Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sucia Island Kayaking, Camping, and Hiking

Ewing Cove
Northwesterners play outdoors year-round, but the longer days of late spring/early summer really pull us outside.  Who needs a triple latte to start the day when it's light from 5:00 a.m. until after 9 p.m. and the skies trend more blue than gray? A perfect destination to start (or finish) the camping season is Sucia Island State Marine Park, which lies just north of Orcas Island in Washington's San Juan Islands.

Throughout the summer and into the early fall, Sucia is a very popular place
a little too popular on a nice weekend. Regardless, the park (which also encompasses numerous small islands/islets) is big and varied enough to handle many campers/boaters.

On a peak summer weekend I join a trip with the Seattle Area Sea Kayaking Meetup Group to kayak over and camp a night on Sucia, my second kayak trip there. After the alarm wakes me up at zero-dark thirty for the 80-minute drive from Seattle to Anacortes, we catch an early Saturday morning ferry over to Orcas Island. As any Puget Sounder knows, ferry lines to the San Juans on a summer weekend can backup for hours.

Our destination on Sucia is Fox Cove, a protected bay on the southwest side of the island, with a generous wide, sandy beach for landing. We park and launch from North Beach on Orcas for the 2.5-mile crossing under cloudy but clearing skies and a light breeze. 

Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Sucia Island ahead

In about an hour we pull into Fox Cove and find a few campsites on the isthmus between the cove and Fossil Bay.  Fortunately for us a group is just pulling up stakes and leaving. However, it's not exactly quiet and secluded. Lots of groups and families have filled up the many campsites tucked in the woods and open areas here.

Fox Cove looking toward Little Sucia Island

Since we arrive early, our group goes for a hike after setting up camp. A network of trails (10 miles total) passes through forest, lovely coves, and intricate and unusual sandstone formations.  The western/southern part of Sucia is composed of 80-million-year-old seabed that drifted north from Baja California, in contrast to the eastern/northern part that's part of the Nanaimo formation found in Canada's Gulf Islands and Chuckanut Sandstone from western Washington.

"Ghost" forest on Shallow Bay
 For our 4-mile trip out and back from Fox Cove, the turnaround point is on the north side of Echo Bay.  On the way back, a few of us scramble around some sandstone because, well, it just looks fun.

Echo Bay, North and South Finger Islands

 I couldn't resist

After dinner, the conditions are splendid for a sunset paddle along the western side of the island. Calm seas and just a few clouds make for a spectacular evening.

With such an early morning and active day, we all drift to our tents not long after dark (which is around 10 p.m.), only to be awakened by a crying child at a nearby campsite a few hours later. Not much solitude at the bigger campsites on a summer weekend.

Before heading back to Orcas on Sunday, we paddle out to magical Ewing Cove at the northeastern part of Sucia.  This morning we head south and east around the island, passing dramatic shoreline rocks.

Southern shoreline of Sucia

Enroute in Echo Bay, we're briefly surrounded by several shiny dark harbor porpoises that pass so close I could reach out and touch them with my paddle. They don't seem to mind us.

Ewing Cove and the surrounding small islands are a popular area for all sorts of kayaking tours and trips. Personally I most enjoy kayaking along and around small scenic islands, and here there are plenty.

Some passages can't be negotiated at low tide.

Ewing Cove
Because this is a one-night trip, we reluctantly pack up and head back to North Beach on Orcas by mid-afternoon. During the crossing on placid and calm sea, a big dark something barely surfaces several times perpendicular to our line of travel. We know we've seen a whale, and ultimately the best guess is a minke.

A one-nighter is not enough time to thoroughly explore Sucia, but it's a good start.  The ex-pat Russian family camped next to us had been there all week.

Have you been to or camped on Sucia? We'd love to hear about your trip in the comments below.  Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
Sucia is of course only accessible by boat, and various outfitters offer day and longer trips there.  Here's a link to a water taxi to Sucia in the summer season. Many go there via private motor boats, sailboats, and sea kayaks.  Click here for information on reserving one of the 60 campsites in the park.  Here is a link to a few Washington Trail Association trip reports about hiking the island.



JoJo said...

I never actually set foot on any of the San Juans, but did sail through them on the ferry from Sidney BC to Anacortes. Saw some of the porpoises on one of those trips. It's so pretty out there.

jill said...

Hey Jojo, I did that same ferry trip last July. Lucky you, didn't see the porpoises on the ferry. Yes, it's glorious in the San Juans!

martha said...

Breathtaking. A whole new world...

Suezy P said...

I'm embarrassed to say, I have only been to Orcas Island once and had to turn around and come back home because there was a measles outbreak and the camp was shut down. Now that I'm retired, I plan to reconcile that discrepancy.

Thanks for the narrative and the pictures you provide. The photos are beautiful, but without your narrative and tips, I would not know what I was looking at, nor, would I learn the ins and outs of how to best experience these places.

I like that you joined a sea kayaking meet up group - safety in numbers - and camaraderie!

I look forward to reading about your next adventure. I've been thinking about your little tease not too long ago about the possibility of hiking a stretch of the PCT this next year. Let's make it happen.