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.