Where in Washington State waters can you hike 600 feet up to the top of an island and be rewarded with a 360-degree view? Cypress Island is a popular spot for anchoring and tying off to a DNR buoy, but the trails are seldom used. While the bays of Cypress Island are active with boaters that come to stay and play, you won’t see many folks on the extensive trail system of Cypress.
A few hearty boaters have discovered that Eagle Harbor is a convenient base from which to hike the 25 miles of trails that lead both south and north of the harbor. The trails leading south to the old airport, along with its spur trails, are quite steep. From Eagle Harbor, take the Duck Lake Loop Trail north where it joins the Pelican Beach Trial; both the east loop and the west loop of the Duck Lake Trail have a gentle, consistent rise. To reach Eagle Cliff Trail, follow the Pelican Beach Trail as it gently meanders north – that is until you take the trail that branches to Eagle Cliff. We soon realized that a name with the word “cliff” in it should have been our clue that we would be going up. Nevertheless, the easy to follow trail with several switchbacks is doable for anyone in reasonable condition and is a treasure not to be missed.
The hike takes you through second-growth timber along ridge tops, overlooking valleys carved out by glaciers. As you near the top, large granite faces and smooth, scared rock show the path the glaciers took thousands of years ago. Stepping out of a clearing of trees, we found stupendous views of Rosario Strait, with Blakely, James, and Decatur Islands in the distance. But we hadn’t yet reached the top. The path continues along a narrow ledge then up a short flight of wooden stairs that look rather precarious. After reaching the very top, we were awestruck. The views are breathtaking no matter which way you look; we felt like we were on top of the world. And yes, there is a cliff; it’s straight down from the two little scrub trees on the west face. We could see for miles and could identify all the familiar waterways around Rosario Strait near Orcas and Obstruction Islands, including Peavine Pass and Obstruction Pass. We could even make out the ferry at the northern end of Lopez Island. Looking to the northeast, we could see Bellingham and the islands of Lummi and Sinclair. Boats traversing below appeared like miniatures in an ocean of blue. It’s a special place to sit down and spend some time marveling over the stupendous views and the world of boating that’s available in the Pacific Northwest. Bring a baguette, your favorite cheese, and a beverage to relax and soak in the awe-inspiring vistas. While taking in the incredible views, we nearly missed seeing the three survey markers in the rock, no doubt used for conducting surveys of the area.
Duck Lake, with its cabin ruins, can be reached by walking the loop trail, which can be accessed by hiking either direction from Eagle Harbor, but we think the hike to Eagle Cliff is the highlight of Cypress Island. The trail to Eagle Cliff is open after July 15th so it’s an ideal outing for late summer or early fall. The spur trail to Eagle Cliff is closed February 1 through July 15th to protect critical habitat. We assume this means nesting Eagles. The only wildlife we have seen on the island are birds, eagles, and numerous slugs. Most of us don’t think of slugs as wildlife; but when you see their number and size, you might change your mind. Watch your step and don’t forget to wear good hiking shoes.