Whistle Lake & Sugarloaf

After enjoying far too much beer at Brewology at the Pacific Science Center (by far the best beer festival I’ve ever been to), I needed to stretch my legs and burn some calories. I’m still suffering whiplash from the car crash I was in two weeks ago, so have been going stir-crazy not exercising. I finally decided to risk it on Presidents’ Day and go hiking! 

This time of year, hiking options without snowshoes are limited in the greater Seattle area. I heard that the Anacortes Community Forest Lands were snow-free, and even better, no parking permits or passes required. Anacortes is located about 90 minutes north/northwest from Seattle so the boyfriendo and I loaded our packs and hit the road. What better day than Presidents’ Day to enjoy some public lands? Every forecast said rain, so we made sure we had layers, dry clothes in the car, and rain covers before embarking on the trail. The paths in the forest twist and intersect in a serpentine manner, so I’m very glad we heeded the advice of others and stopped to get a map at Mt. Erie Grocery about a mile from the trail head. It was $10 for maps of three different areas inside the forest, and even then we still managed to get turned around a bit at the top!

A typical sign in the Anacortes Community Forest Land. On this part of the trail, all modes of transportation pictured are allowed.

Any part of the forest can include hikers, horseback riders, bicyclists, and motorbikes. I admit, I am glad we didn’t even hear a trace of motorbikes–much more tranquil. For our hike, we parked at the Heart Lake parking area and started climbing—-immediately. The quads were a-burning–and you return on this path to get back to your car at the end, so be preferred for knees a-shaking coming back down! We followed the route posted by another hiker on the WTA site to do a loop with both Whistle Lake and Sugarloaf included. The loop did not take us around the lake entirely, but along the shore for enough to see why it’s a popular hike.

Surveying Whistle Lake from a spur off the trail to a viewpoint.

While Pacific madrona trees were scattered about the forest amongst the more traditional green forest trees, they were most abundant along the lake. If red cedars are my favorite tree, then Pacific madronas (also known as arbutus or madroño) are a close second (amendment—-I forgot about the rainbow eucalyptus I saw in Hawaii. Madronas and cedars are my favorite local trees). Their red paper-like bark peels away naturally to reveal a gleaming green inside. Stronger leaves stay on the tree year-round as well.

A Pacific madrona along the shores of the lake.

Whistle Lake was gorgeous and had many pocket lookouts and even benches to admire the view from. There was a moss-covered rock in the middle of the lake, which itself is in the middle of a forest, which is in the middle of Fidalgo Island. As a child I liked to joke there could be a huge puddle on the rock, and maybe that puddle had a rock in it, and so forth.

Soon after the mossy rock we ascended back up in elevation. We had really hoped to squeeze in Mt. Erie before Sugarloaf, but with an appointment in Seattle looming, we decided to keep the stress down and relax a bit (and have more time for a beer on the way home). To get from Whistle Lake to Sugarloaf, you actually have to get off the dirt trail and on the road for a tiny distance. We saw small spots for parking here, which will be useful when we come back to do Mt. Erie. We again began climbing up, up, up. As the trees thinned out, the moss grew thicker on the various rocks.

A mossy view between the trees ascending Sugarloaf.

We were finally at the top. We stopped for a bit for snacks and to take in the view. To our great luck, the rain had held all day, with maybe us feeling a few sprinkles at the very top.

Loafing around at Sugarloaf.

Now here is where we got confused. We couldn’t tell which little lookout trails were which, so we got slightly turned around. However, hard to complain with the stunning views that we had, and we only added maybe an extra 0.15 miles to our total. As soon as we changed into less binding footwear and left the trailhead the rain started–what luck! We had hoped to try out Bastion Brewing Company right on Hwy 20 a couple miles from the trailhead on the way back, but sadly there were closed. However, we will absolutely be returning while waiting for the snow in the Cascades to melt so we can hit Bastion then.

If you’re looking to avoid snow in the late winter but still hike, Anacortes Community Forest Land is just the ticket. Don’t forget your map!

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