Accessible only by boat, the island has a rich history and can be a great vacation choice, even for locals.
When Seattleites think about convenient tourist destinations, places like Hawaii and Whistler come to mind. But if you don’t have time to plan a full-fledged vacation, or you’re looking for a last-minute option, you don’t need to look any further than your own backyard (literally).
Blake Island, which is located just 15 miles away from Seattle and is accessible only by boat, offers a relaxing reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city — and it’s an excellent opportunity to learn about Northwest Native American culture.
The Argosy Cruises Tillicum Excursion, which departs from Pier 54 on the Seattle waterfront, offers an easy way to get to the island and a knowledgeable staff who are experts in the island’s rich history. Before Seattle was founded in 1851, Blake Island served as the ancestral camping ground of the Suquamish tribe. In fact, legend has it that Chief Sealth (Seattle’s namesake) was born on the island in the 1780s.
Upon arrival on Blake Island, guests are ushered into the island’s Longhouse to enjoy a traditional Northwest fire-roasted fish meal. “Walking in and seeing the salmon fillets around the fire pits was stunning and it also just felt true to the message that they’re trying to put out, which is ‘we want to honor the traditions and the culture of the native people,’ ” says Mikaela Trott of Seattle.
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“The food is a great representation of the resources we have in Washington,” Barb Skyles of Yakima Valley adds — a reminder that Blake Island’s history and culture helped shape the state and city we call home.
The island’s history is also honored through a storytelling performance, which features traditional dances and attire. Skyles describes it as simultaneously “traditional and exciting,” adding that it’s accessible to people of all ages.
After being fed and entertained, visitors explore the 1,130-acre island on their own. For people who can’t get enough of Blake Island’s history and culture, taking in the artwork and the totem area is a popular choice. Trott chose to spend her afternoon doing just that, and she spent a good deal of time speaking with Argosy’s staff who she said answered all her questions about the Northwest Native Americans’ history and culture.
Others opted to head for the forest and the eight miles of hiking trails on the island. Even if you don’t have time for a long hike, these sunny and clear summer days are the perfect time to stroll the five miles of beach shoreline and take in the beautiful views of Seattle. (If there was ever a time to get the perfect Instagram shot of Seattle’s skyline and the Olympic Mountains, it’s from the beach of Blake Island.)
But, there was a time when this beautiful place definitely wasn’t in the shape to serve as a tourist destination. After the Suquamish tribe was driven out, the entire island was logged and sold to William Trimble, a Seattle millionaire who built his family’s lavish estate on Blake Island in 1918. But Trimble’s luck ran out in 1929 when the Great Depression hit. He lost most of his money in the stock market crash and his wife drowned in Elliott Bay. Legend has it that Trimble never returned to Blake Island after his wife’s death.
The Trimble Mansion became dilapidated and was destroyed by a fire in the late 1940s, and the circumstances were considered suspicious, with some speculating that it had been set by displaced members of the Suquamish tribe and others surmising that it was set by the Navy who hoped to make Blake Island a military base. It wasn’t until six decades later that the likely culprit came forward — a man named Don Winslow, who said that he and his friend accidentally set the mansion ablaze as teenagers when they were trying to keep warm after a boating adventure went awry.
Blake Island has been a state park since 1959 when it was set aside as such by the Washington State Board of Natural Resources. Shortly thereafter, it was decided that the park would honor the island’s rightful original owners: The Northwest Native Americans. Today it successfully does just that through its food, art and visual storytelling.
Enjoy Argosy Cruises Tillicum Excursion to nearby Blake Island State Park to explore the 475-acre island. Eat a Northwest flavors-inspired meal and experience a Northwest Native American storytelling show. Plus the peek-a-boo views of Seattle and Mount Rainier are spectacular!