The Pacific Northwest is a jewel of outdoor exploration opportunities and Anacortes is no exception! Below are ideas to get your outdoor adventure started, no matter what time of year it is!
Hiking & Trails
Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve Trail hugs 2000 ft. of Ship Harbor’s sandy beach shoreline. There are interpretive platforms and benches to ponder the views of the ferry, birds, and islands. A boardwalk, completed in 2013, leads visitors through a portion of the wetlands and the 25-acre perimeter of freshwater wetlands. Travel west on Hwy. 20 until Ship Harbor comes into view, then turn right onto Ship Harbor Boulevard, take the next left and wind down to a cul-de-sac next to Guemes Channel. In that same cul-de-sac, you’ll find the Guemes Channel Trail that will eventually connect to downtown Anacortes and the Tommy Thompson Trail. The newest section of the trail opened in May 2015 and extends to Illinois Avenue. The trail is paved and follows the old railroad bed along Guemes Channel.
Washington Park is on the western point of Fidalgo Island and has handfuls of trails that lead through 220-acres of forestlands to breathtaking views of the Olympic Mountains and the San Juan Islands. At Juniper Point, on the southwestern tip, is a bench where harbor porpoises can often be seen surfing in Burrows Bay Channel. Be aware that parts of the trails are steep and rooty. For a paved, yet hilly walk, take the 2.25-mile loop that curves through the park. Explore Green Point, a grassy area on the northwestern tip, is easily accessed from the paved road and a good place to watch boat activity or climb on the shoreline rocks near West Beach. Follow Highway-20 past the ferry, continue down Sunset Avenue to the large parking lot at the end. There is also beach access, restrooms, and a playground.
Sharpe Park and Montgomery-Duban Headlands Trail is a 2.6 miles loop with some rough-and-tumble hiking through the largest undeveloped and privately owned waterfront on the island. The trail passes through 110 acres of marshlands and woods with large firs and madrones and offers scenic viewpoints of Lopez Island, the Olympic Peninsula and 400 ft. headlands rising from the sea. There is only one access to the trail. From Hwy. 20 turn left onto Rosario Road and follow it for 1.7 miles to a pull-in parking lot on the left side of the road. Please Note: Anacortes Community Forest Lands are numbered and no pass is required. Maps can be purchased at the City of Anacortes and the Chamber’s Visitor Information Center.
Punctuating the western horizon across the Skagit Flats, a rocky dome stands sentinel above Fidalgo Island. For locals, it’s a coming-home beacon; for travelers, a sign they’re nearing Anacortes; for others, the mountain itself is the destination. “Climbing clubs come here from all over—Canada, Montana, California.” Don Caulfield is talking about the rocky bald face of 1,273-foot Mt. Erie that looms above quaint Lake Erie Grocery on South Fidalgo Island that Caulfield and his wife Gerry have run for 40 years. Mt. Erie draws local climbers as well, who know it simply as “The Rock,” a year-round playground.
Few places offer Erie’s variety of easily accessible, year-round climbing routes and crags (the sport has its own vocabulary), embraced by panoramic, east-to-west postcard views across patchwork fields and island-dotted waters, from Mt. Baker, the Cascade Range, and Mt. Rainier to the Olympic Peninsula. Some eight, south-facing wall groups distribute climbers across Erie’s face and offer myriad climbing options. Most are considered “easier” grades (depends on your perspective, of course), number-rated up to 5.13a.
There’s no telling how long climbers have scrambled their way up Mt. Erie’s dramatic face. Little is known about those before the 1960s. In 1966, local sixth-grade teacher and revered local outdoorsman and mentor, Dallas Kloke, began publishing a series of guides documenting a growing number of routes up the mountain in his backyard. Deciding to develop Erie’s route potential, in 2005, after five years of fieldwork and writing, Kloke published his exhaustive records on Mt. Erie climbs, Rockin’ on the Rock, a Guide to Mt. Erie Climbing.
In 2013, following Kloke’s untimely death—and with permission of his wife Carolyn and family—Jim Thompson and Aaron Bryant documented subsequent routes mapped by Kloke and others since the 2005 book’s publication. Their comprehensive and readable updated second edition features over 400 routes, color topos, contour maps, and abundant photographs. The book is available at Lake Erie Grocery (360-293-2772), a great spot also to pick up some beef jerky, soda, or beer after your day on The Rock.
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Some of Anacortes’ most valuable treasures aren’t found on Commercial Avenue or in the Anacortes Museum. Rather, look to the island’s perimeter to discover natural wonders hiding under rocks, buried in sand, and clinging to kelp in fascinating yet fragile ecosystems called tide pools. It’s here you’ll find essential links in the interdependent food web on which all life depends—including our own.
