2 hikes are great ways to explore San Juans, Gulf Islands

  • By Jessi Loerch
  • Friday, July 25, 2014 2:45pm
  • Life

Craig Romano knows his trails. He’s an author of 12 guidebooks. The newest is “Day Hiking: The San Juans and Gulf Islands,” with 136 hikes in the region, including a few hikes on the mainland. The book includes detailed info on each hike, including directions, and maps to help you plan.

I’m a big fan of Romano. He’s enthusiastic and energetic and his joy for hiking comes through in his writing.

Romano picked two hikes to share with us, one on Orcas Island and one on Saturna Island in British Columbia.

Turtlehead

Orcas Island

Roundtrip: 5.7 miles

Elevation gain: 1,295 feet

Notes: Dogs permitted on leash

Stand atop Turtleback Mountain’s head for one shell of a view — it’s one the best in the San Juans. Thanks to a recent land acquisition, the prominent and well-recognized Turtlehead is now connected to the Turtleback Preserve and open to hikers.

The hike: Follow an old skid road, now a multi-use trail officially known as the North Trail. After a half mile of gentle climbing, come to a junction. The short spur right leads 0.15 miles to the North Valley Overlook.

The North Trail steadily climbs, winding through mature timber and passing a huge Douglas fir. The grade eases as the trail brushes up along a grassy wetland.

At 1.6 miles come to a junction with the Waldron Overlook Spur. Follow it right a short distance to a cliff top promontory with a stunning view of Waldron Island’s impressive Disney Cliffs across President Channel.

When done viewing, return to the junction and head out on the Turtlehead Trail.

Follow the trail through a cedar grove gently descending to a 750-foot gap. Then regain lost elevation, emerging on an open area at 2.9 miles.

The views from this prominent landmark are sublime. Stare out at the island and be sure to look back at the Turtleback too. Return the way you came.

Getting there: Once off of the ferry from Anacortes, head north on Orcas Road for 3.5 miles. Turn left on Nordstrom Lane. In 0.6 miles turn right on Crow Valley Road. Trailhead is 1.6 miles ahead.

Mount Warburton Pike

Saturna Island, BC

Roundtrip: 3.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 515 feet

Notes: Dogs permitted on leash

Walk along a lofty grassy ridgeline, feasting on intoxicating panoramic views of the Salish Sea. Saturna Island’s highest summit grants not only some of the best views of the Gulf Islands but of the San Juan Island as well. Swaying golden grasses, dazzling wildflowers and stoic windblown firs line the way. Herds of feral goats help keep this peak’s southern face a sprawling meadow.

The hike: One of the highest peaks in the Gulf Islands, Mount Warburton Pike can be seen from throughout the region.

From just below the summit parking area near some concrete blocks, locate the trail. It makes a short switchback downward and then heads east. The trail was never formally built, but it’s fairly easy to follow. Just stick to the ridgeline and avoid the numerous goat paths radiating down the mountainside. Quite a population of feral goats clings to this peak. They’re descendants from domestic herds abandoned over a century ago.

Views are breathtaking from the start and never let up. Look for raptors riding the mountain’s thermals along the way.

Sticking to the ridgeline, the trail slowly descends rounding some ledges and small cliffs. Pass an old collapsed building and fence line, evidence of past land uses.

At 0.7 mile, pass beneath a cabin which remains privately owned. Stay on the trail to respect the owner’s privacy. The mountain with its terraced slopes, compliments of the goats, gives this hike a very Mediterranean feel.

At 1.2 miles come to some impressive cliffs where goats can usually be seen, heard, and smelled. Continue hiking, watching Mount Baker now come into view. At 1.7 miles reach an old skid road, a logical spot to turn around.

Getting there: Take a British Columbia ferry from Tsawwassen or Swartz Bay to Lyall Harbour on Saturna Island. Take East Point Road for 1 mile and bear right on Narvaez Bay Road. Immediately turn right on Harris Road. In 0.5 mile turn left on Staples Road. Trailhead is at end of road.

These hikes are excerpted from Craig Romano’s copyrighted book with his permission. For more on these hikes and more, check out the book. For more information on hiking the Northwest in general, go to his website, www.craigromano.com.

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