Trail Talk: Winter hike in Trillium Community Forest 

Last weekend we set off to get some serious hiking in to prepare for some lofty outdoor goals we’ve set for ourselves. We got a late start on a Saturday, so we headed to Trillium Community Forest just a couple miles from our house. 

The 7-mile trail system is protected by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust so a bonus for visitors is it is free to all. No park pass needed.

The trails have three entrances to choose from to hike the terrain comprised of flat to rolling hills. We started at the main entrance located off State Road 525. There’s a nice map  here to pick out your path for the day. You can take a picture of it for reference or download it here.

The parking lot here as well as part of the mainline road trail is paved. The first trailhead is Dragonfly Glades which takes you through somewhat dense forested lands and reconnects with Main Line 1.2 miles later. We chose to get more mileage by diverting down the next available Crossroads and then jetted down Raven and other small segments until we wound back up at the end of Crossroads and worked our way back up to get in our mileage.

Some of the trails cross into wetlands, so be sure to have waterproof hiking shoes even if you plan to navigate around the big puddles. The winter the foliage is at bay however down Happy Trail there are still some thorny blackberry bushes intruding on the path.

We completed seven miles in under 2 hours and just before dark set in on the island. Here are some images from our time here.

Trail Talk: Rainy hike among the Saratoga Woods, DNR and Metcalf Trust Trail Systems

When prepping for a climb of Mount St. Helens or potentially the Wonderland a Trail, the best preparations is simply getting out and hike no matter what the weather brings. It’s a great way to understand how to adjust to adverse weather conditions and test out and understand your gear. Much better to do a gear check closer to home than 10 or 20 miles in the middle of nowhere. 

Just outside of Langley are a set of county trail systems that all connect to each other. If you are looking for a short hike, Saratoga Woods has some easy trails leading to an abandoned air strip, but if you want to stretch your legs study the map and pay attention to the connector trails to challenge yourself. 

We set out on a rainy Sunday to get in another good hike and to explore the DNR and Metcalf Trust trails with a goal to get in more than 7 miles, but trail conditions and weather  made that tough. 

According to the map, it looked like there were more direct entrances to the Metcalf and DNR trails. After driving up and down Saratoga Road we discovered signage indicating that three trail heads resided on private land, so we started at the Saratoga Wood entrance and followed the map to find the connector trail. 

Before entering the Saratoga trails you’ll notice three routes to choose from. To take the connector trail you’ll first want to choose the Indian Pipe Trail and take this straight down until you find the connector trail which is the first juncture after the MLT trailhead and is marked by a wooden sign high up on a tree called Coral Root Link. While the initial trail provides an easy flat start, once you head up the connector to the DNR trails there are a series of inclines and declines that makes for a good training hike.

The connector leads you to Blazing Saddles where you can choose left to go to Roller Coaster or right to head down Whispering Pines. We chose to head toward Roller Coaster which I’m assuming go its name from the constant incline/decline. The rain made it extra challenging, slushy and slick. 

​I had a nasty fall a mile or so beforehand after tripping over a thick root system and ramming my forearm into a fallen tree (be careful out there kids!), so I was being extra cautious here. If I stayed on the edges there were root systems that I couldn’t see that would cause another fall, and if I stuck to the middle, I was sure to fall to a messy muddy slide to the bottom. So I gracefully, waddled my way toward the bottom of the decline. 

Note to self: bring hiking poles next time.

From Roller Coaster, you can connect to Pteromys which leads into the Metcalf Trust Trails. While the trails in the whole system are well-marked, be sure to look for the newer trail signs. My assumption is some of the trails were either renamed or nicknamed. When we came upon Pteromys, we didn’t see the trail marking. We did see the large wooden sign tacked on a tree high above us labeled “Flying Squirrel” which was a little confusing since that’s nowhere on the map. We found the trail marking behind us which made us realize Flying Squirrel and Pteromys were one in the same.

Remember how I said hikes like these were a good way to check out gear? It also is a good way to train yourself on when to use your gear. I had my rain pants in the backpack in case weather got rough. For the most part it was sprinkling here and there. The rain began to pick up about three miles in and I didn’t think I was getting wet, but as we approached a small clearing I determined I needed those rain pants. It wasn’t till after the hike, I realized I was soaking wet. Had I been out on a backpacking trip, I’m not sure if I would’ve been able to get my things dry for the follow day. Lesson learned. 

We completed 7.2 miles that day in 3.5 hours not much more than what we did the previous day at Trillium. Dodging puddles, root systems and making our way up and down the path, stopping to add layers/rain pants added more time. It was a good experience to help us understand how much mileage we could cover as when we set off on an overnight backpacking trip this timing on less flat terrain will be a more likely scenario. 

If you are visiting Whidbey, I highly recommend this system of trails. I think this is one of my favorites in the south end of the island. While there aren’t sweeping views, you get an opportunity to twist and wind through a large tail system in mostly dense woods. If you love wandering around towering trees on well marked and clean trails, you’ll enjoy it too. 

Just pay attention while navigating those root systems!

