But live in the Pacific Northwest, and you may gaze into one of no less than three National Parks* (can you name them?), not to mention state, county, and local preserves as well.
With its plentiful hotels, inns, B&Bs, and campsites, Anacortes on Fidalgo Island is the perfect basecamp from which to join this celebration of the outdoors. From Anacortes you can reach parklands to the north, south, east, and west, and be home in time for happy hour and sunsets atop the Majestic Inn.
Not sure where to start? A guided trip with a knowledgeable interpreter might be just the thing! Immerse yourself in the flora and fauna world of the marine or trail-side ecosystem. You’ll even spice up the experience with some local natural and cultural history.
“Outdoor adventures surround us here,” says Stephanie Fernandez of Skagit Guided Adventures. Stephanie settled in Anacortes following 25 years of leading nature adventures on land and sea, from the equator to the sub-arctic. Her latest endeavor began, she says, after “this Mexico City native fell in love with the amazingly beautiful and diverse environment of NW Washington. In particular, Skagit County, with its islands, coast, waterside towns, farmlands, mountains, forest, wildlife, wildflowers, and wilderness.”
Alternately, the independent-minded can pick up a book by respected NW guide author Craig Romano at Watermark Book Company or Pelican Bay Used Books. Romano’s convenient and comprehensive guides help you plan your trek. The books have sections on “getting there,” trail maps and directions, distance, difficulty, and wildlife. He also focuses on accessibility for people, kids, and pets, and succinct but evocative descriptions of each journey. Best bets for local hiking are his Day hiking North Cascades and Day Hiking San Juan and Gulf Islands (includes Anacortes and Fidalgo and Guemes islands).
Hit the Trail
All that’s left is to grab some road food from one of the city’s many eateries, plus plenty of water, camera, and binoculars. So, with gratitude for those who have set aside these public park lands for all to enjoy, here are a few destinations to get your imagination roaming. Most well within an hour’s ride—and many just minutes away.
Take the Guemes Island Ferry (“I” Ave. & 6th Street; walk-ons, bikes, and cars) for a five-minute ride to laid-back Guemes Island. Gentle terrain and low traffic make it a great place to bike.
Hop a ferry or water taxi to access the many Lopez Island trails.
Oyster Dome: Blanchard Mt. is part of the “North Cascades Corridor,” a regional landscape – and valuable habitat – of foothills, streams, lakes, and wetlands that connects the Cascade Range to the salt waters of the Salish Sea. This moderately challenging 5.5-mile trail winds through forests and past lakes to dramatic westward views below and beyond of historic oyster farms, Skagit Valley, Anacortes, the San Juan Islands, and the Olympic Peninsula.
Sauk Mountain: Worth the drive for a taste of the North Cascades, hiking begins at the end of the rough 7.9-mile Sauk Mountain Road off Hwy 20 (east of Burlington and west of Rockport). The trail switchbacks to Sauk’s 5,500-foot summit through south-facing meadows. Enjoy views of wildflowers, edged by small groves of subalpine fir and hemlock. Below, the much-photographed view captures the Sauk and Skagit River valleys snaking into Skagit Bay, with, on a clear day, the Olympics and San Juan Islands beyond. Summit views also peer north and west into the Cascade Range and down to Sauk Lake.
*North Cascades, Olympic, and Rainier National Parks.
More info about the National Park System
Rather than Europe’s formal parks and gardens, America’s westward movement in the 1800s spawned the concept of wilderness preservation and large-scale protection of land for public enjoyment. Paintings by artist George Caitlin (1796-1872) and writings by naturalist and conservationist John Muir (1838-1914)—published in his days’ most prominent magazines (think today’s Twitter and Facebook)—as well as the establishment of grand hotels along railroad routes combined to convince government officials of the “spiritual as well as economic value” of wilderness.
The seed for the “national park” concept was finally planted with the protection of Yosemite Valley as a California state park in 1864. Other individual areas followed, including Yellowstone (1872), Mt. Rainier (1899), and Crater Lake (1902).
Other preservation efforts followed. In 1891, the Forest Reserve Act authorized U.S. Presidents to proclaim permanent forest reserves (now National Forests) in the public domain to be managed for long-term economic productivity under multiple-use conservation principles.
And, in 1906, the Antiquities Act authorized presidents to reserve “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” on United States-owned or -controlled lands as “national monuments.” Finally, 100 years ago, on August 25, 1916, President Theodore Roosevelt established the National Park System.
Called America’s “best idea,” the concept spread. Today, lands are protected by many entities—states, counties, communities, and individuals. Locally, the Skagit Land Trust, San Juan Preservation Trust, San Juan County Land Bank, and Chuckanut Conservancy are among the local organizations protecting valuable ecosystems for public use and enjoyment and to support environmental sustainability.
by Jan Hersey