Despite living in the greater Seattle area nearly my whole life, I have never been to Vashon Island. That changed this weekend when I hopped on the ferry from West Seattle to hit some snow-free trails!
A 15 minute ferry ride from West Seattle and a 20-ish minute drive from the ferry dock, Dockton Park is a close but hidden gem. Like many other parks of its size, it offers varied landscapes–madrona-studded bluffs, a former quarry, forests, and PNW rocky beach can all be seen inside the park. Similar to Lord Hill and the Anacortes Community Forest Lands, there are multiple parking areas and endless options for this mass of intertwining mixed-use trails. Luckily, maps were plentiful in more than one area (thanks, King County Parks!), and signage for bike-only trails was clear and easy to understand. We chose to park in the main parking lot, by the playground and marina. Take note in winter your only option for a bathroom is a porta-potty and in summer, parking here might be far more crowded. We crossed the street and hit the trails with our paper map. Mama Boots and I got our lines crossed on route planning, so just wandered around the trails, guessing our way but keeping an eye on the map to know a general counter-clockwise area to aim for. It was one of those famous ‘faux spring’ days in the PNW, where the sun tricks you into thinking it might not be under 40* out.
We spotted a clearing in the trees and guessed it to be a bluff we saw on our map. Not only was it a beautiful windy bluff, but it was also where the former quarry was. It was an interesting juxtaposition of nature meeting man made structures, but also proved that the land becoming a park was a wonderful idea. While trails existed that would take you down deeper in the small valley, for a Sunday we weren’t feeling that level of elevation gain, so we stuck to the high ground.
We continued north along the wide maintenance road, dotted with madrona trees along the coast side, and birds chirping in the coniferous trees on the other side. Despite still having my gloves and fleece headband on, it was as good as it gets in March. While we had seen a horse trailer parked, no sign of horseback riders, just other hikers/parkgoers (reminding me of my hike vs. walk debate). We continued on the road, which is actually part of the Maury Island Natural area. Dockton Park is an interesting patchwork of land slowly acquired, and another good reason to have a map is to make sure you’re respecting property lines.
We gained a bit more elevation before one last stunning Puget Sound view, this time with a bench available. Across the sound to the west I guessed was Des Moines (I was right!), and beyond that, the Cascades. Mt. Rainier was trying valiantly to burst through clouds, and I’m sure if clear this view would have been as quintessentially indescribable PNW as it gets. We stopped for a breather and some water before continuing on.
The scenery around us changed again, as a right turn took us around an orchard of some sort, curving from the ‘Bluffs Trailhead’ to a road and power tower. Across the street was more of the Maury Island Natural Area, which our map indicated might be swampy. Luckily, the trail was nearly completely void of mud, which helped as my head was on a swivel at the trees around us. Knowing the Park, Forest, and Natural Area together are over 150 acres it was still surprising to see such different scenery at so many ages or growth in ‘one place.’ I noticed we were getting closer to the road again, and another parking area.
This last section we saw where most of the mountain biking trails were, and looked to be either new or very recently upgraded. There was great signage, showing that the middle trail of the fork we were at was the only one for hikers, the other routes being biker only. Between the water on the shore and the trails, you could train for a whole triathalon here! We opted to finish our route back to the car instead. At just under 4.5 miles, we used nearly half of the trails in the park with hardly duplicating any steps, which to me was an impressive feat.
Taking about an hour from Seattle, this was a gorgeous trek for a variety of trails. Keeping in mind ferry waits, this might be perfect for shoulder season to avoid the crowds. With the potential to share the trail with horses, leash laws are advised to be followed.
Distance: Choose your own adventure, but over 9 miles of multi-use trails
Elevation: Depends on route taken
Parking: No passes required
Bathrooms: Flushing bathrooms open seasonally at the main park, porta-potties scattered about.
Best Beer Bet: Vashon Brewing Community Pub