We all know – or are innately feeling, the effects of prolonged shelter-in-place at this point. Studies show that social isolation can result in everything from poor sleep and depression to a weakened immune system, anxiety, unhealthy lifestyle habits, and even heart disease and cognitive decline.
The good news? An exploration of Skagit Valley provides safe avenues for:
connecting with nature,
These top three suggestions are given by scientists and mental health professionals for battling the effects of isolation.
Offering a veritable treasure trove of options for restoring a sense of freedom and well-being, the richly diverse Skagit Valley boasts an abundance of meandering trails, car and bicycle routes, kayak & SUP rentals, boating tours, beaches, and waterways.
In a time when we feel we have no control over what is happening, Skagit offers up the possibility to create your very own custom made adventure – filling your emotional tank and restoring your sense of connection and well-being. While some locations and activities remain limited, there’s still plenty of ways to stretch your mind and limbs, as well as enjoying the excitement of planning a trip for when restrictions are lifted. This is also a great way to support the hundreds of local businesses that are currently operating on a limited schedule or capacity, but who form the foundation of the rich experiences this area offers, and who rely on bookings to stay afloat.
From the sweeping vistas of the Valley, to the rugged coastline and pristine mountains, Skagit County has something to whet every appetite. So spread your wings, unleash your imagination, and take flight… expand, relax, rejuvenate, reset.
The late Marine Biologist, Rachel Carson, advanced the global environmental movement and sums up what unconfined can do for you…
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
Ask any artist in Skagit Valley about what makes the Valley so special, and odds are you’ll receive a soliloquy on the magical quality of the light, and the sweeping vistas that transport the mind. Artist Maggie Wilder describes the Valley…
“It’s geographically complex. The way water, earth, and sky dissolve into each other is like no other place I’ve been. It’s as if we’re being suspended – held by the environment.”
And this isn’t just the arcane domain of the artistic imagination.
Rise early and situate yourself atop Mt. Erie, or along the edge of the farmland in La Conner – or even driving over the Twin Bridges. Witness the golden sun-kissed contours of this garden of Eden where lowlands of fertile fields and winding rivers meet the dramatic heights of the North Cascades mountain range to the east, and the Salish Sea and the wild San Juan Islands to the west. Be held in the cradle of nature’s blithe response to stress and uncertainty.
Science backs up this seemingly mystical effect – the combination of being outdoors in brighter light for even one hour a day, combined with focusing on natural elements viewed from a distance can reduce myopia in children up to 50%. And it’s a well-known fact that viewing nature, and tuning in to its sounds and rhythms reduces stress, blood pressure, and improves the immune system. Myopia isn’t just an eyesight problem…when we are confined and isolated, our minds can also become myopic.
The need to connect with nature is deeply rooted in our DNA – moving through a natural environment, tuning into its sights, smells and sounds (yes – take out those earphones!) focuses our attention and has a restorative effect on the damage that has taken its toll through stress and artificial distractions.
The Japanese subscribe to “Forest Bathing” or shinrin-yoku as a restorative practice, and the Valley offers countless trails to wander and breathe in the airborne essential oils that native evergreens give off that boost your natural immunity. The wide network of trails of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands that embrace almost 3000 acres of forest, lakes, meadows, and wetlands are the ideal choice for “bathing” or the more recently popular “mocking” (hanging your hammock in a natural or wild area and just taking it all in as you relax).
For easy access to both wooded trails and gorgeous vistas, head to Washington Park in Anacortes and either drive the 2-mile loop road (if you aren’t mobile) or walk it and explore the many trails that get you off the pavement and into the trees. Hike Whistle Lake and then jump in to cool off – hang your hammock in the trees and bring a book! Or head to Sharpe Park for a little forest bathing followed by a meditation along the rocky shore or Sares Head with a view of the Olympic Mountain Range. Bring your yoga mat and breath in the pure air of evergreens and ocean breeze during your practice.
“As I walked in the woods I felt what I often feel that nothing can befall me in life, no calamity, no disgrace (leaving me my eyes) to which Nature will not offer a sweet consolation. Standing on the bare ground with my head bathed by the blithe air, & uplifted into the infinite space, I become happy in my universal relations.”~Ralph Waldo Emerson
For an easy stroll that’s accessible from Sedro-Woolley to Concrete, with views that wander from foothills, farmland, and Valley to the Skagit River, pick a section of the 22.5 mile-long Cascade Trail. Keep an eye out for herons and eagles!
If you’re not the hiking sort, or you’re craving an expansive view after being cooped up inside, grab a pair of binoculars and head out to explore the rural roads and sweeping vistas of the valley. Birding opportunities abound throughout the Valley, and from Fir Island on up to Sedro-Woolley and Newhalem along the Skagit River you can take in the world-renowned abundance of species this area has on offer. Take an easy walk along the Padilla Bay Trail and soak in all the birdsong while viewing herons, owls, and myriad of other birds. Make a little road trip out of it, or hop on your bike (or rent one from Skagit Cycle in Anacortes) with a little picnic packed from one of the many local restaurants.
