Wildlife Adventures at Eagle Harbor

Find an untouched island that is a hiker's paradise.

  The sun rose over Mt. Baker as the aroma of brewing coffee filled the cabin. Easy Goin’ was moored on a buoy in Eagle Harbor on the east side of Cypress Island.

Due to the lack of development, Cypress Island, on the eastern side of Rosario Strait, is one of our favorite gunkholes in the San Juans. Plus it’s only eight and a half miles from our moorage in Anacortes. While most of the San Juan Islands have been privatized and developed, their shorelines made forever off limits by private owners, Cypress Island has actually gone the other way.

The 5,500-acre island is undeveloped,and nearly 90 percent (4,800 acres) of it is managed by the Department of Natural Resources. It has 3,800 acres designated as a Natural Resource Conservation Area (NRCA) and a Natural Area Preserve, which gives a high priority to conservation of natural systems, wildlife and dispersed recreational values. Nearly 200 species of mammals and birds use the island.

The island was the historical home to the Coast Salish people and later European settlers. The Salish economy was based on the seasonal harvesting of resources by hunting, fishing and gathering plants. Use likely centered on seasonal camps rather than permanent settlements.

The First European record of Cypress Island comes from the Spanish expedition commanded by Juan Francisco de Eliza, in 1791. It was charted and identified as Isla de San Vicente. The island has escaped most development because of access issues, rugged terrain and poor agricultural soil.

Despite the lack of a protected anchorage and marine amenities, boaters visit all year long. Cypress has few anchorages, and none is very good. There are three moorage areas: Cypress Head, Eagle Harbor and Pelican Beach, with a total of 25 mooring buoys maintained by the Department of Natural Resources. Fifteen of the buoys reside in Eagle Harbor, which shoals in the middle on low tides. It’s possible to anchor in the entrance of the harbor but the better protection from northerly breezes and wash from passing boats is deeper in the harbor.

There is an extensive trail system on the island, approximately 20 miles in length, based mostly on old logging roads. Others, constructed by Outward Bound and the Student Conservation Association, include a number of lakes and access to beaches at several harbors. The network of trails wanders the full length of the island through healthy 100-year-old secondgrowth forest.

The plan for the morning was to fill the day pack with lunch, water and a camera and then go ashore and explore a portion of the island, with the end goal being the top of the 840-foot Eagle Cliff. Our route took us past shallow lily-pad-fi lled Duck Lake, an 11-acre wetland. Just off the trail at the edge of the lake is an observation area with a rustic cedar table, a bench and log stools. We took a few moments to sit in the shade and enjoy the peacefulness and buzzing of the dragonflies and hummingbirds as they skirted the shore of the lake. As we continued our morning hike, we picked up the Eagle Cliff trailhead just upland from Pelican Beach on the northeast side of the island. The one-mile trail up to Eagle Cliff is closed from February through July 15 each year to ensure that endangered nesting Peregrine falcons are undisturbed. Because of the abundance of wildlife, pets must be on a leash at all times.

The climb is easy except for the last few hundred yards, but the breathtaking view is worth the 45-minute hike. Although it was a bit overcast, when we reached the summit of Eagle Cliff we were rewarded with a stunning panoramic view of the San Juan Islands, Mt. Baker and the Olympic Mountains. The look down over the edge into Foss Cove is hair-raising and not for people who experience vertigo. We enjoyed the view while eating our lunch, took a few pictures and headed back down the trail.

On our way back we noticed ripe juicy blackberries along the trail. They were just too tempting to not pick a few and eat them right there. They were so tasty, I cut the top off the two empty plastic water bottles in the daypack and proceeded to fill them with berries as we worked our way down the trail. Back on Easy Goin’, Arlene baked a berry cobbler, which was a perfect reward after an invigorating day of exploration.