Tide pools are found along rocky shores where, when the tide goes out, pools of saltwater are left in depressions in the sand and rocks. The best Anacortes tide pools are at Sunset and West beaches in Washington Park, on Oakes Ave., just beyond the ferry landing, and at the southern end of Rosario Beach in Deception Pass Park (Discover Pass required). In town, look for marine life clinging to dock pilings and rocks at city waterfront parks, marinas, and along the Tommy Thompson Trail.
To identify tide pool life, it helps to know the tide pool ecosystem has five different zones, and that individual plants, animals, and microorganisms have adapted to survive within the conditions in particular zones: wet-dry, dark-light, warm-cold, more or less saline (salty), whether favorable to reproduction, and degree of safety from predators. So, while intertidal creatures have adapted to many conditions, they haven’t adapted to human impacts. Being a good tide-pool explorer means following good beach etiquette:
- At Rosario Beach, stay on the designated trail marked by secured ropes. (This once stellar ecosystem is only now recovering from being destroyed in 1995 when the footsteps, curiosity, and thoughtless actions of some 1,200 students and individuals trampled the tide pool on a day with an exceptionally low tide.) Elsewhere, walk only on large, bare rocks—many creatures use rocks for cover and can be crushed.
- Do not pick up or remove anything from a tide pool and return any disturbed or lifted rocks to their original position.
- Avoid stepping on seaweed and plants.
- Don’t collect, disturb, or destroy tide pool organism; it’s not only poor etiquette, but it’s also against the law.
The San Juan Islands and surrounding areas boast some of the most abundant wildlife viewing and scenic vistas in Washington State. Sea kayaking on our calm and protected waters is one of the most popular ways for visitors to experience the San Juan Islands and is an activity that should not be missed. Whether you are just visiting Washington for a few days, or are fortunate enough to live here, you should not let this opportunity pass you by.
Anacortes Kayak Tours offers the widest selection of day trips and multi-day excursions of any outfitter in the San Juan Islands. Regularly scheduled day trips depart from conveniently located kayak docks in Anacortes, and also from the popular west side of San Juan Island. You can choose from a variety of multi-day excursions departing from Anacortes, Orcas Island, and San Juan Island. Repeatedly selected as ”The Best Eco-Adventure in Washington State”, Anacortes Kayak Tours prides themselves on offering fun and engaging trips supported by fantastic customer service.
Boating & Fishing
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,” says Captain Brett Rosson. Rosson, of Highliner Charters, is one of a handful of Anacortes charter fishermen who will tell you that some of the best fishing happens during the winter months and that some of the best fishing in the Pacific Northwest is just off the shores of Fidalgo Island. “A lot of people are surprised to learn we offer year-round fishing,” Rosson says. “Truth is, a good winter day can be clear and calm. And on a good day in January or February, our boat will bring home up to four Blackmouths (juvenile King salmon), in the 7- to 12-pound range.”
Jolly Mon Charters, R&R charters and Catch More Charters are available at the local marinas on the Island. Once aboard the boat, you’re just a short distance to Rosario Strait and the San Juan Islands. Clients are asked to show up at the marina with food, drink—and warm clothing, including rain gear and soft-soled shoes. Forgot some gear? Need a meal for the boat? No worries! It’s available for purchase in Anacortes. Don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen—even in winter. The rest – boat, tackle, equipment, and any needed expertise – come with the charter package.
A single-day fishing license for ($10.50) is required for every onboard passenger age 15 or older; state fishing licenses, good for the year, can be purchased at Ace Hardware in Anacortes.
Fish or no, winter charters include memorable water and island vistas and wildlife sightings: seals, sea lions, harbor porpoises, bald eagles and other raptors, and a huge variety of sea birds are common. Bringing along your camera, binoculars, and a good bird ID book can add greatly to time on the water—and stories to tell at the end of the day.
Take a Flight
Take to the sky with San Juan Airlines. SJA offers scenic flight tours all year long to the San Juan Islands, Mount Baker and Beyond!
Get your camera out and be ready to take memorable pictures! Islands, mountains, and possibly an Orca Whale are just a few of the things you will see on our most popular scenic flight tour destination – the San Juan Islands! An ideal way to show those out of town guests the beauty of the San Juan Islands or a gift for a special occasion. They can easily accommodate singles, couples, or large groups. 30 minutes, one hour, or longer flight-seeing tours are available. You decide how much time you want to take seeing what you want to see! For just $79.00 per person, you can experience a ½ hour scenic flight-seeing tour of the beautiful San Juan Islands. And because these are on a charter basis, they go when it fits your schedule. Contact them online or call (800) 874-4434.