Island hop through Puget Sound
Your Puget Sound adventure might begin in Seattle, but you won’t be living the big city life for long. Thanks to the nation’s largest ferry system, a wealth of outdoor adventures are just a short ride away. Below are our favorite outings in and around the sound.
More than 1.6 million acres of land and 2,500 miles of shoreline serve up opportunities for hiking, biking, and swimming around Puget Sound. And with 10,000 streams and the second largest estuary in the country, the area promises waterfront views at every turn. So lace up your boots or zip up your wetsuit, and get ready to say hello to 200 species of marine life—including humpback whales and harbor seals—that call these waterways home.
1. Search for seals and walk among Redwoods
Thirty miles north of Seattle sits Whidbey Island. Known for its towering 200-foot Redwood trees, it’s also the largest Puget Sound island. Visit the northeastern tip of the island, known as Deception Pass, where you can stand at the foundation of a 976-foot arch connecting the island with nearby Fidalgo Island. Stroll down Deception Beach and watch boats navigate this passage. Join in by launching a kayak into Puget Sound. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, including gray whales and orcas. You might even make a flippered friend—seals and sea lions are known to follow kayaks in these parts.
2. Stroll along the shores of Fidalgo Bay
Fidalgo Island has 38 miles of hiking trails, 4,134 acres of beach, and 300 campsites, making it a nature lover’s paradise. About an hour north of Seattle, this island offers many waterfront hiking trails, including Fidalgo Island Loop Trail, a 4-mile roundtrip trail that overlooks the San Juan Islands. Look closely for bald eagles soaring above the waters or seals and killer whales swimming underneath. Go off trail and walk to the shoreline, where you can search for crabs or clams during your hike. If you’re looking for a little more elevation, hike Mount Erie Park, the highest point of the island at 1,270 feet.
The island is also prime ground for mountain biking. The 50 interconnected multi-use trails that surround Cranberry Lake are a great place to start. Forty-one of these trails feature single tracks, making them ideal for mountain bikers. Some are narrow and windy and challenge you to maneuver through dense woodlands, but many are suitable for both beginner and intermediate mountain bikers.
3. Wander through the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Explore the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, where the Puget Sound saltwater meets the Nisqually River’s freshwater. Located about an hour south of Seattle at the southern tip of Puget Sound, sea life thrives here. Walk across the footbridge and over misty waters, and spot indigenous wildlife, such as beavers, river otters, and Pacific tree frogs. Take an hour-long trek along boardwalks over the Nisqually salt marsh. If you’re lucky, you might spot an endangered species like the peregrine falcon or coho salmon. To up your odds of seeing plenty of wildlife, plan your visit around high tide.
4. Ski like a winner at Whistler Olympic Park
Cross the border and ski like an Olympian at Whistler Olympic Park, the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Rated by Ski Magazine as the top resort for 2016, this park features 35 miles of trails where you can ski in parallel tracks or try your hand—or pole—at skate skiing, where you glide in a V-shape. Satisfy your sense of adventure by Nordic skiing, which includes cross-country racing and ski-jumping just like the pros.
5. Pedal around Bainbridge Island
Hop aboard a ferry in downtown Seattle and sail 45 minutes west to Bainbridge Island for a day of fun with views of Seattle’s expansive skyline in the distance. Bike along the rocky coastline, through dense forests, and into the city’s quaint downtown, where you can grab a cup of joe and a locally made muffin with organic ingredients at Rolling Bay Cafe. Or, sample a glass of award-winning pinot gris at Rolling Bay Winery. Insider tip: This quaint, character-driven winery is only open two weekends a month for tastings, so schedule your Bainbridge Island visit accordingly.
6. Hop in the saddle
Several trails scattered throughout the Puget Sound area are designed for horseback riding. In Bridle Trails Park, on the border of Kirkland and Bellevue, your horse will have right of way on 23 miles of trails. Ride along the Spokane River at Centennial Trail, which will take you straight into Idaho if you don’t pay attention. The multipurpose John Wayne Pioneer Trail weaves through two-thirds of the state, beginning at the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains. You’ll share this trail with hikers, bikers, and even the occasional dog sledder or cross-country skier in the winter.
7. See some "killer" wildlife
Lime Kiln Point, located on west San Juan Island, is one of the world’s best spots to watch whales in their natural habitat. Orcas, aka killer whales, are regularly spotted around this 36-acre park. The best time to spot pods (or families) of orcas is between April and September. During a spring whale-watching trip, you might also see gray whales before they head to the far north Pacific for summer. Keep an eye on the shoreline for porpoises, seals, sea lions, and otters.
8. Explore Native American culture and go crabbing
Check out the preserved tidelands and wetlands at Blake Island Underwater Park, located 8 miles southwest of Seattle between Bainbridge Island and Vashon Island. Five miles of shoreline are ideal for clamming, crabbing, swimming, or snorkeling. In addition to those clams and crabs, you might encounter blacktail deer, eagles, ospreys, and geese. Add a little culture to your island getaway by heading to the Native American Tillicum Village at the island’s north end. Listen to Coast Salish tribes’ stories, watch Native American dancers perform, and enjoy a traditional meal of salmon or steamed clams.
9. Climb some rocks for some sweet mountain views
Head north to Bellingham, the last major city in the Puget Sound area before you reach the Canadian border. This coastal area is rife with rock climbing opportunities. Boulder beachside at Larabee State Park, where you can climb interesting edges and wave-sculpted huecos. Or, overlook the Western Washington University campus as you climb Sehome Hill, which features both beginner and advanced boulders and small walls that ascend up to 35 feet. The Bat Caves promise more than 30 sport routes (but no bats, fortunately). Try the Samish Wall or San Juan Wall, where you can climb 200 feet and enjoy views of the San Juan Islands and Olympic Mountains.