Sports

Saratoga, Goss woods a public concern

If you’re looking for a long walk in the woods on the south end of Whidbey Island, there is only one place to go, the three forests known as the Saratoga Woods, the Goss Lake Woods, and the Metcalf Trust Trails.

Together, these woods offer hundreds of acres of forest land to the hiking, biking, running and horse-riding public. The Saratoga Woods and Goss Lake Woods are both owned by Island County, the former 118-acres having been purchased from a private land owner through private donations, and the later 600 acres acquired in 2003 from the state of Washington through vigorous legislative action. The Metcalf Trust Trails are on land owned by the Metcalf family, which chose years ago to open its forests to the public by providing a network of trails.

The three trail areas are connected and form the single largest hiking area on South Whidbey. The only Island County hiking area that is larger is the Fort Ebey-Kettles trails on Central Whidbey.

As the Goss Lake Woods is county owned, it remains at present open to deer hunters in the fall. Trail users are advised to use caution when using these trails during deer season.

Getting there: These woods, since they are all connected by multiple trails, can be accessed from a number of points. The best two are at the entrance of the Saratoga Woods on Saratoga Road, and at the Keller Road entrances to the Goss Lake Woods.

To get to the Saratoga Woods, get on Saratoga Road in Langley driving northbound. The park entrance is on the left about three miles out of town.

To get to the Keller Road trail head, take Bayview Road eastbound off Highway 525, take a left on Andreason Road, a right on Lone Lake Road, and then a right on Keller Road. The entrances is on the left, about a third of a mile down Keller.

The hike: The trails in these three areas of woods are a fairly mixed bag for largely flat, lowland forest. Steep inclines are practically nonexistent, with the biggest bumps coming near the entrance to the Saratoga Woods and on the appropriately named Roller Coaster Trail.

Aside from these short hills, the rest of the 15-some miles of trails in these more than 800 acres of woods are flat. But that doesn’t mean they are all easy walking. Entry trails such as Ross Road and Pete’s Path at Keller Road and Indian Pipe Trail at the Saratoga entrance can be deceiving, and convince the casual day hiker that the woods are tennis shoe friendly. But in many spots, being without a pair of stout hiking boots is a mistake. Deep in the Goss Lake and Metcalf section, trails dubbed Spider Web, Oliver Twist, The South Leg Saratoga Loop and Cantharelius can be real ankle turners as they wind hikers, bikers and horses on a path so narrow and rooted that it’s difficult to put two steps in succession with having to hop over something or round a corner.

A bigger challenge than it looks is Rocky Road, a wide thoroughfare on the north side of the Goss Lake property. It gets its name for the thousands of baseball-size rocks pushing out of the trail, which can be a hazard to runners in particular.

The true joy of a hike in this huge forest comes in the solitude it offers, and with the number of hikes that are possible. Even a half-hour stroll into the woods is enough to isolate anyone from traffic noise and any thought of anything back in the human world.

For the true explorer, a hike of about five hours is possible with minimal backtracking. Plan to get a little lost on the Huck Loop, Salal Loop and Fern Trail on the Metcalf lands, even with the help of the GPS map that can be picked up at the Saratoga Woods entrance. But don’t be afraid to take the occasional unidentified trail: One of these, just off the remnants of an old airfield in the Saratoga Woods, takes hikers and walkers to a close encounter with a boulder twice the size of the average suburban house.

Overall, these trails are accessible to hikers and walkers of all ages and ability levels. They are a great place to get in shape for longer and longer hikes, as there are always more trails to explore.

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