A driving tour of Camano Island: laid-back vibe, no ferry ride
Camano is one island that doesn't require a ferry ride, and a visit is full of natural and manmade wonders. Outdoors writer Mike McQuaide leads readers on a driving tour of Camano Island.
Special to The Seattle Times
If You Go
Port Susan Snow Goose and Birding Festival, Feb. 26-27, features guided walks, self-guided tours, guest speakers, an art show, pancake breakfast, kids activities and more. Locations include Iverson Spit, English Boom and Port Susan Preserve. Festival headquarters is Stanwood Area Historical Society and Pearson House Museum, 27108 102nd Ave. N.W., Stanwood. Learn more: 360-629-0562 or www.snowgoosefest.org.
Camano Studio Tour, May 6-8 (Mother's Day weekend) and 14-15. Sixty or so artists open their studios throughout the island to visitors during this popular spring event that draws some 4,000-plus art lovers to Camano. This year's event is still in the planning stages. Learn more: 425- 239-6921 or www.camanoarts.org.
Whidbey & Camano Islands Tourism: 888-747-7777 or www.whidbeycamanoislands.com.
Camano Island Chamber of Commerce: 360-629-7136 or www.camanoisland.org
CAMANO ISLAND — Here at Iverson Spit Preserve, near the northern end of the backward comma that is Camano Island, a couple of great blue herons are acting like restless teens who've downed a few too many energy drinks. One moment, they're picking their way through the shallows of Livingston Bay, eyes open for delectable munchies. Next, they're airborne, cruising at low altitude over the driftwood-strewn beach and heading for the preserve's marshlands, as if afraid they're missing out on something good over there.
Then it's back to the bay for more food.
Then back to the marsh.
Then back to the bay. And back and forth it goes. Which is understandable because here on Camano Island — a 16-mile-long gem of an island separated from Stanwood and mainland Washington by only the slimmest of sloughs — humans go through the same thing. There are peaceful parks, beautiful beaches and terrific trails on all sides, and deciding on which one to visit can be a daunting task.
No matter. Because Camano Island is small — six miles across at its widest; most of it less than two miles wide — and not much more than 50 miles from Seattle, you can visit a couple choice spots now and save some for next time.
Here's a driving tour of this rare Washington island that requires no ferries to get to, and because it has no major thoroughfare leading somewhere else (say, the way Highway 20 bisects much of Whidbey Island), boasts its own laid-back, off-the-beaten-path, laid-back, artsy-island vibe.
The island tour
To get here, take Interstate 5 to Exit 212 and head west on Highway 532 for about 10 miles (passing through Stanwood). Where the road splits, bear left onto East Camano Drive and you'll find yourself at the Camano Commons traffic light at Terrys Corner. It's the small shopping center anchored by Camano Island Coffee Roasters. Grab a cup to go, a cookie or a slab of cake and head off!
Iverson Spit Preserve (www.whidbey.com/camparks/coparks.html) — At the Camano Commons light, turn left (southeast) onto Sunrise Boulevard and follow for 2.5 miles to Iverson Beach Road. Turn left and follow for about a mile to the road-end parking lot.
"This place has a little bit of everything," says Bob Brown, who's here on a mid-January morning picking up litter. He's a volunteer for Friends of Camano Island Parks, which provides stewardship for parks and trails on the island.
"There're beaches, marshes, a beaver pond, and over there is the Hobbit Trail, which goes through a tunnel of old trees."
There are also great blue herons who can't make up their minds. Stunning views of Mount Baker, too, peering over an eerie cloud bank stuck in the foothills of Skagit County.
Iverson Spit is a favorite spot of birders, who have spotted some 130 species here. Along with herons, I saw swans, bald eagles, and heard, but couldn't see because of the fog, what sounded like a giga-gaggle of snow geese. Which makes sense; Iverson Spit is one of many Camano Island spots featured in the Port Susan Snow Goose and Birding Festival (www.snowgoosefest.org), which takes places later this month. Along with guided walks, self-guided tours, guest speakers and an art show, the weekend-long festival offers a pancake breakfast, kids activities and more.
