Destinations, July 1997
As you paddle into Hammersley Inlet on Washington's Cascadia Marine Trail, a crowd of small heads pops up. The seals stare curiously for a moment and then, one by one, turn their snouts to the sky and slide nonchalantly back below the surface. They've seen kayakers before.
Several years ago, when the Cascadia was first created, marine trails — and trail users — were a novelty. Now almost two dozen such routes dot the nation's waterways, and yet the Cascadia remains perhaps the most scenically varied. It's also one of the most extensive, with 35 campsites and 30 waterfront inns linked mainly by currents (but not by signs or buoys; the "trail" consists only of sites marked on regional coastal maps). As it turns four this summer, the trail has become perhaps the finest way to see Puget Sound's fingerling coves, companionable seals, and occasional whale.
To sample the Cascadia yourself, join the trail anywhere along its 160-mile length. But for the greatest seclusion, head south. The 27-mile section that begins at Boston Harbor and loops around Hartstene Island is especially memorable. The jagged Olympic Mountains loom to the west as you set out, while Mount Rainier rises impressively through mist to the east. If you'd like to lengthen your trip, continue to Anderson Island; you can camp here among the Northwest's signature madrona trees. (Permits cost $7 per person. Call 206-545-9161 for information.)
The more northerly sections of the trail, including the San Juan Islands, are equally scenic but more crowded, especially in July. Wait for drizzly weather, which arrives frequently throughout the summer. The damp keeps humans off the water but encourages porpoises and whales to surface.
For a coastal map and set of tide tables — prerequisites for anyone venturing onto the Cascadia — or for information about other sections of the trail, call the Northwest Outdoor Center in Seattle (206-281-9694). The center also rents kayaks ($40-$60 per day).