Take an easy hike to a beaver pond teeming with wildlife, then kick back with a cold one at a new outpost of a favorite Seattle brewery.
Editor’s note: What goes better after a Northwest hike than a stop for a good craft beer? That’s the philosophy behind this series, “A Hike and a Happy Hour.” While not every brew stop may host an official Happy Hour, they will always be places you can spend a happy hour. (Remember to designate a driver.)
THE HIKE: Cranberry Lake Trail, at Cama Beach State Park, Camano Island; with a connection, if desired, via the Cross Island Trail to Camano Island State Park’s saltwater-view trails.
Here’s an easy, 2-mile round-trip walk through a chlorophyll-packed forest with dainty wildflowers at your feet, to a wildlife oasis where beavers have dammed a small stream to create a lake teeming with lily pads, cattails and birds of many species. The beach is the big draw at these island parks, meaning this delightful lake hike doesn’t get the crowds.
Looking for more exercise? Add 3 to 4 miles to your day. Leave the car where you parked and follow the Cross Island Trail for 0.9 mile as it nips in and out of forest, often following a rural road’s shoulder (but with nice peeks of Olympic peaks and nearby Saratoga Passage saltwater) to Camano Island State Park. There, a bluffside trail offers a lovely walk with views aplenty, ending at a sand-pebble beach looking across to Whidbey Island.
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THE FACILITIES: Parking for scores of cars in Cama Beach State Park lots within walking distance of trailhead (or take park shuttle). Restrooms at park Welcome Center (where you can also pick up trail maps of both parks) and the drop-off shelter. Cama Beach Cafe is a short walk from the trailhead.
THE ROUTE: From the park’s drop-off shelter or the adjacent Alder parking lot (Lot A), walk along the road toward the beach and look for the second trail leading off to the left. It’s labeled as the Beach Trail, with signs pointing toward the Cross Island Trail and Cranberry Lake Trailhead. (Do not turn onto the first path, the Old Entrance Trail.)
At first you’ll walk through second-growth forest of maple, fir and hemlock on a narrow dirt road lined by snowberry, sword fern, salmonberry, wild currant and a few nettles. It’s easy and flat. When I visited, sun filtering through the canopy dappled the landscape, and bird calls echoed like a BirdNote radio program run amok.
It’s about a quarter-mile to a crossing of two-lane West Camano Drive. About 500 feet further you’ll come to an information kiosk. Just beyond, leave the dirt road and follow a signed trail to the right, for Cranberry Lake.
Here’s where to start counting species of woodland wildflowers lining the dirt-and-gravel path leading 0.7-miles to the lake. Late spring is time for the white bells of salal, intermingled with uncurling fronds of new ferns, and one of my favorites: tiny starflowers, with their single pinkish-white, seven-pointed star shining from a cluster of deep green leaves.
The woods thin to a mix of alder interspersed with big Douglas firs and red huckleberry. Bring bug juice; a boardwalk crosses a marshy area as you near the lake.
The irresistibly cheerful “conk-la-reeee” call of red-winged blackbirds announced my approach to the shore. The trail threads between the trunks of two giant Doug firs to dead-end at the lake, which was alive with mallard ducklings “running” across the top of the water, dodging yellow waterlilies.
Cattails and lily pads cover about three-quarters of the lake, which is several acres in size. In the middle, snags of dead trees provide landing perches for flitting swallows and songbirds, including a sunny pair of goldfinches as I watched. Metallic-blue dragonflies cavorted above the pondweed at lake’s edge, zooming in and out of sight like glimpses of neon seen from a speeding car.
Follow a narrower path to explore further up the lake and you’ll find downed trees along the shore with gnaw marks testifying to the presence of beavers, though their lodge is out of sight beyond the cattails.
Tip: Go early for the best show. By early afternoon, warm sun prompted siesta time for wildlife, and the lake got markedly quieter.
Bonus hike: On your return, cross the road and immediately turn left (south) to follow the Cross Island Trail to Camano Island State Park.
Once you reach the park, a maze of well-signed trails gives many options. From roadside at the hairpin turn leading down to North Beach, I couldn’t resist heading south on the bluffside Loop Trail (keep hold of kids; it’s a long way down). It offers smashing views of water and mountains as it meanders 0.9 mile — including a series of stairs — to emerge at the edge of Saratoga Passage.
My favorite stop was a bench (“In memory of Chris Coates”) situated among big, snaggy firs and cliff-hugging madronas that offered eagle-eye views of sleek motor yachts parading northward on the way to Deception Pass or La Conner. I paused for a snack and read from the latest Bill Bryson travel book. To use Bryson’s favorite word of praise, it was splendid (thank you, Chris).
RESTRICTIONS: Dogs on leash. Discover Pass required for parking. Cama Beach lots can fill on summer weekends; go early.
OTHER DIVERSIONS: Boat rental through The Center for Wooden Boats‘ Cama Beach Livery.
'A Hike and a Happy Hour': Find more
DIRECTIONS: Take Exit 212 from Interstate 5 and go west on Highway 532 through Stanwood and onto Camano Island. Follow brown signs to Cama Beach State Park, 1880 W. Camano Drive. More info: parks.state.wa.us/483/Cama-Beach.
On the way home
Grab a beer and a burger
WHAT: Naked City Brewery, based in Seattle’s Greenwood district, has stepped out to exurbia with its first expansion, a new taproom and eatery that opened on Camano Island in late April.
WHERE: Terry’s Corner (848 N. Sunrise Blvd.). It’s right next to the island library; you can toast library patrons from the patio.
WHY: Because Seattle is a pretty darned saturated and competitive beer market, says Melissa Snyder, one of the Camano managers, and “why not get out to a market where there’s not so much competition and maybe people don’t know us — but some of them do!”
After a day of hiking the island’s parks, this is a convenient on-the-way-home stop for a late lunch or early dinner (with Happy Hour weekdays from 3-6 p.m.; $1 off most drinks).
Along with Naked City’s long list of classic, sometimes punnily named ales (e.g. The Spy Who Came In for a Kölsch), there’s the new, light and refreshing-after-a-hike Easy Island Blonde Ale, specially for Camano.
It’s so popular they ran out, so I tried a seasonal special, the Beer Garden Summer Mosaic IPA, opaquely the color of apple cider crossed with Fanta orange, and emitting a lovely floral hoppiness. I enjoyed it at a patio picnic table along with a vegan Beet Burger ($12) and fries (peel-laden, crispy and luscious). There’s a full menu, with a selection of kid meals.
The Naked City beer all comes from Greenwood. They don’t make it on Camano, and so far don’t plan to; island water-use restrictions have something to do with that.
WHEN: Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Minors welcome.
MORE INFO: drink.nakedcity.beer