Hollows formed by retreating ice-age glaciers form the unique landscapes around Whidbey Island's Kettles Trail System, for bikers and hikers.

Walk site: Fort Ebey State Park/Kettles Trail System

Location: North and west of Coupeville, Whidbey Island

Length: More than 30 miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails

Level of difficulty: Level to moderate climbs; trails have good drainage.

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Setting: Central Whidbey Island features some unusual rugged topography left by the retreating Vashon Glacier at the end of the last ice age. Large chunks of ice broke off the melting glacier, becoming buried in rocky debris also dumped by the glacier. When the ice melted, it left deep hollows called kettles pockmarking the land. Today, the kettles are largely hidden by the area’s second-growth forests. The western part of the kettle area lies in Fort Ebey State Park, while the eastern part occupies 243 acres of county property; both areas have extensive trail systems through the kettles that connect.

Pick up the kettle-trails map outside the park-entrance gate or print out the Kettles Trail System map from the Island County Web site (listed below).

The interior part of the state park is laced with short, hilly trails among the kettles. Freshwater Lake Pondilla, just north of the picnic area, is a water-filled kettle. A good hiker’s loop (no bikes allowed) includes Kyle’s Kettle Trail, which switchbacks down into a deep kettle in a pretty forest with wild rhododendrons.

The county’s main Kettles Trail runs from Coupeville to the state park (the paved section runs from Highway 20 and Main Street for two miles along the south side of Highway 20, then cuts west to join the state park’s trails). A tangle of additional trails cluster in Kettles Park north of the Kettles Trail.

Highlights: While this area’s focus is its unusual kettles, don’t miss the three miles of saltwater shoreline at Fort Ebey State Park, with stunning views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Olympic Mountains. Fort Ebey was a coastal defense fort built to defend the West Coast during World War II.

Facilities: Restrooms and water at the state park.

Restrictions: Leash and scoop laws in effect. No bikes allowed in the park on Kyle’s Kettle Trail.

Directions: From Highway 20 north of Coupeville, go west on Libbey Road. In just under a mile, turn left on Hill Valley Drive and after another half mile, turn right at the park, pass through the park entrance, turn right, and drive a half-mile to the picnic area near the beach to park. To park near the eastern part of the kettle trails, look for small pullouts at gates on the west side of Highway 20 north of Coupeville.

For more information: 360-678-4636 (state park) or 360-678-7965 (Island County). See www.islandcounty.net/publicworks/trailsmain.htm (with trail map) or www.parks.wa.gov.

Renton-based freelancer Cathy McDonald, a former geologist, has written about science and nature travel for 20 years. She’s currently a travel guidebook editor at Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door. Contact her: nwwriter@hotmail.com