Eagle Harbor on Cypress Island is a great choice for a day’s cruise. Located only 8 nautical miles from Anacortes, Eagle Harbor offers anchorage and several DNR mooring buoys for boats up to 50 feet at no charge. You can spend the day relaxing aboard your vessel enjoying the fabulous views of Mt. Baker, kayak along the shore to observe Eagles above the cliffsides, or hike the many trails that make up the Natural Resource Conservation Area. A network of trails covers more than half the island, managed by the Department of Natural Resources. A trail map of the island is posted ashore, or you can reference the trail map on page 179 in the 2020 Waggoner Cruising Guide.
Cypress Island was once a center of activity, unlike the quiet, remote feeling of the island today. During the 1920’s, mining ventures yielded over 200 tons of chromite ore; and during the 1930’s, timber was cut and hauled by oxen and horses over skid roads. The toughness of the timber on the island was sought for pilings – the “Cypress piling” was resistant to worms and decay. In the 1940’s and 50’s, people came to the island to hunt deer, trap mink and otter, and fish for trout that were planted in the lakes. There was even a Boy Scout camp near Cypress Head, which unfortunately burnt down in 1955.
Several attempts were made to develop the island. The Cypress Island Development Corporation created the Madrona Estates in 1963 at Strawberry Bay, which remains the only residential cluster on the island today. Spokane industrialist, Raymond Hanson, purchased 3,150 acres in the 1980’s and proposed a public utility development for a resort and golf course. Small land owners fought the proposal and Hanson eventually sold his land to the Department of Natural Resources in 1989, which now manages 5,100 acres of forest and wetlands on the island.
Wild rhododendrons that attracted visitors in the spring can still be seen near Reed Lake along the “Old Airfield Trail.” The trail that heads south from Eagle Harbor is a steady uphill climb for hikers. This trail can also be accessed from Cypress Head, where you will find additional DNR mooring buoys; but no matter where you start your hike, trails lead upward on this steep-sided island. The former airfield sits at an elevation of 800 feet; the 2-mile hike up from Eagle Harbor took us 2 hours, and less than 1 hour to hike back down. The wide, 2,300-foot long swath of land cut through the trees is easily recognizable as a former airstrip, now covered in moss, wild strawberry plants, and young tree saplings.
The most interesting trail with the most varied landscapes, wildlife, and historic sites can be found along the “Mainline Trail” heading north from Eagle Harbor, which connects up with the Duck Lake Loop Trail and Smugglers Cove Trail. It’s just over a mile to reach Duck Lake from Eagle Harbor landing. After a hike upwards, the trail runs along a ridge that passes deep ravines and large rock outcroppings. Ferns carpet the trail beneath the open-spaced second-growth timber of cedar, fir, and juniper, but we didn’t find any cypress trees. It was Captain George Vancouver in 1792, who named the island, mistaking the island’s juniper trees for cypress trees. The island was formerly named San Vincente by Spanish explorer Jose Narvaez a year earlier. As we passed Duck Lake, birds chirped and squawked, sounding their alarm that humans were present. Evidence of beaver could be seen along the trail; a few small trees had been gnawed to a point for felling dam or beaver lodge building material.
After turning west on Smugglers Cove Trail, we came upon the ruins of a log cabin. Could this have been one of the guest cabins built in the 1920’s by Dr. Henry Parker of Arizona, who ferried 200 goats from Bellingham to the island for his 600-acre farm in 1917? Or perhaps the cabin was that of a miner, lumberjack, trapper, or simply someone living off the land. If only that cabin could talk and tell us of the past. The biggest surprise came at the end of Smugglers Cove Trail, where we found a scenic beach, with views of Rosario Strait and the towering headlands of Eagle Cliff. This area was home to Zoe Hardy, who built a cabin here in the 1930’s and farmed the valley that extended towards Duck Lake. She was known as a recluse and posted “no trespassing” signs around her property. All that remains today is a portion of her split-rail wooden fence. Around 1940, she learned she had cancer. After selling her boat, she returned to Cypress and disappeared, never to be seen again.
Cypress Island holds many secrets and untold stories. It’s a treasure of wild habitat, with intriguing hints of a colorful past. Hiking the seldom visited trails instills a sense of peace and remoteness, yet its surprisingly close to populated areas like Anacortes and other nearby communities. If you’re looking for a unique excursion close to home, put Cypress Island on the list of places to visit.