Into the woods

In a patch of forest between the Maxwelton Valley and Cultus Bay Road, there is a piece of forest trail hiking that is almost unknown outside of its neighborhood.

The 100 acres owned by the Whidbey Institute at the Chinook Center off Campbell road is well off the beaten track, but it is a place that is an absolute must for the day hiker looking for a place to get away from it all for the afternoon.

In addition to several miles of hiking in young, but deep forest, the Chinook trails offer a number of extras that will not be found anywhere else. The Chinook Center offers a unique campground with small-cabin lodging, a recently built meditation sanctuary, a stone labyrinth, open grassy lawns for reading, and — of utmost importance to hikers — a number of twisting trails that can turn an afternoon walk into an adventure.

Getting there: The Chinook Center is a bit hard to find, so anyone going there should be ready to miss a turn or two on the way. From Highway 525 on South Whidbey, drive south on Cultus Bay Road for about a mile. Turn right on Campbell Road. Just as the road heads downhill, turn left at the sign that points to the Chinook Center and the Whidbey Island Waldorf School. From there, it’s about a half-mile drive down a one-lane dirt drive to the lower parking lot just past the Whidbey Institute’s Thomas Berry Hall.

The trail: The trails at the Chinook Center are numerous, but they are well signed and mapped, so there is little risk at getting lost. Maps can be picked up in the administrative offices of the Whidbey Institute at Thomas Berry Hall or at a kiosk near the lower parking lot trailhead.

The hike starts on the Wetlands Loop, then heads for higher country on the Farm Loop to the west and the Upper Loop to the east. The best views on the trail are found on the Sky Loop, which heads south off the Upper Loop to give hikers and walkers a peek-a-boo view of the waters at Maxwelton Beach.

The trails are not heavily used, so hikers and walkers should be prepared to hit a few nettles and thorny berry bushes. Socially conscious trail users are encouraged to take a clippers along to cut back any of the brush grown across the trails.

With varied topography and and a surface that is somewhere between bone dry and squishy wet, the Chinook trails are a good candidate for hiking boots. Accomplished runners will find the trails to be a good deal of fun, although they do present a myriad of ankle turning possibilities. It’s a good idea to at least be a regular walker before trying these trails, as they can test the fitness of less-accomplished trail users.

Those who make short work of the trails are welcome to spend a little more time at the Chinook Center to play or meditate at the labyrinth or to spend quiet time in the sanctuary.

Going farther: The Chinook trails dump out onto a private road, Drummuir Road, at their southeast corner. It’s just a quick walk down the hill to Maxwelton Road, where the curious can walk a wide paved shoulder to see the splendor of Whidbey Island’s largest watershed.

Editor’s note: This is the final installment of “Into the Woods.” For those interested in finding past stories about Whidbey Island’s best trails, all 14 installments can be found in editions of The South Whidbey Record between March 24 and today’s edition. Or, search under the key word “trail” at

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