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Thursday, September 28, 2023
Sept. 28, 2023

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Take a hike on Camano Island

Cama Beach Historical State Park offers spring getaway

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Cama Beach Historical State Park is a public recreation area facing Saratoga Passage on the southwest shore of Camano Island in Island County.
Cama Beach Historical State Park is a public recreation area facing Saratoga Passage on the southwest shore of Camano Island in Island County. (Dreamstime) Photo Gallery

CAMANO ISLAND, Island County — The sound of banging hammers and squeaking saws greeted me as I meandered alongshore on Camano Island on a sun-dappled spring day. As my eyes adjusted from the bright sunshine to the dim, cool confines of a lovingly restored circa 1950 boathouse, the source of the clatter came into view: a gaggle of children building toy boats and testing them out in the saltwater that laps at the building’s back door.

A modern-day human connection with Puget Sound’s heritage of maritime craft is just one of the unexpected charms of this 3-mile loop in an elongated figure eight at Cama Beach Historical State Park.

While I typically seek respite from noisy tools on my hikes, Cama Beach Historical State Park is not your typical state park. As the “historical” in its name suggests, there is a distinct past to this swath of preserved green space along Saratoga Passage.

A charming hike at Cama Beach Historical State Park: Round-trip distance: 3 miles.

Start at the picnic shelter and bathrooms at the bottom of the lettered rows of parking (Discover Pass required). Follow the wide trail downhill; you’ll likely be sharing it with loaded pushcarts as overnight visitors wheel their bedding and food down to the park’s cabins.

The cabins were once the centerpiece of the privately owned Cama Beach Resort, whose transformation into a state park was a long and controversial journey through the 1990s and early 2000s. The cabins are now one of Washington State Parks’ most unique lodging properties (book at washington.goingtocamp.com). While the cabins are arguably the park’s main draw, there’s plenty to make for a satisfying day trip.

Before you reach the beach, you’ll pass the Cama Beach Cafe. A full-service brunch establishment smack dab in a state park? Another unexpected charm. Eggs Benedict, corn beef and hash, biscuits and gravy, and fresh-baked pies all beckon the hungry hiker (spring hours: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday-Sunday, through June 18). Or just cozy up by the fireplace with a cup of coffee and a scone.

Whether you stop in for a meal, a snack or just a look, press on to the beach. You can’t waltz into anyone’s cabin without a reservation, but you can explore one of just five remaining boathouses along Puget Sound, down from a peak of over 175 in the 1950s. Before private boat ownership came within reach of middle-class families, boathouses were an affordable getaway for Western Washington residents looking to catch their own fish.

Today, the former Cama Beach Resort’s boathouse is home to The Center for Wooden Boats, which operates seasonally (summer hours begin May 27). This summer, the center will not offer rentals due to boat ramp damage from winter storms (boat rentals are available year-round at the center’s South Lake Union location). However, junior mariners can still build a toy boat every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a suggested donation.

Between the cabins, boathouse, seawall and other trappings of the former resort turned state park (playground, firepits, camp store), the shoreline is not exactly wild coast. But the sheltered beach, with views across the water to Whidbey Island and the Olympic Mountains, is a soothing spot nonetheless. Enjoy these trappings of civilization, then turn uphill at the north end of the resort.

You’ll return to your starting point for the second half of the figure eight. Head north on the Bluff Trail for a classic coastal ramble: a gentle walk in the woods with peekaboo saltwater views.

Periodic platforms offer scenic vistas framed by helpful plaques with identifying information for local flora and fauna — the thoughtful final project of an island Eagle Scout. As you pass by sawed-off fallen logs that would have otherwise required hoisting yourself over a hefty Douglas fir, thank the volunteers at Friends of Camano Island Parks who help maintain the trails.

After 0.7 mile, you’ll reach the apex of your hike. Make your way around the horseshoe bend and onto the Marine View Loop Trail. This section hugs the entrance road to the park, so you’ll have to contend with some vehicle noise.

In another 0.5 mile, make a right then a quick left onto the Friends Trail, passing the Cama Beach Welcome Center on your left. The Friends Trail crosses the entrance road then dumps you onto the Old Entrance Trail, which eventually returns to the starting point in 0.4 mile.

While the combination of beach and bluff is commonplace along glacier-carved Puget Sound, a well-preserved slice of local history is less ubiquitous.

4 more hikes around the Sound

The beaches and trails around Island and Skagit counties may not reach their peak season until summer, but pick the right day and you’ll be rewarded with a pleasant spring hike while you wait for the snow to melt out on higher-elevation trails.

  • Sharpe Park: This coastal pocket tucked away north of Deception Pass State Park on Fidalgo Island offers a little more than 2 miles of trail along rocky balds bursting with spring wildflowers.
  • Kukutali Preserve: A small “tied island” attached to the mainland by a thin strip of land known as a “tombolo” that is submerged at high tide, Kukutali Preserve is jointly managed by Washington State Parks and the Swinomish Tribe. Three trails add up to 2 miles of island strolling.
  • Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve: Visit one of Whidbey Island’s most beloved destinations for traversing by foot. The Bluff Trail showcases a dramatic vista while Jacob Ebey’s house offers lessons in Washington’s settler history.
  • Camano Island State Park: Not to be confused with its neighbor up the coast, this state park is of the more traditional variety — no historic beach resorts here. Still, 3 miles of trails allow you to stretch your legs. The 1-mile Cross Island Trail connects with Cama Beach.