Hike of the month
South side of Turtleback Mountain Preserve
A good alternative to the sometimes-crowded Moran State Park on Orcas Island, the 1,578-acre Turtleback Mountain Preserve offers tranquil hikes with views of the San Juan Islands, Canadian Gulf Islands and the Olympic Mountains. Plus, you don’t need to be in great shape to summit Turtleback, with only about 900 feet of elevation gain.
Facilities: About a dozen parking spots and a kiosk at the south-end trailhead. About five parking spots on the north-end trailhead. Both trailheads have restrooms but no water or trash cans.
The hike: Turtleback, with 8 miles of trails, looks like two different recreation areas. The trails on the north end are former logging roads and ideal for mountain biking or trail running. The south end is more popular, with easy-to-moderate hikes with many views along the way, especially since volunteers built two half-mile trails, Lost Oak Trail and Morning Ridge Trail.
I did a 2.4-mile loop on the south end. It starts off in a ravine and crosses a creek before splitting into the Lost Oak Trail to the left and South Trail to the right. Since it’s a loop, it doesn’t matter where you go first, though note that Lost Oak Trail will be the steeper climb (so I took the South Trail up). It’s a moderate hike either way.
The South Trail starts in a shaded conifer lowland and transitions into a Garry oak woodland as you pick up elevation about a half-mile up. At an intersection, take the Morning Ridge Trail; if you look south, you can see Mount Rainier on a clear day. About a mile up, after about 800 feet elevation gain, a short side tour to the West Overlook finds views of West Sound, Deer Harbor and the Wasp Islands. A bit farther is Ship Peak, a 931-foot overlook above pastoral Crow Valley with a magnificent backdrop of Mount Constitution and East Sound and West Sound.
There are other paths off the main trail that lead to cliffside views of the water and valley. Seven benches dot the trail, providing ample opportunities for picnics. Complete the loop by descending on Lost Oak Trail back to the parking lot.
Restrictions: Open dawn till dusk. Dogs must be on leash. Stay on the trail; it’s a preserve. Trails at the south end are for hikers only. On the north end, bikes are permitted on even calendar days, and horses on odd calendar days. Hikers allowed every day.
Directions: To get to the south trailhead from the Orcas ferry terminal, take Orcas Road for 2.4 miles. Turn left on Deer Harbor Road. Pass through West Sound village and continue to Wild Rose Lane at 4.8 miles from the start. Turn right and follow Wild Rose to the parking area on the right.
More info: Download the trail map here.