Explore the Forest Lands of Anacortes

An inspiring world of natural wonder lies just a few yards away from your parking spot as you step into the renowned forest lands of Anacortes on Fidalgo Island.

One of the most amazing “assets” of this island city is ownership of almost 3,000 acres of protected forests – a precious collection of parcels featuring not only towering trees but rocky bluffs, beaches, wetlands, and lakes.

There are dozens of trailheads to choose from in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL), with more than 50 miles of multi-use trails. There’s something for everyone—walkers, hikers, dogs (on leash), bicyclists, and even folks on horseback.

For an introduction to this system, we have elected to focus on Trail 10 leading into a wetlands area and the south end of Little Cranberry Lake. Pick up a waterproof map at City Hall or the downtown Visitor Information Center (VIC) and head for 32nd Avenue. Maps are also mounted on covered kiosks at the head of major trails.

The sights and sounds of urban life fade away quickly as you step from the open parking area on “I” Avenue into the peaceful forest looming beyond.

Eyes are drawn upward as the girth of massive cedars and firs make the hiker aware that these forest beauties have grown with minimal impact from man.

In fact, many sections of the community forestland date back to the turn of the century when city founders took preemptive action to protect some of the island’s elite natural assets.

The opening path of Trail 10 is a one-time service road, an inviting corridor sprinkled with trail offshoots. An opening in the forest canopy demands immediate attention, but many natural delights remain to be discovered in the forest itself.

If your desire is to visit wetlands and lakes, bear right on a route that turns from “road” to a narrower, naturally padded path that drops gradually to the water.

Depending on the time of year, your trail might be wet or blanketed with the fallen leaves of deciduous trees. Choose appropriate footwear.

Here you might find massive golden leaves suspended among tree branches and bushes – a temporary resting place on the way to becoming part of the cushy forest floor. Ferns, green and brown, thrust up from the forest floor in search of sunlight.

Very soon a body of water will appear through the trees.

The view opens once again as the trail draws down to the shoreline. One of the trails in this area leads to a beautiful body of water nicknamed the “32nd Street Swamp.” An adjacent body of water is called “Big Beaver Pond.”

There are many vantage points along this route and a few rustic wooden bridges that allow the hiker to stretch out a bit beyond the shoreline. If you are a photographer, be prepared to take advantage of these over-water vistas.

At this point, you are essentially on the south end of the island’s largest watershed area, with trails that ultimately lead to Little Cranberry Lake if you choose to continue your hike. Keep your eyes open along the way for forest features ranging from tiny mushrooms and wildflowers to hollowed stumps and lichen-draped branches.

From the water, your options include a loop return to your starting point – or opportunities to press on to a more adventurous hike involving some terrain and a bigger commitment of time.

There is no “bad” option here but as always on an outdoor adventure, be aware of time, distance and location as you ponder the options or (change to “of”) turning back or pushing on.

Anacortes forest lands beckon: answer the call and enjoy it!

Anacortes Community Forest Land (ACFL) tidbits:

  • Acquisition of AFCL land began early in the century when several large parcels were donated for public parks. Among donors was Douglass Allmond, publisher of the still-vibrant Anacortes American newspaper.
  • Evidence of some early logging activity on the island includes chiseled “notches” in large stumps –  evidence of teams armed with crosscut saws.
  • A non-profit called “Friends of the Forest,” established in 1987, volunteers many hours of trail maintenance assistance. Staff and members also lead hikes over the course of the year and provide educational opportunities to Anacortes students.
  • One of the most popular elements of the AFCL is Heart Lake, a pristine area transferred from state to city control in 2002.
  • A local conservation easement program establishes permanent protection against development at a rate of $1,000 per acre.
  • Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash. See trailhead signs to determine use restrictions. Bicycles and horses, for example, are prohibited from some areas. For a list of all regulations, see the City Parks & Recreation Department.

By Steve Berentson

Are You Ready To Experience Anacortes?

Want to learn more about things to do in Anacortes, Washington? Our website has lots of information on Anacortes restaurants, activities, and special events to help guide your plans for an island getaway. You can also find our Experience Anacortes app in the Apple Store and on Google Play.

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