John F. Stevens, for whom Stevens Pass is named, was the chief locating engineer to plot the route of the Great Northern Railway through the Cascades. He would go on to later fame as the builder of the Panama Canal.The history of Skykomish is the history of the Great Northern Railway. Today, the relationship between railroading and the little town on the Skykomish River remains symbiotic. The town, known simply as "Sky" to locals and train operators, is a living museum to the glory that was Great Northern (the goat mascot is seldom far from sight). And the Burlington Northern is still the main economic force in the area. If you love trains, this will be your favorite town stop. If you don't, then maybe you'd be better off hitching east from the pass to Leavenworth. About 20 trains roll through Skykomish each day. The "Empire Builder," the line's last surviving passenger train, comes through twice a day, en route between Seattle and Chicago.
The Cascadia Inn (210 Railroad Ave. E., 360 677-2030) is a handsome old rooming house that dates from the 1920s. Although most of the 14 rooms have shared baths, this is no dive. The rooms are immaculate and much nicer than one might assume from the outside. They represent an excellent value. Space in the bunkroom is downright cheap. Owner/manager Henry Sladek is an outstanding host, very attuned to the ways of thru-hikers. With the Sky Chalet long-shuttered, the Inn's cafe is the only bona fide restaurant in town. Although it is open seven days a week, dinner hours midweek may be early or non-existant. Stick to the decent burgers and sandwiches.
The alternate lodging choice isn't a hotel at all: Dinsmore's Hiker Haven is the home of trail angels Andrea and Jerry Dinsmore. In 2009, the Dinsmores moved their operation eight miles west of Skykomish to a 2.3 acre park-like setting in the town of Baring. Andrea Dinsmore says the hitch potential both down the hill and back up is virtually unchanged. Once you get to their home, you will still find camping, laundry, cooking facilities, Internet access, showers and resupply package service. You may call them from the pay phone at the pass or from town: 360 677-1237.
The Whistling Post Tavern (116 Railroad Ave. E., 360 677-2333) was the latest incarnation of a saloon that was started by Patrick McEvoy, the engineer on the first scheduled train to go through Skykomish in 1893. The bar was the community living room for Skykomish for more than a century, until an arsonist torched it in April of 2012.
The most striking thing about Skykomish today: For a near-ghost-town there's an awful lot of construction going on. The Burlington Northern is spending untold millions on a multi-year project to clean up 100 years of environmental damage, primarily fuel spills that seeped under homes, the town hall, a church and many of the landmark buildings in the town. This also involves a massive reshaping of the banks of the Skykomish River. In the summer of 2006, five homes were picked up like so many Monopoly tokens and moved to make way for the cleanup. Eventually, they will be moved back. The railroad may ultimately end up having to excavate half the town to complete the cleanup.