Several times, I’ve hiked the Bluff Trail that traverses three different areas: Ebey’s Landing; the Robert Y. Pratt Preserve, Mr. Pratt “gave 147 acres of his land, including the beautiful Bluff Trail, to the Nature Conservancy, for its wildness to be preserved, enjoyed and shared with the public; and the Admiralty Inlet Natural Area Preserve, which, “protects one of only 11 remaining populations of golden paintbrush, a federally listed threatened plant species.”
On a visit during a Sunday, which was also a sunny day, my hiking partner and I encountered a lot of hikers who had the same idea. The parking lot is tiny, with room for about a dozen vehicles, so we, like many others, parked parallel to the shore along Hill Road, which is shown on their park map. En route to the trail head, we passed an area with informational signs, one notably about the man himself, Isaac Ebey, “the first resident land claimant on Whidbey Island” who “claimed and started a successful farm in 1850.” The park map indicates that the area from the parking lot to the trail head is part of Ebey’s Reserve.
Moments later, we reached the limits of the Robert Y. Pratt Preserve. If, instead of walking up the hill, we’d gone towards the right, we’d have reached the Ebey’s Prairie Trail with access to the Jacob Ebey and the Davis blockhouses as well as the Sunnyside Cemetery. The weather was perfect, with clear skies, so we decided to continue on the Bluff Trail and save the other way for a different day. Looking down from here to the beach below, the hikers looked tiny. And the higher we went, the scarier it became because the hand-rail-less trail reaches 300 feet above the lake below. A fall down the hillside would likely be deadly. If you made it down alive, you’d end up in the drink.
We stopped to look back from just above the trail head. Still ascending, we passed farmland. A few minutes later, an older runner carrying an iPod flew towards us along the trail. It didn’t seem so unsafe there to do so there, but further on, it definitely was. We saw several small groups of persons picnicking or just congregating, resting, and enjoying the amazing view. Soon we reached a line of sort of short gnarly-looking Douglas Fir trees, which should not have come as a surprise. The soil was dry and sandy and the trees aren’t protected from wind.
To the west is a spectacular unobstructed view of the Olympic Mountains. To the south, you can watch the ferry that runs between Port Townsend and Coupeville near Admiralty Inlet, the Keystone side. Finally, we got a good view of what looked like a lagoon, but is, in fact, Perego’s Lake. I was hoping to see birds, but, except for a hawk, nada.
Because it was winter, there weren’t many plants in bloom, the one thing was a shrub called Leatherleaf mahonia Mahonia bealei, also known as leatherleaf holly, which is an invasive species. There were many dried up plants that I couldn’t identify at the time but on a later spring visit, I was able to enjoy in bloom and figure out what they were. The trail follows the top of the bluff for the most part until the northernmost end, when it begins to switchback. As we reached the beach, we tried to figure out the limits of Fort Ebey State Park, which lies just to the north, but isn’t accessible from the area of the Bluff Trail. I was relieved to reach the beach, look up, and see others descending. Driftwood, sand, seaweed and rounded rocks were everywhere along the shore line as we headed south towards the start point.
A family walked together along the beach, Dad carrying a log of driftwood long enough to know someone’s block off. Apparently, he’d not read the memo that forbids the collection of driftwood, which helps reduce beach erosion. I kept my distance. I got as close as I could to the lake, hoping to spy a cool creature, but, at least on this day, they were nowhere to be found. After what seemed like an eternity of trying to keep up with my long-striding husband along the rocky shore, we made it back to Hill Road where we were parked. Ninety minutes from when we started, we’d completed the hike. My GPS watch showed the distance as 3-3/4th mile with an elevation gain of 300 feet. During a nearly two mile distance of beach combing, I’d found only four shells, three of them within the first few moments we’d arrived, at the furthermost distance from the water in the sand mere feet from where we’d parked. The forth was from a limpet. The only other cool things I collected (but left, along with the others) were two conglomerate rocks.
This 3.5-ish mile hike is well worth the effort. The compacted trails along the bluff are steep and can be slippery, so beware. In addition, the weather brings out the world. It’s best to visit first thing in the morning and keep track of the tide. During some high tides, you’re forced to hike along the upper beach, which is tougher than the lower beach, so plan accordingly.