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.



MaryAnn said...

Hi Jill, I read about these trails too in a Seattle Times article by Lynda Mapes - I think the Fortuna Foundation is leading the campaign? Wonderful story and photos!

jill said...

Hey Mab! Thanks! Actually it's Forterra (close to Fortuna :). They have a guided walk this coming Saturday, 1/28, that I would love to join but have a prior commitment. Details.