Thursday, February 2, 2017

Hiking Ebey's Landing: A Whidbey Island Treasure

I can't think of a much more spectacular destination for a winter hike here in the Pacific Northwest than Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve. I've been there in the summer and fall a few times (and blogged about it), but this is my first trip during winter .

It's a windswept place perched just west of historic Coupeville on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. Here prairie meets the sea, craggy mountains bracket the views, bald eagles soar overhead, and the miles of beach invite exploration.

 On a blustery winter morning, we spend a splendid few hours hiking there. Seven of us humans and two dogs (allowed on leash) gather at the Prairie Overlook Trailhead on the edge of this unique mix of private farmland, state park, national reserve, and the Nature Conservancy's Robert Y. Pratt Preserve. 

The light is especially interesting on this morning:  Dark clouds are directly above us, but to the south and east the horizon glows pinkish-gold.

We skirt along protected farmland, past some historic old log buildings, and onward to the Pratt preserve entrance along the beach bluff.  Most of us stop to snap shots of this gorgeous day, but I lag behind taking the most shots.

We're traversing the dramatic Bluff Trail that rises steeply above the white-capped (today) Salish Sea. The trail itself isn't steep, just in a few short stretches climbing the bluff. Overall it's a pretty easy hike suitable for most anyone who can walk for a few hours.

For about a half mile the trail traverses a few hundred feet above the sea, and then descends down to the northern edge of one of the least disturbed coastal wetlands in the state.  Along the way, we enjoy the sweeping panorama encompassing the Olympic Mountains and up the Strait of Juan de Fuca that extends 100 miles west to the Pacific Ocean.

As we get to the junction and switch back southward to the wetlands and down to the beach, we check out the long shoreline bluff to the north.  I hear that the Nature Conservancy is planning a new trail along the bluff from here northward to Fort Ebey, which would make this a much longer trek. (I couldn't find it on their website yet.)

Today's hike is a gathering of the Alpine Trails Book Club (read a book, then go hiking and talk about it), so organizer Laura gathers us on the beach driftwood to discuss the book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. (It sounded good. I didn't read it.) Check out Laura's blog post and great photos of this outing.

The wind feels stronger as we trek back south along the long stretch of beach. We pass tangled strands of bull kelp, eelgrass, empty crab shells, and even a sea star washed ashore by the churning waves.

After what seems like a couple miles walking down the beach, but is probably about 1.5 miles, we reach the southern parking area and loop back up to the lower bluff on some wooden stairs and head north again. (BTW, there's a restroom at that parking area/trailhead.)

Near the end of the hike, Laura marvels at the musical sound the wind makes as it whips through the tree branches and shrubs lining the trail. It sounds magical.  

There's something exhilarating and cleansing about spending time along a windy seashore. For me it stirs up childhood memories of many trips to the equally windy Oregon coast.

After Hike Eats
With our morning hike ending just before noon, we've worked up an appetite for lunch. Whidbey offers many places to eat in quaint Coupeville and Langley, but we stop at the Bayview Farm and Garden complex on south Whidbey just off the Highway 20 Scenic Byway at Bay View Corner.  

As soon as I poke my head in the cozy Flowerhouse Cafe, which serves delicious fresh baked goods, sandwiches, soup, and salad, I'm sold.  It's perfect for a chilly winter afternoon.

My friend and I split a very tasty sandwich and a salad. Since most of the tables are full, we sit at the large communal table and enjoy talking with a woman who lives on the island.

On a Sunday afternoon during the spring/summer/fall, we would normally encounter a wait at the Clinton ferry back to the mainland, but today, nope. The trip over earlier was extra special because we saw three wild orcas from the ferry. Always a huge thrill! Apologies for the fuzziness, but below was my best shot.

Have you hiked Ebey's Landing or spotted orcas from a Washington State Ferry? I'd love to hear about your experiences in a comment below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.   

When You Go
C'est moi following the leader, Laura, on the Bluff Trail
We hiked a 5.6-mile loop from the Prairie Overlook Trailhead, with less than 300 feet in elevation gain. We caught the 8:00 am ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton near the southern tip of Whidbey Island. This was the second time I didn't check the correct date on the schedule and arrived at the terminal in time for the nonexistent 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning ferry. Could have used that extra 30 minutes of sleep. 

It's about a 30-mile drive up the spine of Whidbey Island on Highway 20 to Ebey's Landing. (Check out a map here.) You should have a Discover Pass for parking, although there wasn't a sign indicating so at the Prairie Overlook parking area.

