Blake, the Puget Sound island known for its salmon bakes and native dances, is also a lovely forested state park with urban skyline vistas.
BLAKE ISLAND — Here’s a question, a pop quiz really: Where’s Blake Island?
Is it nestled between Vashon and Bainbridge islands? A 45-minute boat ride from Seattle? (Yes, and yes.)
I posed this during a happy hour recently to other bar patrons — sober bar patrons — and they had never heard of Blake Island.
I bring this up because these folks, like many locals, do know Blake Island, not by name, but by the tourist attraction, Tillicum Village, anchoring this island park.
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Since 1962, thousands of spring and summer tourists have taken the cruise to Blake Island to watch tribal dances and feast on king salmon roasting over an alderwood fire. Few of them have walked off the big meal with an exploration of the island.
Even recreational boaters at this favorite weekend moorage don’t often venture into the island’s forest, preferring to frolic along the beach. Despite its proximity to Seattle, the 475-acre island park is underutilized, head ranger Paul Ruppert said.
It’s one of the most scenic parks in the Seattle region and an ancestral area of the Suquamish Tribe, whose Chief Seattle, the city’s namesake, was born here. There are views of the Olympics and the Seattle skyline. Campgrounds dot its beach and bald eagles hover above the conifer forest.
Quiet fall adventure
In the fall, you have the trails to yourself. The Tillicum Village tourist season is waning. Recreational boaters come less after Labor Day. Campers, too.
Hop on the same Argosy Cruises boat that tourists take to Tillicum Village. It’s a well-kept secret that you can pay a reduced rate to piggyback on the cruise and detour to the trails while tourists catch the show.
For a longer stay, take the early 9 a.m. vessel.
The $40 round-trip is a steep price for a day hike but a better deal if you overnight it. Lug your camping gear and mountain bike onto the vessel Saturday morning and catch the Sunday vessel back to Pier 55.
When you arrive, a few black-tailed deer may greet you like some island keepers waving from ashore. Accustomed to being fed by tourists, a few deer usually appear when the yachts and tourist boats moor.
The problem was worse in the 1990s. “It was like a petting zoo,” said Ruppert. “I’m serious. It was so bad. People would walk up to the deer and feed them.”
Kids equated it to playing with Bambi on some Disney set. Parents must have thought they were marooned on the Island of Dr. Moreau. Deer hovered around picnic tables and followed campers who were munching on chips. A few attacked tourists who tried to pet or feed them.
Twelve years ago, ranger Ruppert had to step up patrols to keep visitors away from the herd and put up more don’t-feed-the-deer signs.
Most deer flee from tourists now. On a recent visit, six deer were gathered under the alder trees when the Tillicum Village cruise docked. Tourists snapped iPhone pictures. But at least the deer don’t get handouts anymore. “They’re foraging naturally in the woods and on the beach again,” said Ruppert. “They don’t mooch off the campers and picnic tables.”
It’s an eight-mile trail system, though during low tide, you can also walk the beach perimeter (five miles). The trails either lead to the beach or into the lush forest of Douglas fir, Western red cedar and Western hemlock.
The paths are flat; the few hills aren’t steep. The main trail is a 3.5-mile loop, including a stretch of interpretive trail.
Few visitors venture off this main loop, Ruppert said. But you will be rewarded if you do.
After your boat docks, take a right, walk about a mile, veer right at the fork, and you’ll hit a sandy stretch boaters have dubbed the “Little Maui of Puget Sound.”
A few steps further along the loop veer left to the Red Trail, one of Ruppert’s favorite nature walks. It’s a flat 1.8-mile dirt trail under a canopy of big-leaf maples, far from the roar of motorboats and the Tillicum Village tourists. The only sounds I heard were the crackling of autumn leaves in my path and pileated woodpeckers above.
It’s a good place for trail running; with so little foot traffic you won’t need to break stride to go around or between hikers. You can duck in and out of trails and end up on the other end of the island, enjoying the fall colors, catching glimpses of the iconic Mount Rainier and Space Needle on a clear day. Argosy Cruises hopes to organize a race here next spring.
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle.