Visitors to the Skagit Valley may want to treat themselves to a fun day-trip up Chuckanut Drive, which begins at Interstate 5 just west of Burlington.
Officially known as State Route 11, Chuckanut Drive was built in 1896 by prison crews as Washington’s first scenic highway, linking Bellingham and Whatcom County to Skagit County and providing another option to the prevailing modes of travel at the time: dugout canoes, steamboats, sailing ships and railroads. Today it is a popular route with sightseers who are afforded a spectacular view of the sunset, as well as motorcycle clubs who enjoy its windy, curvaceous roadway, which has been featured in many car commercials.
Chuckanut Drive is also geologically diverse and is one of the few places where mountains touch the shores of Washington’s inland marine waterways. This makes it a fascinating venue for hiking and mountain biking, which is feasible year-round since the area’s relatively low elevation and proximity to salt water keeps it almost always snow-free. On the south and western side of Chuckanut Drive families can enjoy a day at the water’s edge at Clayton Beach or Larrabee State Park. On the uphill side of the road hikers can quickly escape into a dense wilderness, lined with myriad trails, some of which lead to hidden gems such as Fragrance Lake.
The southern end of Chuckanut Drive boasts a smooth drive through some of the Skagit Valley’s most fertile farmland. During the winter months Trumpeter and Tundra swans, as well as thousands of migratory ducks, are commonly seen foraging in these fields looking for the roots of leftover cornstalks. While traveling SR11 take the time to visit the antique shops, photo and art galleries in the towns of Allen and Edison. The northern end of Chuckanut Drive empties into the historic Fairhaven part of Bellingham, Washington, where an eclectic blend of unusual shops, restaurants, coffee shops and free-spirited merchants beckon travelers.
The Skagit River system is home to many year-round resident Bald Eagles but each winter their numbers increase dramatically with the return of spawning salmon.
In all five different species of salmon return to the Skagit River to spawn, then die along the shores of the river. With such an abundance of food during these circle-of-life phenomena, eagles have found the Skagit to be an excellent fishing spot and they literally flock here by the hundreds.
Every year thousands of people visit the Upper Skagit River Valley in northwestern Washington State to observe one of the largest wintering bald eagle populations in the continental United States. Up to 400 bald eagles are counted annually. While eagles can be seen as early as November, or as late as March, the best viewing is from mid-December to mid-February with eagle numbers peaking around Christmas, about three weeks after the large Skagit River chum and silver salmon runs begin.
Eagles were once listed as an endangered species but were recently downgraded to threatened due to a steady rebound in their numbers.
Looking for a wonderful day-trip that the entire family will enjoy? A short 35 minute drive from Burlington west on Highway 20 will bring you to scenic, historic and unforgettable Deception Pass State Park.
Deception Pass State Park is a 4,134-acre marine and camping park with 77,000 feet of saltwater shoreline as well as 33,900 feet of freshwater shoreline on four lakes. During the warm summer months at the park’s western-most area sun worshipers can enjoy both a plunge into the invigorating waters on Puget Sound and a much warmer dip in nearby Cranberry Lake. Both places are also well known for their fishing, with salmon anglers routinely patrolling the salt water shorelines each fall while boaters ply the freshwater of Cranberry for rainbow trout each spring.
“Spectacular” hardly does justice to the scenery afforded travelers who take the time to see this most visited of Washington state parks. Rugged cliffs drop dramatically to meet the turbulent waters of Deception Pass far below. Two green metal spans constructed in the mid-1930s tower 180 feet above the swirling water, connecting Skagit and Island counties and giving Whidbey Island its only non-ferry transportation route off the island.
The park is outstanding for breath-taking views, romps through old-growth forests and for seeing abundant wildlife. The park is open year-round for camping and day use but it is advised to call ahead for overnight camping reservations well in advance. Some campsites are closed in winter. On the Skagit County side of the bridge is the equally spectacular Bowman’s Bay State Park, which boasts a long hiking trail that traverses beach and bluff, plus tide pools for kids to explore at Rosario Beach.
Really want to check out Deception Pass? Day tours are available through Deception Pass Tours.
Skagit Speedway, located 9 miles north of Burlington near Alger on Old Highway 99, is the premier motor sports facility in the northwest United States. Each year hundreds of thousands of fans of fixed-wing dirt track racing flock to the Speedway to enjoy an evening of exciting family fun. This 3/10th mile clay track was dubbed “The Action Attraction of the Northwest” shortly after it found its footing as a race facility in the late 1950s. Prior to then the site was mainly a place to get in some “pasture racing” on a course established on a plateau surrounded by tall trees.Mixed into the weekly schedule of sprint car racing are several high-profile dirt track race events, which draw competitors from across the country and even from other countries, including the annual Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup each June, the Bob’s Burgers & Brew 360 nationals in July and the popular World of Outlaws week in September.For the past 55 years Skagit Speedway has provided a top-notched entertainment venue tucked amongst some of the most beautiful mountains and scenery Washington State has to offer. From “pasture racing” in the early 1950s, to a trend-setting complex in the new millennium, Skagit Speedway is a family fun first class racing facility worth the 15-minute drive from Burlington to check out.
According to the Washington State Department of transportation, Washington State Ferries operates the largest ferry fleet in the United States. Currently, 28 ferries cross Puget Sound and its inland waterways, annually carrying over 26 million passengers to 20 different ports of call. From Tacoma, Washington, to Sidney, British Columbia, we travel up and down the Sound, acting as a marine highway for commercial users, tourists and daily commuters alike.
Here in Skagit County travelers can board a state ferry at the Anacortes terminal and use it to explore one of the spectacular San Juan Islands, including ports at Lopez, Orcas and San Juan islands – or those looking for a more cultural adventure can take a state ferry all the way to Sydney, B.C. in Canada at the southern tip of Vancouver Island.
Fares change according to the travel season so it’s best to contact the Washington State Ferry web site at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/ or call toll-free 1-800-84FERRY.
With the eyes of the world turned toward southwestern Canada for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the focus and interest in winter recreation opportunities has never been higher. Using Burlington as a headquarters residents and visitors alike are just a couple hours from world-class downhill and cross country skiing havens as well as some of the hottest snowboarding venues in the United States.
For those seeking adventure on the ‘board, nearby Mount Baker is considered the Holy Land of snowboarding, the place where those in the know say the sport was actually invented. If not invented, though, it was at least put on the map by Skagit County natives and pioneer snowboarding legends Craig Kelly of Mount Vernon and Burlington’s own Dan Donnelly. Mount Baker also has miles of ski trails and some of the best powder west of Vail.
Wanting a tamer workout? Try cross country skiing. Aimed at those who prefer to stroll through the snowscape rather than blast by at top speed, all the while taking in the quiet, natural beauty of winter, cross country skiers needn’t go far to enjoy their sport. Rent some skies from one of the local board and ski shops in Burlington then head an hour east on Highway 20 until you find the North Cascades Highway closure. Each winter this highway is shut down until the spring thaw returns and snowplows can once again clear the blacktop. Until then, however, the roadway and forests beyond the gates are open territory for those with an explorer’s heart and a good pair of cross country skies – and it’s FREE!
Outdoor enthusiasts will find Skagit County to be a gold mine of opportunities and attractions that could quite possibly take an entire lifetime to complete. Dotted with hundreds of lakes and blessed with millions of acres of forest land, Skagit County certainly has something for every outdoor interest, including fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, rock-hounding and even paragliding.
Hiking trails abound in the region and vary widely as far as difficulty. Easier routes are found in the urban zones. In Burlington and further east along Highway 20 try the flat Cascade Trail that follows an abandoned railroad line. In Mount Vernon drive to the scenic lookout atop Little Mountain where you can park then wander through several miles of trails among tall timbers.
For a stroll through some of the Northwest’s best-preserved forest lands head west to Anacortes where you can enjoy a wide variety of terrain and spectacular views at either Washington Park or nearby Mt. Erie. Tap into a bit of history by heading northwest of Burlington to Blanchard Mountain where one can actually hike part of the world-famous Pacific Crest Trail. Part of this 2,500 mile long trail crosses the Chuckanut Mountains and is a quiet, humbling walk through the woods.
The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Park in eastern Skagit County offers the most wide-open experience where hikers can spend several days immersed in nature. Check out for information at the Forest Service web site http://www.fs.fed.us and clicking on the “Find a Forest or Grassland” feature.
There are many campgrounds for every type of camper as well in Skagit County, many just a short drive from Burlington. Campers can set their tent stakes near mountains, beaches or lakes and enjoy fishing for salmon, bass or trout, or take in a great view and work out on the many hiking trails in the area. Choose tent, RV camping or select a nice resort. The choice is yours to enjoy!