Hiking Mt. Constitution
While still on Orcas Island, we adventured both by land and by sea. After sleeping in and relaxing with our tea all morning at Blackberry Beach cabin, we drove ourselves up to Mountain Lake in Moran State Park. This is where we began our strenuous but incredible 6.7 mile loop hike to the top of Mt. Constitution (2, 398 feet), the highest point in the San Juan Islands. You can do the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise. We've done it both ways (not both on this trip of course!), and I recommend doing the loop counter-clockwise. It seems less steep going up, but not too steep coming down that it's challenging for fairly active people. Also, it's the elevation gain that classifies this hike as strenuous. The trails are well-marked, clear of obstacles, and enjoyable to walk on. There is a lot to see on this hike, not just the summit. From foxglove groves to black banana slugs to picture-worthy mushrooms to giant, moss-covered cedar and hemlock trees (not to mention the 360-degree views of the islands, Canada, and mainland Washington from the summit), the whole hike is a nature lover's delight.
The to continue the loop, you have to find the trail past the restrooms heading back down the mountain. You'll have great views of Mountain Lake and beyond, before heading into some beautiful groves which were so picturesque with the afternoon sunlight breaking through the trees.
It's nearly impossible to say no to a swim in Mountain Lake, after this very satisfying hike. Our swim in Mountain Lake was about the most refreshing swim I've had, and I've swam in a lot of lakes. It's cold, but not Lake Tahoe cold. There is a little trail off to the right of the parking lot to a kind of secluded spot. If you forgot your bathing suit, you're probably ok heading off in this direction for a quick dip. It was such a perfect ending to the hike!
For more details about the hike, both of these sites provide the directions you need. Also, the brochure provides other shorter hikes for those of you that don't want something so strenuous.
One of these days, I'm going to backtrack to last summer and share our kayaking adventure on this blog. During the planning of that trip, I'd repeatedly wished that someone else had shared their adventures on the internet to make our planning easier. However, for now I'll share our half-day kayak outing that started at the North Shore of Orcas Island at Outer Island Expeditions. I wasn't overly impressed by this outfitter, but they were fine for renting kayaks for a few hours. We put in the kayaks directly north of the Eastsound air strip, so while we were getting ready it was neat to have the small planes taking off or landing right over us.
We kayaked out and back along the north and west shore of Orcas for 4 hours or so. According to the outfitter, there are rough currents along the east side of the island. Considering we had a kid with us, we decided to stay in safer waters. We kept our eyes open for seals and bald eagles, knowing that they are all over the place in this area. Although we saw no bald eagles this time, we saw a ton of seals and their pups, both in the water and sunning on the rocks. Of course, my camera died right when we saw the seals. They would've looked pretty small in a photo anyway, because we didn't want to disrupt them by getting too close. But with the cliffs towering high above and the sun glistening off the water, these seals have quite a place to call home.
We ended up kayaking around Point Doughty - one of the beautiful spots we camped on our longer kayak adventure last year - and ate lunch on Freeman Island (a tiny island in the bay right by Pt. Doughty). Then, we continued kayaking down the west coast until we decided it was time to head back. There are some gorgeous homes and plenty of trees and wildlife along this part of the island. The picture below is from Pt. Doughty but from our longer kayaking adventure.