Kayaking Cascadia Marine Water Trail (WA)

In August it will be a year of at least once a month human powered water (mainly kayak) adventures. Kayaking is an ever growing hobby that I picked up frequency on during the pandemic because water is calming, it is all around me in the Puget Sound, my parents have a kayak and it is quite the social distancing sport.

This past week I did a 21 mile kayaking journey over 3 days. I did a segment of the Cascadia Marine Trail that goes all around the Puget Sound’s (the Sound) waterways and islands aka the Salish Sea. You can do the whole thing if you have time or simply sections of it. This was my first multi-day kayak adventure. I didn’t do it alone but I did borrow the two-person kayak my parents have.

The Cascadia Marine Trail is something I discovered late last year but otherwise had never heard of although it has existed forever. This is one of the reasons I decided to write about it…well that and it was a lot of fun and offers some really amazing views! Basically the trail has various kayaker designated campgrounds around the Sound that are cheaper (or free) and allow for adventures of the sort to take place. It is similar to the hiker/biker campsites I encountered cycling a chunk of the Pacific Coast (SoCal Cycling).

Blake Island up ahead

The original plan was to kayak to Blake Island from West Seattle but I added to it later making the journey longer and even more adventurous. We decided to leave from Des Moines, Washington (further South) and cross over to Maury Island just in front. You can go from the Des Moines Marina or Saltwater State Park. Once over we would stay the night then continue to Blake island the following day, overnight again then finally kayak and finish in West Seattle on the third day.

That is 3 crossings of Puget Sound…my least favorite part. I’d only done it once before (alone) on a very calm flat water day…and I was just happy I made it without problems across the cold deep water.

The first crossing (which I’d done before) was much faster with 2 people paddling ha ha but also faster because there was a container ship coming down the shipping lane and we needed to avoid it’s wake…so instead of waiting we played chicken and tried to beat it…obviously succeeding but it came closer than I’d prefer. The wake actually wasn’t too bad but I swear the ship slowed down a bit….lol. This is definitely one thing you have to be aware of before crossing the Sound…always look to see if container boats or tugs are coming up or down the shipping lane before making the crossing and then decide when to launch. We felt we had time…and we did but we did paddle much faster on this section than any other in order to beat it.

Once across the Sound the rush faded and now just plenty more miles of paddling we’re left before arrival to camp 1. The crossing to Maury is about 2 miles and takes 1 hour (or at least it took me that on the solo voyage). Day one was our longest paddle day. We did 11 miles in total over 4 hours with a nice lunch break on shore a few miles short of the camp area.

Camp 1 was at Wingeham Park on North Vashon Island. Maury Island is connected to Vashon Island and is nearly one. Other option for camping is the lighthouse across from Des Moines. I’ve also biked these islands a few times and always love it when I visit (way less cars, it’s pretty, ferry access is needed and there are plenty of hills). I was blown away by the views of Mt. Rainier at this park (first time visiting)…they were perfect and beach access was nice. This camp was a secondary site…aka part of Cascadia Marine Trail but primitive (no bathrooms, food lockers or designated sites) although it does have a picnic table :).

The other paddler with me was Sam and he was having a major sinus flare up all day so he took medicine but it wasn’t enough so he laid down early. Thankfully Vashon is a populated island and has a nice little downtown area. In the am we made our way there for better medicine and couldn’t help but stop at one of our favorite bakeries (um because it’s so good). Town was 7 kms (4.5 miles) away…Uber was non existent (unless driver took the ferry lol…and one almost did ha ha), the bus wasn’t coming anytime soon so we hitchhiked. Totally common here so we were picked up with the first car coming. Luckily covid vaccinations rates are like 72% on the island so it actually made this easier now as opposed to a few months ago. The woman who picked us up had a van and was on her way to work. She had no seats in the back and she had to get out to close the door after us…oh and she spilled some plant bulbs in the process….we gladly picked them up and were very grateful for the ride. Sinus medicine check (at Thriftway Grocery store because pharmacy opened later -10 am) so we headed to the bakery…closed…also opens at 10 am. No worries there are like 3 bakeries in town and Vashon Island Baking Company was just as good! We did learn that the other (Mica’s) has another location at the ferry terminal so you bet we planned to stop for the 11 am opening as we would be kayaking right on by it.

Times for launching the kayak were generally around high tide to avoid major currents (our route had low to moderate currents generally) and made water access easier (closer to shore). The weather window for the three days forecasted sun and light winds (max 10 mph) mainly out of the North (summer standard). Am hours were always better or evening because that is generally when wind was lighter and water smoother.

Our ride back ended up being a kayaker himself (also on the way to work) and was very excited to hear our story. He dropped us off out of his way, gave us tips for kayaking the area and told us to kayak for him.

Arriving back at camp some park users warned us to be quiet as ¨there are campers sleeping…¨ lol us…nice to know that people are respectful here. We packed up and launched. From camp it was 1.4 miles to the ferry dock, water was choppier past Dolphin Point but fine once past shore a bit. We did end up stopping at the bakery (Mermaid Cafe) here and had left with $20 worth of pastries ha ha. Don’t miss this bakery stop…it has a line before opening so you know it is excellent. Once loaded with pastries for days and a bathroom stop we were off to Blake Island…our original kayak destination!

