As I’ve mentioned, Orcas Island is the most rugged of the San Juan Islands, at least for those wanting to hike. The peak of the island, Mount Constitution, is inside Moran State Park–but there’s easier hikes too!
I remember years ago my bestie Heather came to visit from New Jersey. She wanted to see EVERYTHING pretty, and climb a mountain. Wanting to kill two birds with one stone, we did Mount Constitution so she could also ride a ferry. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she saw her first switchback. Thus, always some happy memories when Mount Constitution is brought up.
However, the hike itself is grueling, and one can simply just…drive to the top. So on a gloomy February day, the boyfriendo and I decided for something a bit more low-key, Cascade Lake. The boyfriendo actually grew up going to the YMCA’s Camp Orkila on the island, and had fond memories of jumping off the famous rock-and-tree there (pictured above). Now those with Amazon can also see a shot of Cascade Lake and the famous Douglas Fir teetering out over the water, a picture I’m guessing was taken from a canoe as the trail is from the back end.
There are several access points, but unless camping at one of the campgrounds on the lake, the easiest starting point is the day use area. There’s a playground, picnic tables and shelters, and at times, rentals for watercraft, so in summer, parking might be limited. We set out counter-clockwise. There’s a bridge right away taking you over a creek that could have spawning trout at the right time of year, but for now was just water. There was a decent amount of trail runners and walkers, considering the weather. We quickly reached the tree, which the boyfriendo told me some brave campers jumped off of, while most others stuck to the rock. I found it hard to believe the water underneath was deep enough to be safe, so if it were warm out, I’d be staying on shore until a designated beach myself.
We continued onward, with a few social trails here and there, some leading to Rosario Resort, where we were staying. We had opted for a shorter hike (it was a vacation, after all!) but one could easily tack on miles by checking out the resort and it’s grounds from here. The trail starts heading south-southeast, which offers a look from afar at where we had started. We did swing around and check out the trail around a lagoon, but the views if one continues straight are similar. The thin trees here offer lots of peek-a-boo views without leaving the trail.
A large bridge separates the lagoon area from the lake, which we crossed just for more sights. Returning to the trail, we felt night was falling already, as the woods get thicker here. There’s a few signed spurs here, for Sunrise Rock and Cascade Falls. The main trail continued until ejecting us onto pavement at the Southend campground, which appeared closed. In summer, I’m sure there is high demand for the lakeside spots and “glamping” available–I do have a soft spot for car camping spots right on trails. From here, the trail does unfortunately get a little boring as it gets more pavement-heavy and deviates from the lake. It appears there is a narrow social trail that does go around the lake still, but as it is not the official one, I am not sure if there’s hazards or erosion if sticking on it. There is some elevation here at least to break up the monotony, but the first half is still the superior one by far.
For those wanting more miles, there’s tons of other trails in the park, including Summit Lake, Twin Lakes, and Mountain Lake. Even if the weather is cloudy, a trek to the top of Mount Constitution is still a great trip, as there is a visitor center there an an old lookout you can climb to the top of. There was still some remnants of snow up top–keep ion mind it’s 2000 feet high, so it will be much colder than sea level! Be sure to grab a map of the park–Rosario Resort included them at check-in, which was a nice touch.
Distance: Cascade Lake was 2.7, adding on the lagoon was almost a full mile–my GPS had 3.65 miles round trip. For the rest of the park, choose your own adventure!
Elevation: Varied depending on trail, Cascade Lake had 260 feet of gain, but mostly all at once.
Parking: Discover Pass
Bathrooms: Flushing toilets spread out throughout the park, but hours of some might be seasonal
Best Beer Bet: Island Hoppin’, of course!