Monday, October 29, 2012

Kayaking Seattle: Golden Gardens to West Point

Just north of West Point Lighthouse in Seattle's Discovery Park
Between storms and rain squalls, Puget Sound kayakers know any time of year is a great time to kayak the Salish Sea.  Like right now.

If you're lucky and check Orca Network updates, you might even be kayaking with orcas (also known as killer whales) this time of year.  While we missed seeing the Southern Resident J and K pods of orcas yesterday by about 30 minutes (darn!), we still had an invigorating and fun few hours paddling from Golden Gardens Park in Ballard south to the historic West Point Lighthouse and back. 

We put in around 11:30 a.m. at the smooth sandy Golden Gardens beach and headed south along the outside of the Shilshole Bay Marina jetty.  A perk of going on a Sunday morning is the abundance of parking spots right next to the beach, something you won't find easily on a nice summer day.

This jetty, or breakwater, that protects the busy Shilshole marina is a great place for diving and birdwatching. Watch for the tiny beach on the outer jetty at lower tides, where  you can stop for a quick break if needed.  As we glided close to the jetty, we spotted tons of cool birds:  great blue herons, Heerman's seagulls, cormorrants, hooded mergansers, western grebes, and more I couldn't identify.   

A ruffled old crow roosting on the sea monster's snout atop the jetty.
Great blue heron
Great blue herons and a gull atop the Shilshole jetty
Even though there was a good breeze, here north of West Point and Magnolia is somewhat protected from the brunt of the southerly winds.  Just west in the Sound, a sailboat race was going on.

With very little motor boat traffic, we easily dashed across the entrance to the Ballard Locks over to Magnolia.  While most of the upscale Magnolia neghborhood is packed tightly with homes, Seattle is fortunate that a large chunk along the bluffs above the Sound was protected from development as military outpost Fort Lawton, now encompassed by Discovery Park.

Just north of West Point, a narrow strip of land that juts dramatically westward into the Sound, the calm sea is always a contrast to the water south of the point.  We also caught an unpleasant whiff of the happenings at West Point wastewater treatment plant, although trees and shrubs obscure views of the plant.

"Check out the seal right behind me!" says Matt.  Up pops a shiny dark head with huge eyes, which checks us out and submerges again quickly. Too fast for a photo.

Ramped up for a water break in the protected cove north of West Point, looking west

West Point Lighthouse, which dates to 1881, is the same design as the Point No Point Lighthouse and other historic lighthouses in the Sound.

We carefully rounded the point and beached on the south side to stretch our legs for a short break. With much rougher sea on this side of the point, landing and taking off is usually more exciting than on the calm, northern side. 

South beach at West Point

Walking to the lighthouse on one of the many trails in "Disco" Park is a popular Seattle outing. But we stopped just long enough to eat a snack and pet a few dogs on the beach.

Looking southeast toward Magnolia Bluff

Tobias was more interested in my muffin than posing for a shot.
With the wind at our backs, the return paddle was a bit easier.  We meandered north along the Discovery Park/Magnolia shoreline, enjoying the nice afternoon.  Families and couples were out walking near the shoreline in the park.

Heading back north, with Magnolia on the right and Shilshole Marina straight ahead of me in the distance.

Although I wish we'd dawdled a bit longer and seen the passing orcas, I love the view of the hillside above Shilshole and Golden Gardens this time of year. Who cares if it's cloudy when the golden glow of bigleaf maples brightens up a gray day?  

Golden Gardens ahead.

When You Go
Before kayaking this time of year (well, any time, but particularly fall and winter), be sure and check the local tide tables and marine weather forecasts.  Some kayakers actually seek rough seas to practice their rescue skills--not me, but a little wind and chop keep us from getting too complacent, which is a risk for many who don't take the risks seriously.


Ed said...

That looks like an awesome adventure...I have been wanting to kayak around here! Can not wait till I get a chance...looks like a great way to spend a sunday...

JT said...

Nice post Jill! Good for you for getting out! I felt like I got to go along for the ride vicariously! I LOVE your shot of the gbh's and gull silhouetted against the rocks - nice composition! As always, thanks for the inspiration!

jill said...

Hey Ed,
Yes, I suggest you start out renting at either Northwest Outdoor Center on Lake Union or Aqua Verde Paddle Club on Portage Bay. Wonderful way to see the city!

Thanks JT, yes, got a ton of shots of the birds, hard to choose just a few to post.

Unknown said...

Your post really made me miss getting out in our canoe more often. Peaceful scenery, amazing wildlife and just enjoying the fresh air. We haven't been on the water much this year since Henry was born. Hopefully, he'll be up for a few paddles next year.

Australia Kayaks said...

Learn all the kayaking basics with entry level kayaks for a smart start. Kayaking is one of the most popular outdoors activities in Australia. Enjoy your first trip with traditional Australian Kayaks.