4 Scenic Ferry Rides to Island Hikes in Puget Sound

Wenatchee en route to Bainbridge Island, Washington.
Wenatchee en route to Bainbridge Island, Washington. Tobias Eigen
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The islands that dot the waters of Puget Sound are one of the Seattle area's most unique features—and the ferries that take you there are Washington’s most unique form of public transit. Why not combine these delights with one of many a Seattleite's favorite activity: hiking? A boat ride across the water, surrounded by incredible mountain views, adds a fun extra twist to a great weekend or day-trip outdoors.

Here, four favorite island hikes in Puget Sound that will test out your sea legs along the way, too.

1. Vashon Island

It's not always the case that the transit to the trailhead is the most scenic part of a hiking day.
It's not always the case that the transit to the trailhead is the most scenic part of a hiking day. David Dennis

Where To Catch the Ferry: Fauntleroy/West Seattle

Estimated Travel Time from Seattle: 1 hour

Just a short hop across the Sound, Vashon is effectively a Seattle suburb—but once you step on the island’s shores, you’ll feel as though you’re a million miles away. The island is about the same size as Manhattan, but this is no urban jungle: Vashon’s landscape is defined by woodsy rolling hills and family farms, and its community of about 10,000 embodies a charming bohemian flair.

The best place to hike is within the Island Center Forest, a 435-acre nature preserve located in the middle of the island. The preserve has more than nine miles of trails that weave through forests and wetlands, alongside creeks and ponds. Some of the intersections can be confusing, so bring a map along with you.

2. Bainbridge Island

The hike to Gazzam Lake winds through peaceful island scenery.
The hike to Gazzam Lake winds through peaceful island scenery. theloneconspirator

Where To Catch the Ferry: Downtown Seattle

Estimated Travel Time from Seattle: 1 hour

Bainbridge is much more developed than neighboring Vashon, but it still maintains the feel of a peaceful island haven. With waterscapes and mountain views—the Cascades, the Olympics, and Mount Rainier—all around, biking the island’s perimeter makes for a classic Pacific Northwest afternoon.

For a great hike, check out Gazzam Lake and Close Beach, which you can string together for a nice 3.4-mile jaunt. You’ll pass beneath pretty cedars, maples, and, once you reach the lake, you may be treated to a show of soaring eagles and cormorants. Save your picnic lunch for the beach, where you’ll be able to enjoy the stunning backdrop of the Kitsap Peninsula and the Olympics.

3. San Juan Island

A woman sits back and enjoys the ride to San Juan Island.
A woman sits back and enjoys the ride to San Juan Island. woodleywonderworks

Where To Catch the Ferry: Anacortes

Estimated Travel Time from Seattle: 3 hours

The San Juan Islands are a beloved archipelago in the northern corner of the state, known for quaint towns, evergreen forests, and abundant wildlife. The cluster’s namesake island makes for a great destination for a weekend getaway.

The 3.5-mile family-friendly hike up Mount Finlayson will take you through some of the most outstanding scenery in the San Juans. The trail gradually works its way up through grassland and forests until it reaches the 285-foot high summit ridge. From here, you’ll have amazing views of the coastline below, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca across the way.

Complete the weekend with whale watching from Lime Kiln Point State Park—one of the best places in the world to see orca whales—and dinner in the cozy town of Friday Harbor.

4. Orcas Island

The view of Mount Baker from the summit of Mount Constitution is incredible.
The view of Mount Baker from the summit of Mount Constitution is incredible. Liz Lawley

Where To Catch the Ferry: Anacortes

Estimated Travel Time from Seattle: 3 hours

The largest island in the San Juans, Orcas Island (named for a Spanish explorer, not the whales who frequent the island's shores) is another great choice for an outdoorsy weekend trip. The best hiking experience on Orcas is to climb Mount Constitution, the highest point on the island in Moran State Park. The 6.7-mile round-trip trail ascends 1,500 feet to the 2,409-foot summit, bringing you to stunning views of lush green islands dotting the sound and the snow-capped peaks beyond. The park also has several wonderful campgrounds, with sites right along the shores of both Puget Sound and serene Mountain Lake.

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