February 15, 2017
Explore Hood Canal’s hidden hiking haven
Story and photos by Craig Romano
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Located a mere 15 miles from the bustling retail centers of Silverdale and the busy shipyards of Bremerton, Guillemot Cove is one of the quietest and prettiest spots on Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula.
This Kitsap County nature preserve protects almost 200 acres of stunning shoreline and stately forest on Hood Canal. You can easily spend all day exploring the preserve, including a leisurely hike on its more than four miles of good interconnecting trails.
A former private estate south of Seabeck, Guillemot Cove is now one of Kitsap County’s most prized parks. Managed as a nature preserve, trails are hiker-only and children will especially love the diversity and surprises this property has to offer.
There are groves of monstrous big leaf maples. Pacific rhododendrons are prolific within the preserve. Come in May to delight in their showy pink and white blossoms brightening the surrounding emerald landscape.
Guillemot’s most coveted attractions are the old cedar stump house and scenic beach. The stump house served as a domicile to an outlaw during the Depression. The old house is still in remarkably good shape and children will absolutely love its gnome-like setting.
The beach is located on secluded Guillemot Cove and is littered with oyster shells. It teems with seabirds too, including its namesake. And what is a guillemot, you ask? It is a pigeon-sized, penguin-like seabird that lives in colonies and nests in coastal bluffs. Look for them while admiring the breathtaking view of The Brothers looming above Hood Canal.
To start exploring this park, cross the road and begin on the main access trail. This starts off as the Sawmill Trail and eventually becomes the Margaret Trail, dropping 350 feet to the cove. Beneath a canopy shaded by tall second-growth firs, the trail cuts through hedgerows of thick evergreen huckleberry bushes.
Rhododendrons and the occasional madrone line the way, too. Be sure to bear right at two junctions where side trails lead short distances to the gated access road, which is an alternative route for the return hike.
Washington’s Grand Fjord
After a mile and a short, steep descent, you’ll enter a cool ravine shaded by cedars, hemlocks and the occasional Pacific yew. Then pass a decaying residence and emerge in the heart of the old estate at a barn set in a placid pasture. Here, find an information kiosk where a handful of trails spoke-out through the park.
If you’re out just for a short hike, you’ll want to head to the beach.
Cross the Boyce Creek Bridge and follow the Beach House Trail a third of a mile to an old beach house overlooking Guillemot Cove. The Brothers, perhaps the most identifiable of all Olympic peaks, tower directly across and above Hood Canal. A mile across and 500 feet deep, Hood Canal is Washington’s grand fjord.
At low tide, nearby Boyce Creek slithers across a muddy oyster bar. Scores of shorebirds scamper for succulent oyster shooters. Bald eagles perch on tall firs on the water’s edge. Feel free to explore the rocky and mucky beach, but be mindful of delicate critters exposed to your crushing feet at low tide.
If you want to explore more shoreline when the tide is low you can continue south for a couple of miles. This shoreline is part of the Washington Department of
Natural Resources (DNR) Stavis Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA), which protects more than 5,200 acres of important habitat including some of the oldest forests remaining on the Kitsap Peninsula.
After exploring the beach, either head back to the trailhead or consider sampling some of the other wonderful trails within the park. All of these trails leave from the Beach House Trail or from the kiosk in the pasture.
If you want a little workout, take the half-mile Ridge Trail loop. It climbs 200 feet up a small ridge along the boundary with the Stavis NRCA. It then steeply descends, passing by some impressive trees along the way.
The Stump House Trail is an absolute must for your first-time visit — especially if you have young hikers in tow. Follow this easy quarter-mile path across pasture to the old cedar stump house at forest’s edge.
The Big Maple Trail takes off from the barn and follows alongside Boyce Creek upstream. This lightly traveled trail passes a gigantic big leaf maple before ending along the creek in 0.4 mile. You can return via the short River Trail Loop for some variation.
Here, off the River Trail Loop, find the park’s newest and least visited trail, the Plateau Trail. It makes a short climb of 100 feet or so before looping through second-growth timber. It’ll add 0.4 mile to your hiking tally. This trail is made for easy ambling, however, the 350-foot climb back to the trailhead never gets easier.
Getting You on Your Way
Distance: 4 miles of trails with elevation gains up to 350 feet
Trailhead Directions: From State Route 3 in Silverdale, follow Newberry Hill Road west for 3 miles, turning right onto the Seabeck Highway. Continue for 5 miles, turning right onto Miami Beach Road. Then after 0.9 mile, bear left onto Stavis Bay Road, following it for 4.5 miles to the Guillemot Cove Nature Preserve. Parking is on the right side of the road. Trailhead is on the left side.
Discover Pass required.
Notes: Dogs prohibited. Map available online from Kitsap County Parks.
Contacts: Kitsap County Parks: www.kitsapgov.com/parks
Craig Romano is the NW Trails editor of Outdoors NW and is the author and co-author of 17 Northwest hiking guidebooks including the brand new Urban Trails Kitsap (The Mountaineers Books), which includes detailed information on this hike and many more on Kitsap Peninsula, Key Peninsula and Bainbridge Island. Visit him at www.craigromano.com.