Turtlehead — It’s one shell of a view from this Turtleback Mountain summit

Quick Facts:

Location: Orcas Island, San Juan Islands

Land Agency: San Juan County Land Bank

Roundtrip: 5.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 1295 feet

Contact: San Juan County Land Bank

Notes: Dogs permitted on leash; trail (partial) open to bikes (even days) and horses (odd days)

Access: Take Washington State Ferry from Anacortes to Orcas Island. Then head north on Orcas Road turning left onto Nordstrom Lane. Continue to Crow Valley Road and turn right. Reach trailhead after 1.6 miles.

Good to Know: snow-free winter hike, kid-friendly, dog-friendly, summer wildflowers, Practice Leave No Trace Principles, One of the 100 Washington Classic Hikes


Stand atop Turtleback Mountain’s head for one shell of a view. It’s one the finest in the San Juan Islands. Stare out across the Salish Sea to countless islands extending to British Columbia’s Gulf Islands. A great winter hike; be sure to return in the spring when brilliant wildflowers make this peak a painted turtle.

Start your hike on an old skid road that almost become a private drive to scores of showy ridge top homes. But this road to 1519-foot Turtleback Mountain and 1,578 acres surrounding it became one of the largest protected parcels in the San Juan Islands, thanks to a campaign spearheaded by the San Juan Preservation Trust, the Trust for Public Land, and the San Juan County Land Bank.  In 2007 the Turtleback Mountain Conservation Area was officially opened to the public. And thanks to the San Juan Preservation Trust it has since grown to 1,718 acres.

Follow the old road now known as the North Trail.  After some gentle climbing, come to a junction. The short spur right leads to the North Valley Overlook. Consider it for a good view of Orcas’ Mount Constitution, Entrance Mountain, and Mount Woodard.

The North Trail continues climbing, winding through mature timber. The grade eases as the trail brushes up along a grassy wetland. At 1.6 miles, come to a junction with the Turtlehead Trail and the Waldron Overlook Spur. Check out the overlook first by hiking a short distance to a cliff top promontory with a stunning view of Waldron Island’s impressive Disney Cliffs across President Channel. Keep children and dogs close by as it’s a sheer drop behind the split rail fence.

When done viewing, return to the junction and continue hiking on the Turtlehead Trail.  Opened in 2013 and built by a consortium of folks including the Washington Trails Association, Washington Conservation Corps and the Orcas Island Youth Conservation Corp; it traverses land acquired to expand the preserve to the Turtlehead (also known as Orcas Knob) with its stunning views.

Follow the well-built trail through a cedar grove gently descending to a gap. Then regain lost elevation winding around ledge and traversing attractive forest emerging on the grassy, rocky 1005-ft bald. The views from this prominent landmark are simply sublime. Stare out at San Juan, Shaw, Jones, Spieden and Stuart islands; and BC’s Salt Spring, Moresby, Sidney and Vancouver Islands too.  Savor this Salish Sea splendor!


For detailed information on this hike and 99 other outstanding hikes in the state, pick up a copy of my

100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books).


For detailed information on this hike and 135 others in the San Juan and Gulf Islands, pick up a copy of my Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands—the most comprehensive hiking guide to these islands.

Book also  contains chapters on Anacortes and Victoria, BC, too. Get your copy today!

Heart Lake– A perfect destination for a St. Valentine’s Day hike


Placid Heart Lake.

Quick Facts:

Location: Fidalgo Island

Land Agency: Anacortes Parks Department

Roundtrip: 3.0 miles

Green Trails Map: Deception Pass/Anacortes Community Forest Lands No. 41S

Elevation gain: 160 feet

Contact: City of Anacortes Parks and Recreation; Friends of the Forest  

Notes: Dogs must be leashed; some trails open to bicycles, horses.

Access: From Exit 230 on I-5 in Burlington, head west on SR 20 for 11.7 miles to junction with SR 20-Spur. Continue left on SR 20 and after 1.8 miles turn right onto Campbell Lake Road. Follow for 1.5 miles bearing right onto Heart Lake Road. Continue 2.0 miles to trailhead at boat launch on left.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow free winter hiking; exceptional old-growth



The Anacortes Community Forest Land trails are well signed.

