A visually stunning hike among pioneer history and some of the highest coastal bluffs in Washington
One of the most visually stunning and historically significant sites on the Salish Sea; Ebey’s Landing also offers one of the finest coastal hikes in Washington. The classic hike here is a lollipop loop across a sprawling, rolling emerald field to lofty coastal bluffs and a driftwood-strewn wild beach. Bald eagles are prolific. Shorebirds and pelagic species are abundant too, making this hike one of the better birdwatching spots in Western Washington.
Ebey’s Landing was named for Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey, who in the 1850s became one of Whidbey Island’s first non-native settlers. The blockhouse he erected to defend his land claim from native Coast Salish attacks still stands, looking above prairies that have been in continual agricultural use for over 160 years. Prominent in territorial affairs, Ebey was slain in 1857 by a band of Haidas seeking revenge for the killing of one of their chieftains by settlers.
The blockhouse, prairies and much of the surrounding land are now protected within the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, a special unit of the National Park Service (NPS). Created in 1978, Ebey’s Landing differs from other park units in that most of the lands within it remain in private ownership. It’s managed through partnerships and overseen by a Trust consisting of representatives from the NPS, state, county, and local governments as well as residents from the area. The NPS does own several parcels within the Reserve as does Washington State Parks and the Nature Conservancy, but most of the land remains privately owned. On many of these lands the NPS has purchased development rights assuring that they remain in their historic farm use or in a natural state. More than 5,500 acres of the Reserve’s 17,572 acres are still being used for agriculture, as they have been since pioneers settled them more than 160 years ago.
Start your hike from the Prairie Overlook Trailhead by heading west on Ebey Prairie Trail. Pass the new Pratt Loop Trail. If you want to extend your hike on the return, you can take this 1.1-mile loop through an old farm. The Ebey Prairie Trail continues west passing the restored 1850s Jacob Ebey homestead which now serves as a visitor’s center (seasonal opening). Check out the adjacent blockhouse, one of four in the reserve. Then continue hiking west towards Admiralty Inlet across an emerald lawn reminiscent of Ireland. At 0.8 mile (1.3 km) reach a junction.
This is the beginning of the loop. It’s easier to go counter clockwise, so head right and begin climbing golden coastal bluffs lined with contorted firs. Return in the spring to see them bursting with blossoms. Reaching heights of 260 feet, they are among the highest coastal bluffs in Washington. As you traverse them, gaze out over Salish Sea to the snow-capped Olympic Mountains, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island, and the San Juan Islands. Watch ferries and ocean vessels ply busy Admiralty Inlet. Look for majestic bald eagles perched in ghostly snags. Try to locate prickly pear cactus growing in the sun-kissed slopes. Ebey’s Landing is located within a rain shadow. It’s here you’ll find sunny winter skies and rare plants.
Continue along the lofty bluff tops and stare straight down at Perego’s Lake, a shorebird harboring lagoon formed by a narrow spit littered with giant drift logs. After about a mile of bluff walking begin a steep descent. The trail ends at a wide beach of hard-packed sand and polished stones. Now turn left and walk south along the beach rounding the spit and reaching the Ebey’s Landing Wayside within Ebey’s Landing State Park (an alternative start—Discover Pass required to park). Then pick up trail once again and climb a series of stairs back up a coastal bluff. At 4.4 miles (7.1 kilometers) into your hike you’ll reach a familiar junction. Turn right and hike 0.8 mile (1.3 km) to return to your starting point. Savor the scenery that has nearly remained the same for a century and a half.
For more details on this hike and other exceptional Washington hikes, pick up a copy of my 100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books).
Award winning author and hiking expert Craig Romano knows the best places to get out and explore. As a guidebook author of 20 books including many in the immensely popular Day Hiking series from Mountaineers Books; he’s the regional authority on hikes for all four seasons, from the Columbia River Gorge to the North Cascades to the Selkirks.
Photo credits: Ebey’s Landing trail and hiking the beach by Craig Romano. View of Salish Sea by Andrew Engelson.
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Location: Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve
Whidbey Island, Washington
Roundtrip loop: 5.2 miles (8.4 kilometers)
Elevation Gain: 310 feet (95 meters)
Trail Notes: Dogs permitted on leash: kid-friendly, hike involves beach walk best done in low tides.
Trail Highlights: towering coastal bluffs, historic structures and sites, rare plants, exceptional maritime scenery
Contact: Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve; http://www.nps.gov/ebla
Getting to the Trail:
From Seattle: drive north via I-5 and SR 525 to Mukilteo and take Washington State Ferry to Clinton on Whidbey Island. Then continue north on SR 525 to SR 20. Continue on SR 20 (passing traffic light in Coupeville) and soon afterward turn left onto Sherman Road. Drive for .3 mile turning right onto Cook Road and after another .3 mile reach the Prairie Overlook trailhead.
From Vancouver, BC: drive south via BC 99 and I-5 to Burlington, WA, Then head west on SR 20 to Sherman Road turnoff (located 9.0 miles south of Oak Harbor) and follow directions from above.