This is the perfect time to take your indoor practices into the great outdoors…gyms and yoga studios may be closed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still tap into those stress-reducing and rejuvenating activities. The sheer amount of space in the Valley and the number of trails for every level of ability provides a unique opportunity to find a perfect spot for recovery while keeping a safe distance from others. Just taking a drive through nature has a physiological and psychological benefit. So stop staring at those four walls and set your sight on the far horizon.
“Every walk to the woods is a religious rite, every bath in the stream is a saving ordinance. Communion service is at all hours, and the bread and wine are from the heart and marrow of Mother Earth”John Burroughs
Often referred to as the “North American Alps”, the rugged, staggering peaks of the North Cascades rewards adventurers with jaw-dropping views – glaciers, countless rivers, lakes, streams, and waterfalls, and emerald evergreen valleys. Around every bend of the road, the scenery beckons – speaking the soul-language of nature that connects us to our most essential self, lifting our spirits and healing our psyche. The very act of gazing at a natural landscape (the wilder the better!) has beneficial effects and increases our sense of well-being. Our internal clock shifts into “nature’s time”, and in that liminal space we slow down – we shed the constructs of modern life and drop into a deeper way of seeing what’s around us. Our heart rate drops, our feelings of anxiety lessen, and after even a brief time we come away feeling refreshed.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”John Muir
The North Cascades National Park is increasing recreational access for overnight use beginning on June 12th. It is also the perfect time to explore online and plan your trip for later this summer and fall. A day trip along highway 20 will offer up plenty of options for hanging out in the trees, mountain gazing, and river walking. Most state parks are open for day use and combine easy access with a sampling of the kind of scenery a deeper dive will provide down the road when the National Park and trails reopen. Rasar State Park is a great choice, with forest and meadow abutting the beautiful Skagit River. Or venture to Baker Lake in the Snoqualmie National Forest where the old-growth forest meets mountain lake. The Baker Lake trail offers 14 miles of magical immersion in this ancient scenery, and the lake itself beckons to kayakers, swimmers, SUPS, and boaters.
When imagining your perfect adventure in the mountains, consider including a guided tour – fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, climbing, boating, river rafting, kayaking and lake canoeing are ways to immerse yourself more deeply into the natural world around you, and having a guide can both ensure your safety and enrich the experience. If you’re curious about the history of the area or want to know more about the flora and fauna, check out the North Cascades Institute for classes and programs – a great way to weave together your physical experience of the landscape with a deeper understanding of its history and resources.
“I went out in my alpine yard and there it was…hundreds of miles of pure snow-covered rocks and virgin lakes and high timber.“Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.” – John F. KennedyJohn F. Kennedy
While Skagit might first bring to mind the Valley, its coastline is a wild treasure, offering dramatic cliffs and crashing waves worthy of a Brontë novel, and serene bays where otters and seals cavort.
Head to the top of Mt Erie and gaze upon the San Juan Islands sprinkled through the sound like so many lush green gems. Cruise along Chuckanut Drive for sweeping views butted up against forested cliffs (or hike up to Oyster Dome for a picnic with a 180+ view). Walk along the beaches of Rosario Beach or Bowman Bay, then take the short hikes up to the bluffs for a panorama. On your way back out Hwy 20 stop at the Shrimp Shack for an oyster burger! Rent a kayak or SUP to explore the nooks and crannies of the coastline. Walk across the famous Deception Pass Bridge for awe-inspiring drama as the current rushes underneath, or walk the treed paths of Kukutali Preserve and relax on the beach. Take a walk along historic La Conner’s boardwalk that runs along the channel, or take a 5-minute ferry ride to Guemes from Anacortes and ride your bike all around the island.
“We had an incredible time on our tour with James, and would do it again in a heartbeat! His passion for the area and knowledge of the islands made it such a highlight afternoon for us. We kayaked around three islands and James even went out of the way so we could kayak over to a seal hangout. We saw sea creatures, many seals, a bald eagle, even tried some seaweed. All in all, 5 stars and a big thank you to James and the entire friendly crew over at Anacortes Kayak Tours!”Alexandra M.
Washington Park in Anacortes is a great choice for walking or biking along the coastline, (as is the Padilla Shore Trail). The myriad of trails in WA Park offers plenty of opportunities to find a private spot to meditate or throw down your yoga mat (Sharpe Park is also great for this!) all while being just a few minutes of a drive from downtown.
Taking a whale watching or wildlife tour gets you out on the water and out of your head – surprises await, and enjoying the suspense and rewards makes for a fun and fulfilling day.
Whatever restorative activity you most connect with, taking it to the ocean’s edge will leave you feeling invigorated, and cleansed of the detritus of being cooped up. Breath deeply that sea air, and feel the freedom of the ocean’s expanse.
While you are exploring the Skagit Coast, Valley, and Mountains, support our local breweries on the Skagit Farm to Pint tour. Stop by the Burlington Visitor Info Center when your passport is complete for a souvenir pint glass. Be sure to explore all of the tours Skagit Valley has to offer!
DOCUMENTED BY: SUZANNE ROTHMEYER
From: Skagit Valley
Suzanne Rothmeyer lived in more states than she can count growing up and has traveled the world ever since, documenting people’s stories. Suzanne’s favorite destination is the Skagit Valley where she lives, works, and plays. Suzanne’s work has been featured in over a dozen magazines and many websites.