Grandest of the bodies of water within the 2,800-acre Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL), Heart Lake has its paddling and fishing admirers. But hikers take heart for this heart-shaped lake’s finest feature isn’t its size; it’s its enveloping old-growth forest—one of the finest stands in the Puget Lowlands.

Heart-shaped and sitting in the heart of Fidalgo Island, this 60-acre lake makes for a perfect destination on St. Valentine’s Day. Hikers in love, longing for love, or lovelorn, all will love the wild nature of this hike located just minutes from bustling Anacortes. Hike through a stand of ancient Douglas-firs and western red cedars hundreds of years old and growing upwards of a hundred fifty-feet tall.


A hiker admires Heart Lake’s ancient forest.

Trails nearly encircle the quiet lake making for a nice loop. From the boat launch head north on Trail no. 210 immediately passing several large Douglas-firs and soon reaching the first of many junctions. Bear left continuing on Trail no. 210, here an old woods road. There are over 50 miles of trails within the ACFL. A good map is necessary to help navigate its maze of paths

Cross Heart’s outlet creek enjoying good views out across the lake to 1,044-foot Sugarloaf, second highest summit in the ACFL. Bear left leaving the old road but continuing on Trail no. 210 and stay left again at the next junction continuing to the lake’s marshy southwestern cove.

At just over one mile bear left again (still on Trail no. 210) traversing magnificent ancient groves of giant cedars and firs. Reach Trail no. 212, turn left and shortly afterwards come to the Heart Lake Road. Now either walk the road (use caution)  back to the trailhead or—better yet cross the road proceeding to the Sugarloaf trailhead and picking up trail no. 215. Walk a short distance and bear left onto trail no. 320 and start climbing. Bear right onto Trail no. 21; climb some more—then turn left onto Trail no. 313 and follow it downhill back to the trailhead to close the loop.

If your love for the outdoor s is still burning—consider extending your hike on any of the radiating side trails.

For more details on this hike (including maps) and many other hikes near Anacortes, pick up a copy of my new Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands book. It includes 136 hikes including a chapter on Victoria BC.Day-Hiking-San-Juan-and-Gulf-IslandsNEW

For information on other things to do and places to stay in Anacortes, consult Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15

Sugarloaf — Savor Sweet Salish Sea Views


Enjoy excellent views of the San Juan Islands from Sugarloaf.

Quick Facts:

Location: Anacortes, Fidalgo Island

Land Agency: Anacortes Community Forest Lands

Roundtrip: 2.5 miles

Elevation gain: 650 feet

Green Trails Map: Deception Pass Anacortes Community Forest Lands – 41S

Contact: Anacortes Parks and Recreation  

Notes: dogs permitted on leash; some trails open to bicycles, horses.

Access: From Exit 230 on I-5 in Burlington, head west on SR 20 for 13.5 miles. Turn right onto Campbell Lake Road. After 1.5 miles bear right onto Heart Lake Road and continue 1.5 miles turning right at a sign indicating, “Mt Erie Viewpoint.” Proceed a couple of hundred feet (do not turn right up Mount Erie Road) to trailhead.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow free winter hiking; spring wildflowers



Rare Puget Sound old-growth can be found in the Anacortes Community Forest lands.

The hike up Sugarloaf—Fidalgo Island’s second highest summit is short and sweet. And it makes for a good introductory hike to the sprawling 2,800-plus acres of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. Hike through a grove of big trees to sunny open south facing slopes  granting sweeping views of the San Juan Islands, Olympic Mountains, and nearby Fidalgo highpoint Mount Eire.

It’s easy to get lost (intentionally or unintentionally) in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands with its spaghetti heap of trails. Carry a map and pay attention to junctions—which thankfully are almost always well marked. This hike to Sugarloaf doesn’t require too many twists and turns!

Beginning on Trail no. 215, head through a swampy draw graced with a few big Doug-firs and cedars. Bear right at a junction continuing on Trail no. 215 and start climbing—steeply at times. Ferns, moss, and salal line the way. Stay right at another junction and continue climbing under a canopy of mature Douglas-firs working your way up and around a series of mossy ledges.


