Ahh, waking up the morning that Daylight Savings kicks in. The panic when you look at the time and realize you have one hour till checkout and need to shower and pack before departing for the trailhead. Maybe we didn’t pick the best weekend for hiking after all?
After a mad scramble to hit the road, we got some breakfast and drove on gorgeous Highway 20 over Deception Pass and down Whidbey Island. I had done ‘the bluff’ at Ebey’s Landing many years prior, and was excited for this half-bluff, half-beach hike along the coast. I had pulled up the WTA information on Ebey’s Landing, which had clear directions, but the page also said the trailhead was at Fort Ebey State Park. The road to the park was not the same as the directions to Ebey’s Landing, but we assumed since we were coming from the north and the directions were from the south we just turned somewhere else to get there. As soon as we parked at the trailhead we saw a sign for the bluff trail, so all seemed well.
Nope, Ebey’s Landing is not inside Fort Ebey State Park, it’s at Ebey’s Landing Historic Reserve. Oops. Within only a few feet of walking I could tell it looked different from the bluff hike I did before, but more than 10 years of erosion has occurred since then, so I chalked it up to that. We did notice many newly erected wooden road blocks that prevented people from getting too close to the edge–please don’t go around these! They are up there for a reason. This bluff is extremely high up, and especially after a period of rain, the soft earth can easily give away.
We ambled along, admiring the views. During WWII there were great fears in the area about another Japanese attack, so many parts of the coast had forts built for protection or detection of enemy forces. As the sign states, about a mile south along the bluff trail you come to a former gun battery. If you really want to explore, bring a good flashlight or headlamp for this–a cell phone flashlight did *not* cut it. There is a path around the gun battery if you don’t want to enter it–it is pitch black inside, so it might be scary for younger kids.
Not long after the gun battery, we noticed many (new-looking) trailhead signs. Still nothing looked familiar to me, and even after more than a decade, I think I would have remembered a trail named ‘Hokey-A-Do-Do.’ As the bluff trail ended, I became certain we had gone to the wrong place. However, we continued forward, and I’m so glad we did. The aptly named ‘Cedar Hollow’ and ‘Cedar Grove’ trails took us away from green grass and sandy bluffs to the woodsy ferns and trees–while we saw our shadows a few times from the sun struggling to break through, the tree canopy still felt dark. When we emerged from the canopy we thankfully saw a sign with a trail map, so we plotted our course back to extend the mileage and see different sights. As we ambled along ‘Kettles’ ‘Hoot-In’ and others, I could not believe the stark contrast from even trail to trail in plants and trees–suddenly there were rhododendrons scattered about! Growing up in the suburbs, I associate these plants with manicured lawns, not the woods.
However, the very last part of the loop we ended up doing proved it was real hiking: a bit of the Pacific Northwest Trail. This trail extends from Montana to the beaches of Washington, and is attracting more and more thru-hikers of late. While we mostly just saw trailrunners and other dayhikers in the park, I bet come summer there will be some backpackers here.
Despite not doing the trail we had planned on, we still got to end with some beach time. I will gladly come back to Whidbey Island to do the Ebey’s Landing bluff trail, but if you want to avoid the crowds or see tons of different PNW scenery in one park, don’t discount Fort Ebey State Park. WTA says at low tide you can walk along the beach enough to connect the two bluff trails in one, so if you have a tide table app, go for it!
Both parks (unless you are camping at the state park) require a day use fee ($10) or Discover Pass ($30, good for one year). With all of the circumnavigating trails inside the park, it’s a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure” for both distance and elevation.