Hiking · Local Adventures

Local Adventures: Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

The Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is a multifunction visit, for both children and adults. Located on Padilla Bay, in Skagit County, Washington it is an easy drive to reach it, with plenty of free parking. Padilla Bay is one of 29 sites in the National Estuarine Research Reserve system established to protect coastal areas for long-term research, monitoring and education, and stewardship. Besides the trails through upland forest and meadows, it also has the Breazeale Interpretive Center to enjoy with children – it is wonderful learning center and aquarium (however it is closed on Sundays).

There is also a 2 car electric vehicle charging center, in the lower lot. It was free to use, making our hike even better. Almost like having the hiking pay for itself. Well, a bit at least!

To find the upland trails, head towards the driveway to the research center and guesthouse. There is a trail map at the trailhead, but the majority of the trails are visible on Google Maps, in satellite view.

The lower section is paved and wheelchair/stroller/walker friendly. It is gentle elevation on the lower half.

The trail takes you along the meadows and into the trees.

The trail goes uphill and is trail tread for the upper loop.  Looking back downhill.

There is a a trail to the right you will pass that makes a short loop into the woods, down low.

As the trail levels out, you come out into old pasture that is returning to meadowland. Not much has changed over the years, though the trees are taller and fuller now. In summer the views of Mt. Baker from here are quite peaceful.

The trail turns to the right and follows through the open land.

Nootka Rosehips speak of Fall coming.

The loop turning back towards the water.

Washington Hawthorne berries, there are a couple of trees in a meadow. Thorny trees, the apple like berries are edible, but don’t eat the seeds.

A rabbit tunnel for humans, as the trail goes back into the woods.

Looking down the meadows, the bay and across to Fidalgo Island. If it hadn’t been cloudy, Mt. Erie is visible.

Near the end of the loop is a shelter that a Cedar tree grows up through. The first time we came here my oldest son was 3 years old or so. The shelter was straight then, the branch has slowly tilted it a bit in the past 18 years.

Baldhip Rosehips. Smaller and more delicate, the rose is a dwarf variety.


Easily accessed from Hwy 20 in the Skagit Flats, the area is on the mainland just before the bridge to Fidalgo Island. Parking is ample and free. Dogs are allowed, but must be leashed. For more hiking nearby, check out Padilla Bay Trail, which is family friendly .

If you are looking for the crustiest bread, you must take the trip a few miles away to the tiny village of Edison, and visit Breadfarm. They take cash or check only (yes, they actually take checks…and hilariously since we moved back to the island I carry a checkbook with me all the time now. I have written more checks in the past 18 months than I did for the 20 years. Rural life leads to avoiding credit processing.) Their bread and treats are made on site, right in front of you, out of locally grown grain. The smell of the bakery will drive your stomach crazy. Go there first and plan a picnic. Which, Bayview State Park nearby has great picnic tables right on the water if you have a Discover Parking Pass with you.

On a weird history note – Edison and the village we live near, Freeland, were both formed by a group of Socialists who wanted a utopia in the late 1890’s. They were equal rights and women had an active place in their society. It lasted less than 6 years, but they left a lot of history behind.


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