The Centennial Trail is a 30-mile-long rail trail in Snohomish County, Washington, connecting the cities of Snohomish, Lake Stevens and Arlington to Skagit County along the corridor of Washington State Route 9. The trail is 10 feet wide and freely available to pedestrians, cyclists, skaters, longboarders and equestrians of all fitness levels. Dotted along the trail you will find picnic benches, restrooms, even temporary shelters available to rent for all your trail related needs. The real lure of the Centennial Trail rests in the historically preserved houses and businesses of Snohomish and Arlington, the buildings and plaques at various trailheads and museums, serving as vestiges of the area’s social and cultural heritage and the stunning scenery to take in while embarking on your ride.
The Centennial Trail need not be tackled in one day. It is possible to use the route as part of a longer bike ride should you need a thoroughfare through Snohomish County, or it could be broken into segments as I have done on many occasions when seeking a leisurely afternoon ride. I have ridden this trail many times as a mere segment of a bicycle ride from Redmond to the ferry at Anacortes, I have explored segments with my mother on sunny afternoons between our morning coffees and determining what to grill for dinner on the terrace and I have ridden the trail with my dog Barnes in tow in his Rascal Pet Trailer (more on that below). If you are about to embark on the Centennial Trail in any capacity, I suggest a few handy tips to make the most of the 30-mile path.
Do begin your ride at First and Union Bakery if you happen to be in Snohomish. It’s where you can fuel yourself on any number of pastries, but absolutely should choose the ham and gruyere croissant (heated, not cold).
Don’t forget your chamois cream.
Do forget your underwear if you are embarking on the full 30 or 60 miles (roundtrip), but don’t forgo the rest of your clothing with it as the Naked Bike Ride takes place in June in Fremont and is ill-advised for any person of any age.
Do learn how to change a flat before you are relying on an Uber to rescue you at 7 in the morning on a Sunday somewhere between Snohomish and Marysville.
Don’t forget to pack snacks and water for you and your companions, whether they are riding along next to you or you suspect they are intentionally leaning backwards in their Rascal Pet Trailer in an attempt to slow your pace when passing a promising looking tree. On that note, do remember to clip said passenger into his trailer lest he vault from the vehicle while in motion sending the contraption and you on your Giant flying.
Do take in the historic visage of the preserved houses along the trail leaving Snohomish and count the number of horses, sheep and goats you will ride past (if you can keep track). Bonus points if you can think up names for them.
Don’t forget to check the trail conditions before your departure lest you meet a trail closure and against the good sense of the signs attempt to detour around the trail precariously balanced on a shoulder that is not really a shoulder but the edge of a steep-ish ravine along a road with motorists that in no way appear to know what a speed limit is.
If you have pedaled your way through the bottom two-thirds of the trail and find yourself emerging onto a wide paved path approaching downtown Arlington, do not stop and feed the ducks next to the pond that sits just off the corner of 67th and Woodlands Way. The ducks are already enormously fat and (as you will discover upon approach with a bicycle, a trailer and a considerably large hungry dog) fearless. They would not be bothered to move off the path if you came careening toward them in a full-sized caravan, but would merely cock their heads to consider the possibility of victuals within.
Once in Arlington, do take a detour off the trail and cycle down Olympic Avenue to find the Bluebird Cafe for a mid-ride meal break and stop at Moe’s on the way back for a refreshing raspberry lemonade. And if you are in need of any bike related accessories (or even a bike) visit Arlington Velo Sport for excellent products and superb customer service.
Do stop further North at the bridge over Pilchuck Creek and follow the path to the riverbank below and take a dip. If you are lucky enough to be cycling this path in late summer/early autumn, cast your gaze up toward the tree line and take in the leaves just beginning to turn from verdant green to the red and orange of autumn. Similarly, don’t be afraid to stop and enjoy any of the lush blackberries on display along the trail.
Once you reach the trailhead, do jump off the bike and allow all passengers to stretch their legs around the twin ponds and the historic barn that serves as the landmark for the trailhead. Observe the pictures posted on the side and relieve yourself in the portable restrooms, but don’t expect to find a water station anywhere nearby.
Do have a friendly chat with any number of people you meet on the trail whether it’s congenial small talk in line for the restroom, jovial cheers to dogs riding in trailers, or an amiable “good afternoon” to the fellow cyclists that have also stopped along the trail to take in the sweeping views of the valley below. I have ridden this trail many times and it remains each time exactly where I left it yet no ride has ever been quite the same.