Cypress Island, Anacortes and the Skagit Valley

A solstice #SwiftCampout

When I last left you, dear reader, Phil and I were prematurely callin’ it and having our friend come and to pick us up somewhere just north of the Deception Pass bridge. The promise of Island Time hung in the air and we had to make it there before low tide.


Quick Info

Where To Beginning in Anacortes → Boat to Eagle Harbor Campground on Cypress Island → Boat back to Anacortes → Bike to Mt. Vernon → Train to Seattle View Route

When June 22 – 24, 2018 (3 days)

Ride Distance 16.3 miles

Booking Camp  No reservations for Cypress Island campgrounds necessary. You can hitch a kayak or ride a boat from Anacortes to Eagle harbor. To get back to Seattle after glamping on the islands, you can purchase Amtrak tickets here, and add bike transport to your ticket.

Firewood Bring it with you on the boat, but there is some firewood available at the campsite free of charge.

Water Bring it with you. Water is scarce on the island, and most reservoirs sit on private land.


We threw our bikes in our friend’s pickup truck and rambled to his parent’s house in Anacortes. After a quick shower, Phil and I reshuffled some bags and said goodbye to our bikes. We hopped on a boat and said good-riddance to civilization, and made our way over to Cypress Island.

Cypress Island sits along the east side of the Rosario Straight. It’s 5,100 acres are managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the majority of the island is a public nature preserve. Despite its name, there are absolutely no Cypress tress on the island. In 1792 George Vancouver, who shouldn’t be trusted to properly name an island, mistook the Juniper trees for Cypress, and somehow, despite being absolutely wrong, the name stuck.

Cypress Island isn’t accessible by public ferry, but you have a few options:

  •  Island Express charters travelers to Cypress and back for $90
  • Kayak if you’re brave enough to face the chilling waters of the sound ($174-224)
  • Get a friend with a boat which could possibly be free

We were dropped off at Eagle Harbor sometime around one, and set up camp. Eagle Harbor is nothing short of what I would call chic. The camp grounds are well maintained with fire rings, picnic tables, and even multiple well maintained compost toilets. Serious Pacific Northwest luxury. At this point it felt like we were the only ones on the island, and Island Time was beginning to take a hold of us.

Someone even left us some extremely tailored nature studies. Maybe an art gift from Jill Bliss?

The island, however tucked away, is quite popular with backpacking kayakers, and we were soon joined by a few quiet and extremely polite teens in Outward Bound groups. The first day and a half were relatively quiet. We did some hikes around the island and our friends taught us how to identify edible plants, which interests me greatly because I love free food.

On the last night of our very serene, peaceful Solstice, we were joined by what felt like thirty wild Boy Scouts and their obnoxious dads. The dads kept trying to impress each other with boat tricks and jokes about their wives. They even offered us an olive branch in the form of fire-grilled steak, which mysteriously never manifested. Their kids were actually pretty funny even if they did keep carrying around pieces of a bird they killed and sharpening branches into surprisingly very sharp spears. Surrounded by Lord of the Flies style chaos, we did the only thing we could do. We had a pancake making contest.

The beautiful Cypress Island sunset was the perfect backdrop to our very serious competition in which we pit a traditional cast-iron skillet against my new very technological ceramic lightweight backpacking pan. Phil was extremely sure he was a shoe-in with the cast-iron, and he might of been, if not for my excellent pancake-flip timing and generous butter application. The ceramic pan came out the definitive winner, but it was noted that Phil is an exceptional pancake artist.

Our last day was restful as we said goodbye to the Boy Scouts and their awful dads who just barely managed to clean up all of their trash on the way out. Pack it out my little dudes, you’re learning life skills.

At around 1pm our ride back to civilization appeared and we wistfully left our island oasis.

Back on land it was bike time again. We shed ourselves of our spiny backpacks and wiggled back into our bibs. We had an 8pm train to make in Mt. Vernon. We hopped on our bikes, said goodbye to our friend’s awesome parents, and headed towards the Skagit Valley.

The ride out of Anacortes was beautiful thanks to the Tommy Thompson trail, a rail-trail right outside of town that takes you out over the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve on a beautiful mid-water trail and empties you into March Point Road. After a left onto a sparsely trafficked South March Point Road, the road takes you towards Whitmarsh Junction and then on to Memorial Highway.

The path got a bit confusing here, and we almost missed the bike trail hidden on the left side of the high-traffic highway bridge. We biked up and over and the path didn’t get any clearer. We took a mysterious gravel road after coming down off of the bridge, and found, true to its mysterious nature, it led nowhere.  At this point we did a very sketchy multi-lane crossing of Highway 20. Thankfully it was a low traffic day and we didn’t have to dodge any cars.

Wanting to avoid a bleary highway ride with the sound of cars whizzing by at 60mph, we took a right down Best Road. At this point it was around 6pm. We were ahead of schedule and about thirty minutes outside of Mt. Vernon so we took a wine stop at Glacier Peak Winery. After a quick glass, we got back on our bikes and headed through the beautiful bucolic valley.

Best Road takes you through flat, floral farmland and that continues when you hang a left onto to McLean Road. The gorgeous scenery takes you all the way to the cute bridge that takes you into Mt. Vernon, a true old-timey railroad town. With some time to spare we stopped at the Skagit River Brewery to meet a local friend for a beer and some food, parking our bikes right outside the patio.

After some good laughs and a few beers, we said goodbye to our friend and wandered over to the Amtrak station. The Mt. Vernon station lets you bring your bike right into the station. When the train pulls up, take your bike right to the baggage car where an attendant will safely store it in a car specifically built to store bikes.

I’m a pretty big train lover and I love a good Amtrak ride, however, they can be unpredictable. Ours was delayed a few hours so after a mostly gorgeous ride, we rolled into Seattle a few hours later than expected around 11:30.

After collecting our luggage from the storage car, we hopped back onto our bikes for the last time that day, and did the 1/2 hour ride back to Fremont by way of the new 2nd Avenue bike path, catching almost every red light on the way. We finally hit Fremont Lane, a climb that means we were finally home and on the other side of the Solstice.


Gear

MSR Flex Ceramic Skillet
GSI Outdoors Pivot Spatula
GSI Pivot Spoon
Osprey Ariel 55 Womens Pack

Route

Published By
Jennifer Spriggs

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