Lately we've been exploring some of the many parks scattered along the coast of Washington's Puget Sound. We like to visit them in the offseason (it's winter around here), mainly because they're usually free of crowds & traffic. It also helps us out for the upcoming summer - we know where to go, where to park, where to launch a kayak. Also, when I can, I like to see future paddle trips from the land first, it's helps orient things when I'm on the water.
When we get home from a day out, I eventually download all of the pictures from the adventure, delete the blurry ones, edit, delete, import, export, move to this app, move to that one, upload, and download. Once I have the pictures organized in article format, I start researching where we've been. That's right. With most park visits: I research after we get home.
Now, not all trips are like this - paddling & sailing trips are way different. We check the tides, check the currents, check the weather, check all kinds of stuff. With park visits it's sometimes nice going in ready to hike, ready to learn, ready to take pictures, ready to get lost, but not exactly knowing what's going on.
With this in mind we set out for the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Located just off I-5 between Tacoma and Olympia Washington, the refuge is a protected estuary formed by the freshwater of the Nisqually River & McAlister Creek emptying out and meeting the saltwater of the Puget Sound. The Nisqually Delta is biologically diverse - animals all over the place - and is heavily influenced by the tide. I could tell this from the map - the refuge is a giant green spot.
From paddling the Skagit & Stillaguamish river deltas I could kinda imagine what it would be like. You can see the refuge in the map below. Just follow the signs off of I-5 to get there, the 'A' on this map is a boat ramp (discover pass required), adjacent to the reserve, suitable for launching a kayak and paddling up McAlister Creek (most of the actual refuge is off limits to boats).
When you arrive at the refuge there is a $3 parking fee and lots of spots (I'm sure it gets crowded on the weekends in the summer). There is a nice visitor center & restrooms. There are a few trail choices - about the most you can go is the 4 mile roundtrip boardwalk trail, it's sort of an out and back.
Since the tide is in and out a couple times per day, the Washington Fish & Wildlife department worked to build the boardwalk that takes you out to the far reaches of the refuge. Informational boards are around to give you an idea of what exactly is going on with the thousands of migrating birds, various mammals, amphibians, and reptiles that live and/or frequent the area.
From a paddlers point of view, most of the area is off limits to boats (that includes kayaks). The picture below of a couple canoeing is from McAlister Creek - located adjacent to the refuge. A nearby boat ramp gives great access to the creek. Personally, I'd wait until waterfowl hunting season is over to paddle around here just to be safe…or at least wear some orange? The season in WA usually happens October-ish to February-ish. Here's a link with more info.
That about covers the facts, what did I uncover post-visit about the history of the place? Well, let's start out with a shout-out to the Nisqually Tribe who have lived & fished salmon on the Nisqually River for…wait for it…thousands of years. (the river starts miles away on the south side of Mt. Rainier, otherwise known as Volcano Rainier). Just step back and think about that for a minute. Thousands of years.
Enter the white man in the mid 18oos and a treaty that was eventually signed between them and the Nisqually tribe. Actually, we are pretty sure that Chief Leschi (Leschi neighborhood of Seattle anyone?) of the Nisqually didn't, or at least didn't want to, sign this treaty - called the Medicine Creek Treaty (P.S. Medicine Creek is now called McAlister Creek - the one in the picture above with the canoeing couple).
At any rate, the tribe was relocated and the white man obviously settled. There's also now a military base on part of the tribal land. I think we can, if anything, at least know and respect this history while playing/walking/taking pictures/kayaking/hunting on the Nisqually.
That's a wrap! We highly recommend checking out the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Take a lunch - there are plenty of tables for a break. Take a zoom lens for your camera & binoculars too. Word on the creek is there are snowy owls there right now!
Check the tides before you go if you want to see the mudflats (mudflats sometimes = better birding). If you want to kayak near the reserve, use the boat ramp adjacent to the park (the map at the beginning of this post). When you're there, imagine the thousands of years that people have lived on this delta & river…amazing stuff. Oh ya, if you see one, don't kiss the poisonous newts.
~Paul & Amber ETC
Remember summer in the Northwest? Shhhh, don't tell anyone. Sun for days. Humidity? What's that? Bugs? Not really. It's basically 75 and sunny every day for about 2 months, usually mid-July to September...or longer if we're lucky.
Last summer we took quite a few mini-adventures (and we're catching up on the posts now), one being a quick sail over to the Port of Poulsbo. We stayed at the marina aboard Kingsley, right next to town, and enjoyed the quaint coffee houses, bookstores, restaurants, and managed a few little paddling trips.
If you decide to hit the town before the paddling the bay, be sure to get your coffee-fix at the Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse...and you're at it, get your pastry-fix at Sluys Bakery (don't worry, you'll burn these calories off on the water). Want to scope out part of Liberty Bay by foot? Try the Aboretum Causway - it's a short waterfront walkway that starts in town and follows the water north toward Fish Park.
After putting in at the marina (from a boat or at the public boat launch), you have a few choices on where to go. Paddling away from town and the marina, what feels like upstream, leads you toward Fish Park and a great little arboretum paddle, reminiscent of the Arboretum in Seattle. Head the other way and you'll get to tour the other Liberty Bay marina(s) and will probably spy some seals chillin' on the wooden breakwater (definitely in the summer). We started out at high tide, paddling away from the marina, north toward the arboretum.
