Monday, May 18, 2015

A Guemes Island Adventure

Hiking to the summit of Guemes Mountain is another great dog-friendly four season hike in the Pacific Northwest.  As an added benefit, this adventure includes a short ferry ride from Anacortes to Guemes Island.  It seems like even a short ferry ride gives an island and its residents that relaxed, friendly, island vibe.

Where is Guemes Island?

Guemes Island is about 80 miles north of Seattle, WA

How Do You Get to Guemes Island?

Guemes Island Ferry Dock - Anacortes, WA
Guemes Island Ferry Dock - Anacortes, WA

The Guemes Island Ferry

The only are only two ways to get to Guemes Island - by air or sea. If you don't have a plane, helicopter or your own boat to cross the channel, Skagit County operates a ferry between Anacortes and the island. The ferry can hold 10-20 vehicles, but a less expensive and fun option (in my opinion) is to board the ferry with your dog as walk-on passengers.  There is a handy free parking lot near the ferry dock where you can leave your car. 

Anacortes to Guemes Island Ferry Parking Lot, Anacortes, WA
Taking Your Dog on the Skagit County Ferry System
The Guemes Island Ferry is part of the Skagit County Ferry System, which is dog-friendly if you don't mind making the short crossing outside.  There is a small passenger area inside, but dogs must stay outside.

The Guemes Island Ferry Pilot House

 We checked the Guemes Island Ferry Schedule to plan our trip and arrived about 20 minutes before the ferry departure time, with plenty of time to park, walk to the terminal, purchase our ticket and board the ferry.  Human foot passengers must pay to use the ferry, but dogs ride free!
Boarding the Guemes Island Ferry
Photo by Kathy Lossaco - used with permission
After a quick ten minute trip across the channel, the ferry arrives at the dock on Guemes Island.
Approaching the Guemes Island Ferry Dock - Guemes Island, WA
As we disembark the ferry our first glimpse of the island is the historic Guemes Island General Store.  We decided to walk directly to the trail head and postpone checking out the store until we return to the ferry dock for the return trip to Anacortes. The General Store loans bicycles for those who would prefer to ride a bike to the trail head. 

Guemes Island General Store
The Guemes Island General Store

We started our hike to the Guemes Mountain Trail by turning right from the ferry dock and walking approximately 2 miles along South Shore Road to the trail head. 

A Map of Guemes Island

Guemes Island Map
A sign with a map of Guemes Island at the ferry dock
Although this was on a weekend day, the traffic was sparse, perhaps only 3 or 4 cars passed by us on the road. For the majority of the distance the road follows the shoreline of the island with lots of opportunities to enjoy views of the water and spot seabirds and other wildlife. 
The author and her dogs - Guemes Island, WA
South Shore Road, Guemes Island, WA

 Guemes Island is one of the San Juan Islands and like the other islands in the archipelago, it has a colorful history. This Isle of Guemes by Helen Troy Elmore was published in 2011 and recounts the colorful history of Guemes Island. Interestingly it was also at one time called "Dog Island" and not in a good way. The Samish tribe at one time raised dogs on the island for their fur. Fortunately today Guemes Island is dog-friendly in a good way.

Guemes Mountain Trailhead
 The Guemes Mountain Trail head is unmarked from the road.  Look for a bike rack and a wide spot on the shoulder of the road where there may be a car or two parked.

Guemes Mountain Trail Map

A short distance from the trail head is the first of many informational sign boards with a map of the trail. From the trail head to the summit of Guemes Mtn is a little over a mile with an elevation gain of approximately 500 feet. Roundtrip it is 2.3 miles with a 550 foot elevation gain

Border collies hitting the trail

The beginning of the trail up Guemes Mountain is through a forest of tall trees with ferns and other typical Pacific Northwest forest under story. The beginning of the trail is nicely graveled, but isn't wide enough for Tim, Hank and I to walk side by side, so I made use of a little dog power to help pull me up the incline.

An opening in the forest along the Guemes Mountain Trail
Hiking with my dogs still leading the way, after a mile through the forest, the trees thin out as we get closer to the summit of Guemes Mountain. In early spring there were some muddy spots on the trail that were a little slippery.

Bald Eagle in a Tree - Guemes Island, WA
Guemes Island is a great place to see bald eagles. This is one perched in a tree was the first of many we saw on our hike.

Sign About the Creation of the Guemes Mt Trail
The Story of the Guemes Mountain Trail

One of the interpretive signs along the Guemes Mountain Trail tells the story of how several groups worked together to provide this wonderful place for everyone to enjoy. The mountain was preserved for public use by the efforts of the Skagit Land Trust, San Juan Land Trust and the residents of Guemes Island. The construction of the trail was done by volunteers coordinated by the Washington Trails Association.

The Summit of Guemes Mountain

Tim and Hank posed (reluctantly) for a photo from the summit.  On the day of our hike it was cloudy, but even with the low cloud ceiling there were amazing views in every direction.

A 360 degree view from the top of Guemes Mountain
The View from Guemes Mountain on a Clear Day

To see more of the island, instead of retracing our route along South Shore Road to return to the ferry dock we made it a loop hike by walking along Edens Road. Although there aren't sidewalks or much shoulder along the edge of the road, I think a total of about four cars went by in either direction and as I recall every driver either slowed down and waved or stopped to talk with us. Ahhh, the pleasures of the relaxed pace of island life and friendly people!

Pastoral Scenes of Guemes Island

Farm and Barn on Guemes Island, WA

Guemes Island Fields and Cows

Edens Road - Guemes Island, WA

Anderson's General Store

Anderson's General Store - Guemes Island, WA
Anderson's Guemes Island General Store was established in 1877 and, as the name suggests, is a store where you can buy just about anything you might need.  It is a gas station, restaurant and gathering place for both island residents and visitors where wine tastings, concerts and other events are held.  There is even a designated place that serves as a hitching post for your dog while you go inside to shop or eat.  I love their motto:  "If we don't have it, we'll explain how you can get along without it"

The Ferry at the Guemes Island Dock

Guemes Island Ferry at the Guemes Island Dock
Guemes Island Ferry at the Guemes Island Dock

The ferry arrives back at the dock and it is time to board and end our Guemes Island adventure.

Helpful Information for Planning a Hike to Guemes Mountain - Links to Websites About Guemes Island

Dog Friendly Hotels on Guemes Island

If Guemes Island looks like the kind of dog friendly destination where you would like to sit, stay, relax and explore for more than a day, there are rustic dog friendly overnight accommodations available at the Guemes Island Resort.

Helpful Links for Planning a Trip to Guemes Island

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