” according to the slogan for Carnation milk. The old Carnation farm is still there, down Carnation Farm Road just north of Carnation and now housing Camp Korey, which hosts children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. Keep going past the old milk sheds and vats and around the next few corners to First Light Farm, an organic veggie farm that offers u-pick, food classes and helpful farmers who love explaining all about the moveable chicken coops, forage fields and herbs.
“We see it as a living grocery store, where people can find out where their food comes from,” says co-owner Jane Reis, who was showing a visitor some blue-star edible borage flowers one Saturday morning in July.
First Light also offers memberships (pick whenever you want) and work-share options.
Closer to the main road is Harvold Berry Farm, which still has raspberries. Bring cash.
You can also find fresh produce at the farmers markets, Carnation on Tuesdays, Duvall on Thursdays.
All those farms mean good local eating. There’s more offered in Duvall for breakfast and lunch, so start there with local Anchorhead coffee (mild and fragrant), luscious croissants and fresh sweet challah at Grateful Bread Bakery & Café. Match Coffee and Wine has a more sophisticated décor and menu, and is open late for happy hours and live music on Fridays.
Breakfast spills over into lunch at The Grange Café, tucked inside a buttery-yellow clapboard building with murals on the windows and a climbing pink rose on the garden gate. The veggie omelette is bursting with flavor, and you don’t need any butter on the flaky biscuits (but put some on anyway, for the pale creamy deliciousness). The café also serves dinner, but by that time you’ll be in Carnation, where you can get cowgirl pizza at Lazy K’s. Tongue-in-cheek inside a Wild West saloon, the family-friendly pizza joint is run by Seattle chef Kirsten Burt, who moved from Ballard to Carnation some years ago. Pie flavors go from chicken and barbecue to sausage pesto and “Texas Pete Spicy Cowgirl,” with Burt’s signature dessert of deep-dish chocolate-chip cookie and ice cream.
Where: Carnation and Duvall are 7 miles apart on state Route 203 north of Snoqualmie Falls.
When: June-August for farms and swimming, fall for harvest festivals. Many businesses are closed Sundays-Mondays. Look for summer events like Duvall Days (June), Duvall Sandblast Arts Festival (July), Carnation Fourth of July, Farm to Table Dinner (Aug. 27, snovalleytilth.org), Duvall outdoor concerts (7 p.m. Wednesdays July-August, duvallculture.org).
Miller’s Mercantile: 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays. 4597 Tolt Ave., Carnation. 425-333-5007, millersarts.com.
Tolt Yarn and Wool: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays. 4509 Tolt Ave., Carnation. 425-333-4066, toltyarnandwool.com.
Re-In-Carnation Thrift Store: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. 31845 W. Commercial Ave., Carnation. 425-333-0023, snovalleysenior.org/ThriftStore.aspx.
Tuxedo’s Antiques: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. 15515 Main St. NE, Duvall. 425-788-9678, facebook.com/tuxedoantiquesduvall.
Country Collections: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. 15525 Main St. NE, Duvall. 425-788-2939, facebook.com/CountryCollections.
Duvall Books: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. 15635 Main St. NE, Duvall. 206-714-7978, duvallbooks.com.
Grateful Bread: 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. 15602 Main St. NE, Duvall. 425-788-0827, gratefulbreadduvall.com.
Match Coffee and Wine: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. 15705 Main St. NE, Duvall. 425-788-3365, matchcoffeeandwine.com.
The Grange Cafe: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays, 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays, 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays. 15611 Main St. NE, Duvall. 425-788-2095, grangecafe.com.
Lazy K Pizza: 4-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. 4573 Tolt Ave., Carnation. 425-333-5299, lazyks.com.
First Light Farm: 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays. 8710 Ames Lake-Carnation Road, Carnation. upickseattle.com.
Harvold Berry Farm: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. 32325 NE 55th St., Carnation. 425-333-4185, pugetsoundfresh.org/farm/harvold-farm.
Remlinger Farms: 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. 32610 NE 32nd St., Carnation. 425-333-4135, remlingerfarms.com.