Tide is a huge factor in this paddle, medium to low tide will empty most of this route and turn it to mud. It turns out mud isn't that great to paddle in:) Heading this way, you'll get to what seems like the end and see a car dealership and a few bridges. The water gets pretty shallow - but keep going under the bridges and you'll reach the arboretum at Fish Park.
Tide and the draft of your boat will determine how far you get in the Arboretum - we made it just past the white house (on your right paddling in).
Heading in the opposite direction of the arboretum, and past the marina where we started, lands you in a great little wildlife viewing area. Time to break out the zoom lens, not get too close (it's the law), and spy some seals!
Cutting back through the marina(s) takes you past a cool little kayak rental shop and by some pretty old/big/fun/ boats - most recreational, some commercial.
Just when you've burned off those morning pastry calories, it's time to stock up for the next trip. We ate at both the Himalayan Chutney & the Casa Luna while in town - we recommend both.
Poulsbo - a great little paddling/sailing/shopping/eating town - great for a summer visit. Turns out swimming can be a little challenging though (see below)!
~Paul, Amber, Ann, Kathy - ETC
On what seemed to be the last sunny day of the year here in the Pacific Northwest, ETC took to the mountains and paddled a gorgeous stretch of the Skagit River - from Marblemount to Rockport. This stretch of river is well known in the area for it's high concentration of wintering bald eagles and plentiful salmon & trout. Beautiful Fall colors, mountain vistas, clear greenish/blue water, and abundant wildlife makes for quite an adventure - it all starts by taking two cars up SR 20 (the North Cascades highway) toward the Ross Lake National Recreation Area.
Leaving the smaller car downstream in the free parking area at Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport WA (map above) lets you pack your people & gear in the larger one and travel upstream to the put-in at Marblemount (link to Marblemount map/info). There's a few historical landmarks at Steelhead Park to check out (pic below), along with a quaint riverside RV park and some small rentable cabins.
Taking the other car to the put-in at Marblemount is a breeze. The road follows the river and you're there in minutes. The launch site is just off SR 20 in Marblemount - veer onto Cascade River Road to cross the river. Look for the boat launch sign pictured below. Don't worry about parking, there is lots of it and even some national forest-type bathrooms for any pre-departure needs.
We were able to pack all of our people & gear into the second car because of these little babies. We paddled Innova inflatable kayaks - a Helios II & the new Swing I & Swing II. The covered decks of the Swings worked great for this trip - this part of the Skagit is class 1+/ 2 ish - a.k.a. an occasional splash of icy-cold water comes into the boat. The whitewater that came into my Helios got me wet and I had to pump out occasionally to avoid an icy cold seat all day. The Swings? Well, the water just runs right off of the covered decks. Overall, all of the boats performed great and even though it was shallow a lot of the way, I still advise using a optional skeg or rudder to help with tracking if you've got one. The Helios II had the leg up here because the optional Helios rudder is on a hinge and comes up out of the water when the going gets shallow & rocky.
Paddling the river in kayaks this time of year (early October), requires a little strategy. The river, like many across the country, seemed lower than usual. A dry summer (our summers are usually fairly dry, but we really had a dry one this year) means there are quite a few shallow spots you'll have to navigate. Also, the occasional whitewater makes this trip splashy enough to be fun and keep you on your toes, but not crazy enough to cause my wife and I to yell at each other around every bend:) We are still pretty new to river paddling and are more used to slow moving, tidal-wind-& wave influenced saltwater trips in the nearby Puget Sound. After the first whitewater early on this paddle (that sound of loud rushing water in the distance!) we wondered if it was gonna be the smallest on the trip or the biggest…gulp…it turns out it was the biggest, so the rest of the day was pretty much smooth paddling with still fun, but smaller whitewater portions.
As you cruise down the river from Marblemount you'll start to notice the beautiful mountain views behind you - you are on the aquatic version of the North Cascades Highway after all!
I couldn't help but go a little Ansel Adams on the whole situation.
Another nice thing about this paddle is you put in at one bridge and you take out at the next one...or just yards past the next one anyway. You may see some tour rafts just under the bridge at Rockport like we did - but just keep paddling about 100 yards more for the official launch/take-out site. We completed the trip, with a decent lunch break, in about 3 hours and 15 minutes. As I've tried to show with my photos - it's a gorgeous paddle with lots to see. Check the links below for more info, especially if you plan to go during the winter eagle season - there are a few restrictions. Want a little longer of a paddle? Try putting in a little more up river across from Copper Creek. Don't have two cars? Contact one of the raft tours to give you a lift! Be safe & have fun!
~Paul, Amber, Mandy, Karl ETC
Nature Conservancy Skagit River visitors guide
Allaboutrivers info page on the route with numbers for current river conditions
Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center in Rockport
Marblemount boat launch info
September in Seattle has been amazingly dry and warm...to celebrate the big yellow shiny thing in the sky, we got some club members together and took our Innova kayak fleet around the Shilshole Marina breakwater here in Seattle, WA. It turned out to be one pretty scene after another...
~Paul, Amber, Keith, Vic, Greg ETC
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