When the Amtrak the train passes through Skykomish, a town with a population of just over three digits, Monica Ainsley stops at the Sky River Coffee to get out and greet the driver. A year after opening the business, she is clinging to a tradition she started with her young daughter on the trails that cross town.
Ainsley and his partner had to rehabilitate the historic building on Skykomish’s main street before opening the cafe. As a nearby waitress, Ainsley knew the small settlement had few community gathering places — just a saloon and a few businesses on Highway 2, the road that connects Skykomish to Monroe and Stevens Pass. Driving to ski or hike or visit Leavenworth, Sky River is perfectly positioned as a pit stop.
Sky River Coffee takes its name from the South Fork Skykomish River which runs parallel to the BNSF Railroad, but the valley here is best known for mountain treasures: timber, copper, gold. In the early 20th century, this building was a hotel and has since been the site of everything from bars and banquet halls to employee quarters for ski area workers.
The shop exudes warmth, not just from the fireplace that sits at its center. Using dark woods and a sofa area with board games, Ainsley has created a large, welcoming space for locals and tourists alike, a mix she calls “delightful.” Even without advertising — she’s amazed at the steps it takes to get a sign on the freeway — Sky River has drawn a steady stream of visitors since opening in June 2021.
Ainsley has to descend from the mountains to get the coffee she sources from Monroe Coffee Company, a Christian coffee roaster about 40 miles down Highway 2. Although the Sky River space is large enough for customers to have A long stay, the menu remains at classic Italian coffee and sodas, plus a handful of pastries. Outside, the historic Skykomish district can be fully explored with a single cup of coffee. The forested Cascade Hills stretch in all directions from the town, and a child-sized Great Northern and Cascade Railway offers free rides in the summer.
Despite the steady traffic of customers, Ainsley still greets the Amtrak conductor when the train passes each morning. “It brings tears to my eyes,” she says, especially when other members of the community join her in the tradition. “I feel a little uplifted. A little happiness.”
Sky River Cafe
102 Railway Avenue, Skykomish
Travel time from Seattle: 1 hour, 15 minutes