Cama Beach State Park (360-387-1550 or www.parks.wa.gov/camabeach) — To get to this truly unique 400-plus-acre state park — one of Washington's youngest — on the west side of Camano Island, return to Sunrise Boulevard and turn right. Follow for a quarter-mile and turn left onto Russell Road. In one mile, turn left onto East Camano Drive and head south for three miles to Monticello Drive, where you turn right and cross to the west side of the island, just two miles ahead. At Southwest Camano Drive, turn left; Cama Beach State Park is three-quarters of a mile ahead on the right.
Opened in 2008, Cama Beach is a step back in time. Its 24 cozy, beachside cedar cabins recall the bygone era of the family vacation fishing resort, which it was from the 1930s to the '80s. It's a literal step, too, for to get to the cabins you park your car on the bluff above the beach and walk the few hundred yards down to the water. Or take a shuttle, which is available on call by dialing a number posted at the parking lot shelter.
The rustic cabins — along with seven deluxe cabins and two bungalows — are available for rent and, not surprisingly given their location, are extremely popular during warm-weather months. They're more readily available this time of year and for an offseason escape, being lulled to sleep by the waters of Saratoga Passage mere yards away or opening one's door in the morning to views of the snow-clad Olympic Mountains rising high beyond the forested hillsides of Whidbey Island would be hard to beat. But with its beach, playground for the kids, and historical artifacts throughout the grounds, Cama Beach is also a great place to just spend the day.
In a unique arrangement, the park is comanaged by Seattle's Center for Wooden Boats (www.cwb.org/content/cwb-cama-beach), which offers instruction in sailing, boatbuilding, navigation, toy-boat building for kids and more. There are boat rentals, too, including kayaks, rowboats, sailboats and even historical boats from the resort's early days.
Camano Island State Park (www.parks.wa.gov) — Return to Southwest Camano Drive, turn right and follow it for a half-mile to Lowell Point Road. Turn right and follow down the hill for a little more than a mile to the park entrance. Or, if you're up for it, walk there. From the Cama Beach State Park parking lot, follow the signed mile-long wooded trail to Camano Island State Park.
Perched on the shore of Saratoga Passage, this camping and day-use park boasts more than a mile of shoreline, much of it perfect for beach walking. Along with spotting a couple eagles lazing away the afternoon high in the overhanging fir trees, I eyed a couple porpoises frolicking in the water. Overhead, great blue herons crisscrossed the sky heading to or returning from Whidbey Island across the saltwater strait, their six-foot wings appearing to flap in slow motion. On a sunny, windless day, it's just about the perfect place to pull up a driftwood log, point one's face toward the sun and soak up a few winter doses of vitamin D.
Camano Island State Park also has an 88-site campground and five rental cabins.
English Boom Historical County Park (360-679-7373 or www.whidbey.com/camparks/coparks.html) — To get to this park on the far northern tip of Camano, return to Southwest Camano Drive, turn left and head north, following the western perimeter of the island. At 4.3 miles, turn left onto Sunset Drive; and in four more miles (passing a roadside Sasquatch wood carving along the way) turn left onto North Camano Drive. Follow for three miles to North Arrowhead Road where you turn left, then just ahead, right onto East Utsalady Road. About 1.5 miles ahead, turn left onto Moore Road; the road-end parking lot is three-quarters of a mile ahead.
What this small park (only seven acres) lacks in size, it makes up for with its long history in the timber industry, and by being another big draw for birders. Interpretive signs and photos detail the busy days of the 1920s and '30s when this spot was a bustling log storage area (or log boom). Trees logged in the forests above Stanwood and Mount Vernon were contained here in the waters of Skagit Bay before being transported to spots throughout Puget Sound.
These days it's a peaceful, seaside marsh with a boardwalk and a meandering quarter-mile path, its silence broken during my visit only by the rapid-fire chirr of kingfishers and the high-pitched shriek of a bald eagle in the upland forest. Part of a wildlife habitat area, English Boom is also a key birding spot in the Port Susan Snow Goose and Birding Festival.
To return to Terry's Corner, where this Camano Island tour started, retrace your route back to East Utsalady and go right. In 0.3 miles turn left onto North Hanstad Road and follow for one mile to Highway 532. Turn right. Terry's Corner is about a half-mile ahead.