The crossing has several ferries that pass by quite often (going much slower than container boats but still big) and ones to avoid. The crossing is 1.5 miles, it was choppy until closer to Blake and we somehow missed all ferries and had a completely clear crossing!

Blake Island was like kayak heaven. We paddled halfway around the five mile island to our camp (there are 2 locations) and kayakers were everywhere especially at the West Campground…although most were visiting just for a late lunch with a view (similar to hiking where you eat at destination then go back) or rent on the island (Vashon Watersports) and go completely around. From the many kayakers we saw only 3 groups of kayakers remained for an overnight (us included). The camp here had toilets, potable water, food lockers (to keep animals from your food so they don´t destroy your tent in attempt to get at it), fire pit, picnic tables and even access to a shower (only in marina area). Spots for camping were plenty but it usually fills up on weekends since Blake is also very popular with boaters (3 mooring areas available – $15) and hikers who take the ferry over as well. I had no clue how popular this island was since I’ve never been or had any desire previously. I can say with confidence that I’d totally recommend a trip over, whether day trip or over night. Any who for kayakers doing the marine trail there are a few $12 sites just past the west campground point and then there are 3 different price levels for the other regular sites. We picked an available regular site as we didn’t know and it was mid-range cost…we didn’t care to move so we paid the higher camp fee. The ranger does come often to check so don’t try to avoid paying (fill out form and be done with it). In fact it took the ranger 3 times to find us. Payment is in cash or check…but cards can be processed at the ranger station or via phone by calling the emergency number listed. We paid with card and even visited the ranger station trying to pay but they were out and about just like us. Bring cash because each campground area has pay stations with envelopes/receipts etc and price info. Rates were between $27 and $37 for the non-kayak sites (add $15 if you moored the boat and camped).

We spent the day walking around Blake Island. Absolutely loved the place. There is a 4 mile trail around the island and an additional 4 miles that cut through the middle. Halfway around the perimeter trail is the ranger station, marina and a Native American Longhouse (unique communal housing). In the longhouse you can eat, drink, get gifts, play games, learn about the Salish Indian tribe´s wood carving, fire making and other skills. It was a great place to be and we were very pleased with the services offered. We stayed over an hour just at the longhouse hanging in a hammock and playing cornhole (bean bag toss game) and connect four. Alcohol was also served here but only drinkable on-site which we learned the hard way…we wanted a beer for sunset later but as the beer can was opened after payment we realized that wasn’t possible. We could have poured it in our bottles but instead got a refund…damn!

We really enjoyed our time on this island and will definitely go back. So surprised by all the great services and amenities available on the uninhabited island. The whole island actually used to be owned as a private estate by the Trimble family who bought it in 1904, made it a Federal Wildlife Refuge and lived there until 1929. William Trimble was a prominent lawyer and real estate promoter who became one of Seattle´s wealthiest men.

I did the loop again in the am this time running counterclockwise (hillier route) and enjoyed it one last time before packing up and kayaking out toward West Seattle…our last stop on this journey.

The crossing of Puget Sound from Blake Island was the one I was most worried about since it was 3 miles in length across the sea, with a potential for huge ships (shipping lanes again), turbulent water and who knows what else. We got lucky and it was the calmest water we had encountered on the trip, mirror like, and not a single ship, water craft or orca whale (for that matter) got in our way. We enjoyed the crossing in absolute peace. Only the noise from our paddles and our chit chat broke the silence. We were completely alone out there bathed in sun and calm waters. The visibility was great but deceivingly not flat. Being so low to the water the slight undulation in the water made us feel like we were in a weird valley, hard to see North or South along the water…it was like the water was hiding us and at the same time guiding us. I am sure it was from the mirror surface that it felt this way because we could see the ferries crossing back and forth from Vashon Island to West Seattle no problem. In fact for quite some time we were beating a ferry across the water lol it wasn´t until the other docked ferry pulled out that the one we were competing with speed up…ha.

Obviously we missed the Orca whales, dang!, but we did see several porpoises, a dolphin, a harbor seal, Blue Herons, Bald Eagles up close, deer, racoons, voles and even got lucky to see a sea otter jump on the beach near our campsite at Blake Island.

Overall a salty, somewhat wet and very enjoyable 3 days out on the kayak exploring the waterways near my hometown of Seattle.

By the way, I had a 20 liter waterproof bag but would suggest a 30 liter instead. It was tight but I had all the essentials inside…tent, sleeping bag, mattress, cooking stove and bowl, clothes, toiletries, battery pack, headlamp and jacket. I could have added my spare shoes, book and some food had I purchased a slightly bigger pack. Instead shoes were in a plastic bag and a tad wet and food was secured in a double plastic bag but that was fine for sunny summer weather. FYI I also found it easiest to pack the tent, sleeping stuff along with cooking stuff at bottom and then place warm items at top to be best use of space after several frustrating attempts to close the bag.

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