A Small-Town Coffee Shop Flourishes Deep in the Cascades
When the Amtrak train chugs through Skykomish, a town whose population barely breaks three digits, Monica Ainsley stops everything at Sky River Coffee to go outside and wave at the conductor. A year after opening the business, she hangs on to a tradition she started with her young daughter at the tracks that bisect the town.
Ainsley and her partner had to rehab the historic building on Skykomish's main drag before they opened the coffee shop. As a waitress nearby, Ainsley knew the tiny settlement had little in the way of community gathering places—just a saloon and a few businesses out on Highway 2, the route that connects Skykomish to Monroe and Stevens Pass. On a drive to ski or hike or visit Leavenworth, Sky River is perfectly positioned as a pit stop.
Sky River Coffee is named for the South Fork Skykomish River that parallels the BNSF railroad, but the valley here is best known for the mountain treasures: timber, copper, gold. In the early twentieth century this building was a hotel, and has since been the site of everything from bars and banquet halls to employee housing for ski area workers.
The shop exudes warmth, not merely from the fireplace that sits at its center. Using dark woods and a couch corner with board games, Ainsley created a large welcoming space for locals and tourists alike, a mix she calls "delightful." Even without advertising—she's amazed at the steps required to get a sign on the highway—Sky River has drawn a steady stream of visitors since opening in June 2021.
Ainsley has to travel down from the mountains to get the coffee she sources from Monroe Coffee Company, a Christian coffee roaster about 40 miles down Highway 2. Though the Sky River space is large enough for customers to have an extended hang, the menu keeps to coffee and Italian soda classics, plus a handful of pastries. Outside, Skykomish's historic district can be fully explored with a single cup of coffee. The wooded Cascade hills stretch in every direction from town, and a child-sized Great Northern and Cascade Railway gives free rides in the summer.
Despite seeing steady customer traffic, Ainsley still waves at the Amtrak conductor when the train passes every morning. "It brings tears to my eyes," she says, especially when other community members join her in the tradition. "I feel a little bit lifted up. A little bit of happiness."
Sky River Coffee
102 Railroad Ave, Skykomish
Travel time from Seattle: 1 hour, 15 minutes