P.S. Apologies to those of you who left me kind comments last November and December, especially on the Thanksgiving gratitude post. Blogger was putting your comments in my Spam filter, and I didn't see them for a few months.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Hiking the Puget Lowlands: Port Gamble Forest

While our mountain trails are famously popular here in the Pacific Northwest, there's not much left of our lowland forests in the Puget Sound region for hiking and recreation. Heavy logging, population growth, and ensuing development have taken their toll.

A few weeks ago on my way home to Seattle from Port Townsend, Washington, I noticed a trailhead just south of Port Gamble on the Kitsap Peninsula, tucked between Hood Canal and Port Gamble Bay. How had I missed this on my many trips to the Olympic Peninsula?

So I stopped to check it out. My curiosity was piqued by a notice at the trailhead about a campaign to save this lowland forest from being sold to developers.

Two weeks later with a couple mates in tow, I tramped through the Port Gamble Forest on a chilly but mostly rain-free January day.

These 3,000+ acres of woodlands have been logged more than once, and active logging is going on now. But trees grow easily and more quickly in the lowlands than at higher elevations. We walked four hours through the woods without seeing a recent clearcut.

Parts of it were lovely, and parts were dark, scrubby young forest with monoculture trees packed close together. And be forewarned, it's easy to get lost.

"I've been lost a few times and had to call friends to help me navigate out,"  a woman with a group of mountain bikers doing trail maintenance told us. Heck, we had to backtrack on our first attempt to find the trail we wanted to hike. Most trails aren't signed.

She recommended using the Maprika app to track our location. Paul immediately downloaded it onto his Iphone, and good thing he did.  It helped us several times as we came to unmarked and unmapped forks in the trails and dirt roads. And don't forget a map and compass.

Hikers/walkers, the trails and usage seems much more mountain bike-focused. Some of the trail names on the map I downloaded should have given us a clue: Ankle Biter, Downhell, Lite Speed, Flash, Hyper Space, Bobsled, and Season of the Witch.

We saw a lot more mountain bikers than hikers, and had to step out of the way to let bikers pass a few times. But everyone was friendly.

But we were looking for solitude and quiet and found a lot of it. There's not old growth out here, at least the 5 or 6-ish miles we hiked, but we did pass a few lovely stretches of more mature forest with bogs and little wetlands.

Toward the end of our hike, we came to a fork that wasn't on my map and just guessed which way to go. After a while it seemed clear this wasn't the trail we thought we were on, and Maprika showed us off trail. Some mountain bikers told us my map was outdated. Ha! So if you're coming out here and downloading a map off the Internet, use this one.

After four hours of gentle hiking, with several breaks and lots of stops to doublecheck the map and app, backtrack, and ask directions, we got back to the Bay View Trailhead where we started. 

This area doesn't have the sizzle of a beautiful alpine lake or mountain top, but I say we should do all we can to save it from development.  A good, recent story in the Seattle Times talks about it in great detail, and long-term plans for forest management. I recommend giving it a read and then chipping in whatever you can.

Our Route
From the Bay View Trailhead, we walked Road 1000 to Ranger trail, Ranger to Road 1311 north (the most beautiful forest of the day) and looped back south on Road 1300, then skirted west on the Forbidden Forest trail, with a side trip out Road 1400, then down to Location 4 on Road 1000, then east on Downhell to Hood trail and right down the logging road to Location 3, then north up Road 1000 to Stumps trail and right down to the Bay View Trailhead. This doesn't indicate the several unmarked forks in the trails and roads that we mostly avoided thanks to Maprika.

After Hike Eats
Despite snacks while hiking, we were hungry after four hours of walking, so we headed a mile north to charming and historic Port Gamble General Store and Cafe for some chow.

We were too late for weekend brunch, but enjoyed their mostly locally sourced lunch fare. I had a healthful salad with seasonal veggies, Hilda had a fancy toast with raclette cheese and string fries, and Paul enjoyed the chowder with local clams. We agreed it was a tad pricey, but another cafe is opening soon up the street, so hopefully the competition will be good for pricing.

All in all an excellent day, and you can't beat riding a ferry home across Puget Sound if you're coming from the Seattle area. (I always love a ferry ride).

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.   

When You Go
The Port Gamble Forest is on a northern finger of the Kitsap Peninsula west across Puget Sound from Seattle. We took a Washington State Ferry from Edmonds to Kingston north of Seattle (a 30-minute trip), but it's also accessible from the Bainbridge Island ferry that leaves downtown Seattle. The Bay View Trailhead is just a mile south of Port Gamble on Highway 104 (vicinity map here), only about 10 miles from the ferry landing in Kingston. There are no fees or permits required for parking. The Washington Trails Association recommends hiking north from this trailhead toward the Beaver Pond; we went south. Next trip I'll go north. I'd LOVE to about your experiences here in the Comments below.