Into the Woods

For the hiker looking for a challenging outing and the finest views of both water and prairie available on Whidbey Island, the bluff and beach loop at Ebey’s Landing is always the best choice.

This piece of public trail land has one of the deepest histories of any on Whidbey. Claimed by Isaac Ebey — the first permanent land claimant on the island — in 1850, Ebey’s Landing and the Ebey’s Prairie Historical Reserve were once the site of a Native American foot trail that connected the landing and Penn Cove. The landing was used as a site for setting salmon traps as early as the 1890s.

Ebey was later killed by a band of Haida Indians, who took his life as payback for the killing of one of their chiefs by federal troops at Fort Gamble.

Whidbey Island naturalist Robert Pratt, who inherited the Ebey’s Landing bluff in 1939, donated the 147 acres including the bluff to the Nature Conservancy upon his death in 1999, stipulating that it be preserved in its natural state. Nearby, the Conservancy owns another 407 acres of open prairie land.

The landing itself, which includes the beach at the base of the bluff, was designated a National Historical Reserve in 1978, the first land given this designation.

Getting there: From Highway 20 in Coupeville, head south on Engle Road, then turn west on Hill Road. Drive about two miles to reach Ebey’s Landing.

The hike: Unless you want to skip the good stuff on this hike and confine yourself to a leisurely beach walk, there is no way to avoid some real leg-burning pain on the 2.7-mile Ebey’s Landing beach and bluff loop.

In all, hikers have 3.7 miles of trail available to them: The mile-long Ebey’s Prairie Trail connects Ebey’s Landing and historic Sunnyside Cemetery, running along the western boundary of the former Isaac Ebey claim.

But on the main loop, hikers have a choice of two ascents, one tiring, the other nearly impossible. From the parking lot just off Hill Road, most hikers take the trail directly up a set of wood stairs, along the edge of the Ebey’s prairie land, then onto the spine of the bluff. But for those looking for an excruciating workout, start the hike with an easy one-mile walk down the beach and then take the trail up just past the northern end of Perego’s Lake. Here, the trail is deep sugar sand, canted up the bluff at an angle nearly equal to that of a straight scramble to the top. This trail is typically used as the decent to the beach by hikers, so is worn and torn by sliding heel plants.

Either choice of ascent is worth the effort, as the undulating, narrow trail at the top of the bluff weaves along some of the most breathtaking windblown forest on Whidbey Island. Several side paths take the adventurous into the woods for a few hundred yards at a shot before returning to the main trail.

The view is spectacular from these heights, to the point that it can distract a hiker into stumbling a bit too close to the edge and into a long tumble to the beach. On a bluff that stands over 150 feet above the beach and lake below, it is possible to see shoreline up to 65 miles away, including Vancouver Island on the horizon line. Mount Rainier, at 102 miles distant, can be seen on a clear day. The shipping lane brings freighters, liners and Navy combat ships at regular intervals, all against a backdrop of the Olympic mountains.

As the footing on all these trails varies between solid and downright treacherous, a pair of hiking boots is advised. Try this in running shoes only if equipped with titanium ankles.

Going farther: Add to this hike by taking the trail to Sunnyside Cemetery, then walking Cook Road to the south east, then Ebey Road to the south east to get back to Ebey’s Landing.

Next week: Hoypus Point, the lesser-known side of Deception Pass State Park.

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