Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Turtlehead Trail at Turtleback Mountain Preserve (Orcas Island)

Hike: North Trail and Turtlehead Trail
Hike Difficulty: Moderate
Hike Distance (Round Trip): 5.4 miles (add a bit more for the two overlooks)
Time (Round Trip): 3 hours
Elevation: Turtlehead 1005 feet

Just when I thought Orcas Island couldn't feel more magical or special, we had an opportunity to explore Turtleback Mountain Preserve on the west side of the island. Maybe it was just that in the winter there are fewer people on the island. Or maybe it's that a lot of love and money from local islanders and conservation groups recently made sure this land would never be sold off so rich people could build absurd houses on it and ultimately ruin this pristine, undeveloped, beautiful land. Whatever the reason, Turtleback Mountain Preserve felt special. It is peaceful, quiet, lush, and spiritual. The trails were well maintained and all of the overlooks are worth spending a few moments to breath it all in (and snap a few pictures). 

This hike started at the North parking area off Crow Valley Road. The parking lot is right next to the Crow Valley School Museum. Directions to the trailhead can be found at the bottom of this post. It is really obvious where the trail begins. Below is a map of the north section of the preserve.

We took a few minutes to check out the historic school and its surroundings before heading off down the trail.

Pleasant Valley School (later called Crow Valley School) built in 1888

After the school, we started up North Trail (and it is up, for most of the trail), taking a short detour to enjoy North Valley Overlook. 

 North Valley Overlook. Mount Constitution in the distance and Crow Valley down below.

 Several beautiful Madrona trees at the overlook

 North Trail

We continued up North Trail for 1.5 miles to Waldron Overlook (Waldron Overlook can be found by following a little trail to the right. There is a sign that points you in the correct direction.)

The view from Waldron Overlook of Waldron Island. We kayaked right along the coast down below on our San Juan Islands kayaking adventure in 2011. 

We took the Waldron Overlook Trail back to North Trail and almost immediately to the right is the Turtlehead Trail sign. This sign says the trail is 1.0 miles, but the map at the parking lot says 1.2. It definitely felt longer than 1 mile (but every step was awesome)!

The Turtlehead Trail is no longer a fire road, but instead is single track. The sign says no bicycles are allowed on this trail. From this point, we were going down hill for awhile before heading back uphill to the vista point. 

 Not sure what type of critter this is. Maybe a fox? 

 So much green! And yes, it's dark and feels like the sun is about to set, but it's really only 1:30pm. 

 The moss was literally glowing. So magical (and hobbity)!

 Views from Turtlehead. 

How awesome is this little character!?

We encountered 3 families and one single guy on the entire hike. We basically had the afternoon to ourselves. I loved every second of it. So much so, that we figured out a way to get one more hike in at Turtleback Mountain before leaving the island. Next post: Ship Peak at Turtleback Mountain Preserve

Directions to North Trailhead from Eastsound
Head south on Orcas Road for 1.2 miles. 
At Y, turn right on Crow Valley Road. 
Continue south on Crow Valley Road for about 1.5 miles. You will go through one stop sign. 
When you see Crow Valley School Museum on your right, the trailhead parking lot is right beyond it on your right. There is room for probably 5-6 cars.

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