September 10, 2015
By J.K. Fox
Photo at right: The view south from Mount Erie near Anacortes. Photo by Carolyn Price
Once framed as the “gateway to the San Juan Islands,” Anacortes is frequently an overlooked town. In fact, many people with their eyes glued to the horizon or to the ferry app on their phone miss the fact that Anacortes occupies its own island: Fidalgo.
Since the approach to Fidalgo Island is a bridge and not an iconic green and white ferry, it lacks the glamour held by San Juan or Orcas islands. But don’t be fooled, in the grand vacation equation of price + travel time + recreational accessibility Anacortes, about an hour and a half drive north of Seattle, offers plenty of bang for your buck.
Although the approach to Anacortes skirts past the Skagit Flats, there are plenty of steeper landscapes nearby. The most challenging of these is Mount Erie, a landmark of cedar green that rises 1,300 feet above its surroundings.
Located a 15-minute drive south of Anacortes, the mountain offers options for both the athlete and the car-bound. There are numerous hiking trails that lead to the summit, or you can drive to the top, affording everyone the opportunity to enjoy the panoramic views.
Mount Erie is contained within the Anacortes Community Forest Lands, a 2,800-acre reserve that offers up to 50 miles of trails, some of which are accessible to horses and mountain bikes.
This area is also home to Sugarloaf, a popular 2.5-mile roundtrip trek though deep forests to a 1,275-foot summit. From Sugarloaf, the more intrepid hiker can continue hiking to Mount Erie.
Detailed maps with specified trail uses are available at Anacortes City Hall, the Visitor’s Information Center and various stores in town.
For those wanting to stick around and enjoy another day in the area, Washington Park on the western outskirts of town offers both camping and a day beach. This 220-acre Anacortes City Park serves up territorial views of the Guemes Channel and Burrows Bay, a 2.3-mile scenic driving loop and features the park’s famous leaning tree—one of Washington state’s most photographed trees.
Although you don’t have to ride a ferry to get to Anacortes, there is every reason to enjoy the Salish Sea once you are there. Local waters are famed for their nature watching and recreation opportunities where a huge variety of Maritime wildlife abound, from seals to Orca whales to star fish. There are myriad whale watching companies that operate out of Anacortes that explore the San Juan Islands, Canada’s Gulf Islands and Deception Pass.
Alternatively, you can rent a kayak and explore the waterways yourself or in a tour environment. Crabbing, fishing and boating are also favorite pastimes.
For a special treat, take the five-minute ferry trip to Guemes Island from the Anacortes Ferry Terminal (between I Avenue from 6th Street) in Old Town. Passengers can walk on for only $3.50 each; children under 5 are free. There is also room for bicyclists and motorized vehicles.
Once there, take a short walk up the beach to Anderson’s General Store and Channelside Café where you can enjoy ice cream, pizza, burgers and microbrews.
If you have time for an overnight stay, visit the Guemes Island Resort, a family-oriented and dog-friendly establishment since the 1940s. The Resort offers yurts, large houses for family reunions, deluxe and rustic beach-front cabins.
Skagit County is made for day touring, especially for those biking with a family. The area has plenty of easy terrain and a sprinkling of attractive towns that offer local restaurants and cafés for those much needed hunger breaks. In the spring consider cycling out to the Skagit Flats to enjoy the annual Tulip Festival. In summer, take the slightly more challenging — but well worth the views — ride to majestic Deception Pass State Park on Whidbey Island.
For those without a bicycle, there are rentals available on Commercial Avenue along the town’s main drag.
The Anacortes Chamber of Commerce: www.anacortes.org
The Washington Trail Association: www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/mount-erie
For a more detailed account of hiking Mount Erie, read Craig Romano’s story archived here: www.outdoorsnw.com/2013/nw-trails-mt-erie
J. K. Fox is a teacher, writer and outdoor enthusiast. She lives on San Juan Island and loves writing about everything Northwest.