Cabins at Bay View State Park offer a low-key getaway

Area provides lovely views, easy hikes, affordable prices

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BAY VIEW -- The sun was setting over Padilla Bay. Soon thereafter, the mud flats and eelgrass meadows faded into the night.

Time to settle in. A couple walked bikes up the asphalt slope. Campers fanned a blue flicker into an amber bonfire. Everywhere you could hear ice rattling as one hand after another dipped into the coolers.

Then came the popping sound of tallboys -- time to unwind, laugh, tell stories.

I was lounging around Bay View State Park, seven miles west of Burlington, plopped on the steps in front of my cabin. In pitch darkness, there's nothing but the sound of shoes crackling over the gravel as folks seek their corners of serenity: a swinging porch, a bonfire, a patch on the pine floor under a Douglas fir.

This was my mellow, quiet one-night getaway, iPhone-less and off the grid.

The goal was to putter around the cabin barefooted, maybe tool around the beach at sunrise and stroll a mile before sunset -- and at night, read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" with my headlamp by the fire, while reaching for a cold beer or three.

It was as lazy an outdoor getaway as I had ever taken.

Bay View sits roughly at the south end of Chuckanut Drive, sometimes eclipsed in popularity by Larrabee State Park at that scenic drive's north end.

Larrabee is the sexier, hipper playground (2,683 acres), with scuba divers and kayakers, rock climbers and mountain bikers climbing Chuckanut Mountain and Blanchard Hill.

If Larrabee is where the cool kids and jocks converge, then Bay View is more a science camp for geeks.

The main draw is the Breazeale Interpretive Center, named for the woman who donated her farm for the site, a half-mile north of Bay View park, where visitors learn about the ecosystem of Padilla Bay or check on snowy owl sightings in spring.

The few trails are short and flat -- the longest hike is the Padilla Bay Shore Trail, 2.25 miles of tidelands and wetlands. It's an area to bring your binoculars, cameras and notebooks to chronicle one of the largest winter populations of peregrine falcons in North America or to count the different species among the 50,000 ducks.

You are more likely to strain your neck from bird watching along the bay's 8-mile shoreline than to suffer a sprained ankle from hiking there. My rock-climbing buddies call it "an old's man playground."

But I like it. I like the smell of low tide coming off the bay. I like opening the cabin door at dawn and seeing the San Juan Islands in the distance.

The views aren't as spectacular as at Larrabee Park. You have to look away from the oil refineries at March Point, unless you like industrial views. The beach isn't sandy. But the trade-off is smaller crowds. After a few hours, the place feels as comfortable as an old sneaker.

The campgrounds aren't overrun, and the cabins go for $59 to $79 a night, depending on the season.

Cattle, Mount Baker

The cabins, a row of six, are near a stairway that leads to a short stretch of saltwater shoreline. My choice is cabin No. 5, the only unit that includes a shower and bathroom. For $10 less you can grab a cabin sans bathroom and use the shared facilities near the campgrounds.

Each unit comes with a barbecue pit, though you can also bike a few miles on the Farm to Market Road to the town of Edison.

Before eating, my buddy and I hit the Upland Trail (0.8 mile) near the parking lot of the interpretive center. The most spectacular view awaited us. A lush cedar path led to a sweeping view of Scottish Highland cattle grazing a pasture in front of a dreamy backdrop of Mount Baker under blue skies.