Trail Talk: Panoramic views at Ebey’s Landing

If there are blue skies on Whidbey Island and you aren’t skeptical of heights and high ridges, the Bluff Trail at Ebey’s Landing is the place to be.

While you can park down by the beach at the end of Ebey’s Landing Road, my favorite starting point is the Prairie Overlook trailhead across the road from Sunnyside Cemetery.

Trust me here. If you are looking to take in dramatic views and a little history this is the best starting point. If this is your first visit, linger a bit over the expansive landscape. Not only will you see the once threatened farms during the 1970s land use fight where farmers fought developers looking to build subdivisions along the prairie, but on a clear day views of the Cascade and the Olympic Mountains.

The walk toward the beach takes you past Joseph Ebey’s house and the block house. In the summer months you can tour the house and learn more about the Ebey’s who settled here in the 1850s with the promise of free land.

Heading down toward the water, find yourself surrounded by a pastoral prairie with Willowood Farm’s pristine fields to your left and about a mile into your journey, approaching the first climb above the beach, if you are lucky you’ll also be greeted by views of Mt. Baker to your back and Mt. Rainier across Puget Sound to your left.

Say a prayer, give a blessing of gratitude, or do whatever you do to show appreciation, because seeing these two Goliaths together is Mother Nature’s gift to you today.

Climb the Bluff Trail and stop to take in the views. The Port Townsend Ferry crossing the Sound, a sea plane carrying passengers to and from the island or a noisy aircraft from NAS Whidbey possibly pop into view depending upon time of day or time of year. As you get closer to the downward trail leading you to the beach the Lagoon appears. A famous place for images.

A mile and half or so later you’ll begin switchbacking down the trail toward the beach. As you navigate the rock and sand be on the lookout for agates, stray crab forsaken by the outgoing tide, driftwood art provide by wind and sea or cairns stacked by others who journey down this path before you.

If you have extra time and you are seeking a few extra miles, duck into the trail that surrounds the lagoon. On windy days when the tide is out the lagoon can provide some relief, but it also gives a different perspective to the overall flora and fauna.

Two miles later the beach portion of the hike ends at the parking lot. If it’s a nice day , it’s a great place to lunch whether on s piece of driftwood or a nearby picnic table.

If you are ending your day with this hike, and the weather cooperates, prepare yourself for a stunning sunset as you climb up the wooden stairs and make your way along the trail back to the car.

Trail Talk: Kettle Trails

I’ve mentioned how the PNW fall is dark and wet. As we get closer to December we lose daylight fast. Right now the sun sets around 4:20ish but soon we’ll be experiencing darkness at 4 p.m.

For some this is tough: the rain, cold and darkness causes Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). For me, I overall I don’t mind this weather. I really love the rain. But I do have my ups and downs this time of year, but the key to beating SAD is getting out in all the mess.

Coming out of the plentiful turkey, thankful and glutinous holiday that is Thanksgiving, taking a good rainy forest bath proved more important than ever. I’ve been eating and drinking my way through the past four days and a walk in the woods was exactly what I needed. Rain or shine.

So we packed ourselves some turkey sandwiches and headed toward Coupeville where The Kettles reside. We were hoping to do the Island County side of the trails, but when we saw the signs that we needed to wear orange, we decided to head a bit further down the road to the Washington State Park side. We had on bright clothing but didn’t want to risk getting in front of a stray bullet.

We started at the Watertower Trail this time which leads you to an old water tower structure….sans water. Even though we started several hours before sundown, the trail which is crowded with firs, already seemed dark.

From Watertower we headed a short way down Princess Run and then Shepherds Crook which takes you seemingly to the bottom of the forest floor. Unless you look at the map, you wouldn’t know that other tails loom overhead.

We witnessed lots of debris and downed trees that we had to climb over. All results of the several severe wind storms here on the island.

After our recent mushroom walk and now armed with our new David Arora mushroom field guide, we searched for Chanterelles, but only found one cluster of mushrooms we weren’t able to identify. We figured perhaps most mushrooms had been hidden by the wind storm debris. I was super antsy so, honestly, I wasn’t interested in doing a deep search or identification unless the looked like something truly edible.

We headed down the Campground Trail which lead us closer to the Bluff Trail where the Ft. Ebey Gun Battery resides. That Bluff Trail, while one of my favorites, wasn’t on the list today. Too much exposure and too cloudy to take in a view of the Olympics.

The rain seemed to hold off most of the afternoon until we hit the edge of the Bluff Trail and then it started to pour. We took our time on the trail checking for mushrooms, taking sips of water here and there and just soaking in the fresh air and the canopy of trees above us. But darkness was coming quickly and under all those trees it seemed like we weren’t getting off the trail before sunset.

We got a little turned around and realized we were headed into Island County deer hunting country and had to reroute. We had a picture of the map in our phones which I highly recommend as the Kettles have all kinds of twists and turns and one trails sound similar (Cedar Hollow v. Cedar Grove).

After missing the return trail we found the park road and just took it back to our truck. I’d much rather had finished our hike in the forest, but it was after 4 p.m. and darkness was setting in.

We arrived bed home soaked but satisfied from our 4 mile hike. We’re already discussing hiking plans for next weekend.