In spring, Sugarloaf’s open summit sprouts lots of wildflowers.

At 1.0 mile, another trail junction is encountered. Here Trail no. 215 continues straight, descending Sugarloaf’s south face and reaching the Mount Eire Road in .3 mile. Go left through a stile and follow hiker-only Trail no. 227 a short distance to another junction. Turn right here onto Trail no. 238 soon arriving on the blocky summit of 1,044-foot Sugarloaf. Pass Trail no. 228 and shortly afterward come to a spur trail branching right. Follow it to sunny ledges and some sweet viewing of Whidbey, Burrows, Allan, and Lopez Islands. The big blob in front of you is Mount Erie, highest point on Fidalgo Island. But with its summit road, a little bit busier than the peak you are enjoying. Return when you must or consider exploring many of the side trails in this great community forest.


For more information (including detailed maps) on this hike and others near Anacortes, pick up a copy of my Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands. You’ll find 136 hikes on 28 islands in this new and comprehensive guide to this fascinating region.


For more information on places to stay and other things to do on Fidalgo Island and the Skagit Valley, check out Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15.

Mount Wells– Victoria area summit gushes with flowers and views

View north of Humpback Reservoir and Mount Finlayson.

View north of Humpback Reservoir and Mount Finlayson.

Quick Facts:

Location: Victoria—Langford, BC

Land Agency: Capital Regional District Parks

Roundtrip: 2.0 miles/ 3.2 km

Elevation gain: 865 feet/ 264 m

Maps: CRDP site

Contact: Capital Regional District Parks

Notes: dogs permitted on leash; please stay on trail to protect rare plants

Access: From Victoria, follow Trans-Canada Highway 10.5 for miles (17 km) exiting onto the West Shore Parkway. In .2 mile (.3 km) turn right at a roundabout onto Amy Road.  After .5 mile (. 8km) turn left onto Sooke Lake Road. In .2 mile (.3 km) turn left onto Humpback Road and continue for .9 mile (1.4 km) to trailhead.

Good to Know: Exceptional Wildflowers, Historic Interest, Exceptional Views


One of the best wildflower hikes in the Capital Regional District, Mount Wells not only gushes with gorgeous blossoms, but with exceptional views, too!Starting from the base of the Humpback Reservoir which once supplied Victoria with its drinking water from 1915 until the 1990s,

Shooting stars

Shooting stars

start hiking. Paralleling Humpback Road and via stairs climbing across the old water pipeline. Then carefully cross the road and the pipeline once again—and begin ascending steep slopes of open Douglas fir – arbutus (madrona) forest.

At .6 mile (1 km), the way heads up very steep and rocky ledges that’ll have you using your hands. The old, worn, and striated rock may have you thinking you’re hiking in the Maritimes. Emerge onto polished open ledges lined with lodgepole pine, manzanita, Garry oaks and flowers! The blossoms are brilliant, especially in late Spring.  Camas, shooting star and elegant satinflower transform Wells into a purple mountain majesty. Look for prairie lupine—found nowhere else in Canada. And watch the skies for vultures and raptors.


The trail crosses sections of the old water line.

Railings help provide the way and protect you from cliff edges while also protecting the delicate flowers from trampling. At .8 mile/ 1.3 km crest an open with excellent views over the greater Victoria area and out to the Gulf and San Juan islands. Embrace them and then continue, dropping into a small saddle, before making the final climb to Well’s 1,155-ft (352-meter) summit.

Savor more sensational views—to the Humpback Reservoir, Mount Finlayson and Finlayson Arm north and Mount McDonald west in the closed-to-hiking Sooke Hills Wilderness Regional Park Reserve encompassing Victoria’s water supply.  And delight in the brilliant blossoms carpeting the summit.


For more information on this hike and 135 other spectacular Salish Sea hikes (including many near Victoria), consult my NEWLY RELEASED; Day Hiking The San Juan and Gulf Islands Book.Day-Hiking-San-Juan-and-Gulf-IslandsNEW

 For more information on where to play and stay in the Victoria Area, check out Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15


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