Dugualla State Park is a little-known gem with wetlands, forest and a saltwater beach on the east shore of Whidbey Island.
Location: Dugualla State Park, Whidbey Island
Length of walk: Several miles of trails; trail to beach is about three miles round trip.
Level of difficulty: Gentle to moderate grass and dirt/gravel trails
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Setting: You win the Savvy Explorer award if you’ve already discovered this little-known gem of a state park on Whidbey Island. Look for the kiosk on the right after a short walk up the grassy trail to see a map of the trails (there are markers at trail junctions, or print a map from the website listed below). The park trails pass near wetlands and ramble along forested loops; this walk describes the route to the beach.
After climbing gently about a half-mile through an open forest, you’ll come to the first trail junction; to head for the beach, keep right at this junction, then pretty much keep straight to stay on the Beach Trail (check your bearings at the markers). You’ll enter a denser, older forest with some good-sized firs and begin to descend. A giant Douglas fir (marked Big Tree on the map) looms on the left next to the trail. After the huge tree, the trail descends more steeply toward the beach (watch your footing after rains, as the trail may be slippery, and has eroded to expose some old rebar in spots). You’ll emerge onto an east-facing cobble beach with some mud flats and sandbars — try to time your visit for low tide to reach the beach at its greatest exposure to be able to walk for a bit.
Highlights: Hang out on the beach for a while on a driftwood log and watch. When the weather is good, you can look east to see the ice-cream mound that is Mount Baker and north to see Mount Erie, Fidalgo Island’s high point. On a recent visit, an eagle flew overhead with what looked like a clump of eelgrass in its beak. A steady procession of cabin cruisers and sailboats moved north and south, skirting Skagit Bay, heading to or from La Conner or Deception Pass. A kingfisher flew just offshore and dived futilely for something in the water, and a military jet screamed by, arcing to come in for a landing at the nearby Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
Restrictions: Leash and scoop laws in effect.
Directions: From Interstate 5 north of Seattle, take Exit 230 and head west on Highway 20. After 12 miles, cross the bridge to Fidalgo Island, and in a few more miles, turn left to follow Highway 20 south to Whidbey Island. Turn left (east) on Sleeper Road, go 2.5 miles to the end of the road and park (no Discover Pass needed).
For more information: 360-675-2417 (Deception Pass State Park). For a map of the trails, see www.islandcounty.net/health/wellness/resources/documents/Dugualla.pdf.
Renton-based freelancer Cathy McDonald, a former geologist, has written about science and nature travel for more than 20 years. Contact her: email@example.com.