South Sound’s spectacular marine parks

Penrose Point sunsets can be remarkable. Photos by Deane Hislop

Penrose Point sunsets can be remarkable. Photos by Deane Hislop

The aroma of brewing coffee filled the cabin of Easy Goin’ while a NOAA weather report squawked out of our VFH radio.

Arlene and I were enjoying the first morning of an excursion in the southern reaches of Puget Sound. With the sun shining brightly, it was one of those wonderful warm days that Pacific Northwest boaters dream of.

South of the Tacoma Narrows lies approximately 200 square miles of pure boating pleasure. The area consists of 17 islands, eight passages, countless peninsulas, inlets, bays and coves to explore. Twenty percent of the Washington state’s marine parks are here. Best of all, mariners who live in the greater Seattle-to-Olympia area don’t have to travel far to enjoy this boating wonderland.

We have explored this region many times, but we still get excited every time we point Easy Goin’s bow towards the Tacoma Narrows, gateway to the southern portion of Puget Sound. On this particular trip, our float plan had us visiting five of our favorite south Sound state parks.

Penrose Point

Our choice for the first night was Penrose Point State Park in Carr Inlet. Located 2.5 miles southwest of Hale Passage, the park offers 270 feet of dock moorage and eight mooring buoys. The dock and three of the buoys are located on the west side of the park in Mayo Cove. The other five buoys are located on the east side of Penrose Point.

Easy Goin' moored on the east side of Penrose Point

Easy Goin’ moored on the east side of Penrose Point

We enter Mayo Cove with caution due to the twin shoals well offshore. One extends northeast from Penrose Point and the second lies 300 yards west of the point in Mayo Cove and extends half mile out from the beach. When navigating the area, give the shoals a wide berth by staying toward the middle of Carr Inlet until you can clearly see Lakebay Marina before turning toward Mayo Cove. Both shoals offer great beachcombing at low tide.

If your destination is the park dock or Lake Bay Marina, keep an eye on the sounder as you make our final approach. The channel is shallow and doglegs into the inner bay.

The buoys on the east side of the park were occupied when we arrived. but it wasn’t a problem because there is excellent anchoring at either end of the park buoys. We set the hook north of the buoys in 5 fathoms over a sand bottom for an unobstructed view of Mount Rainier. We find this side of the park a bit more tranquil. It’s common to see wildlife on the beach or bald eagles soaring overhead.

Once settled, we launched the tender and went ashore to pick up the trailhead, which leads to miles of gorgeous hiking trails winding through an impressive stands of fir and cedar that share space with ferns and rhododendrons.

One of life's simple pleasures

One of life’s simple pleasures

For us, one of life’s simple little pleasures is a nice pot of steamed clams, garlic bread and an ice-cold beverage for lunch or dinner. During previous visits clams and oysters were plentiful, and this trip is no different.

Pit Passage

The next morning we continued our cruise by heading south from Penrose, navigating through Pit Passage between McNeil Island and Key Peninsula. Given the numerous rocks and shoals in the area, we always traverse the pass slowly, with one eye on the depth sounder and the other on the navigational aids, .

Once we cleared the south end of the passage, it was back up to speed as we traversed Drayton Passage and around Devils Head and into Case Inlet, with a number of state parks to choose from.

McMicken Island

Six miles up Case Inlet lays 11.5 acre McMicken Island Marine Park. The park has five mooring buoys and an abundance of anchoring spots sheltered from the prevailing southwest breeze over an excellent sticky bottom.

McMicken Island feels peaceful no matter how many boat are in the area

McMicken Island feels peaceful no matter how many boat are in the area

The anchorage is all about solitude. There is not a lot to do here and that’s why we like it. It tends to be very peaceful regardless of the number of boats anchored in the area. It’s an excellent anchorage to just kick back, relax and let the day drift by.

At low tide McMicken is connected to the eastern shore of Harstine Island via a sand and gravel bar providing an excellent area for beachcombing.

Jarrell Cove

The next morning we continued north up Case Inlet to Jarrell Cove. The 43-acre park offers 3,500 feet of saltwater shoreline on the northwest end of Hartstine Island. This small, pleasant cove is sheltered even in the worst weather.

Although there was plenty of open space on the two park docks when we arrived, we chose to moor to one of the park’s 14 buoys. When visiting the parks we tend to stay off the docks, preferring to leave them for boaters with children.

Jarrell Cove is very popular with Northwest boaters.

Jarrell Cove is very popular with Northwest boaters.

The small marina and store across the cove from the park is owned and operated by Gary and Lorna Hink. The store and fuel dock are only open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. In the off-season fuel is available by appointment.

After two days of hiking miles of rural island roads and exploring the inner cove by dingy, we motored Easy Goin’ out of the cove, turned to port and headed 6.5 miles down Pickering Passage for Hope Island State Marine Park.

Hope Island

Hope Island is an undeveloped 106-acre island located between Squaxin Island and Steamboat Island. The island’s serenity, two miles of well-maintained trails crisscrossing through old growth forest and sand, and gravel beach that frames the island draw us back time and time again.

Although we moored to one of the five park buoys on this visit, there is a good holding bottom for anchoring in 20 to 25 feet of water off the eastern shore.

The cabin on Hope Island is occupied by a caretaker during summer months.

The cabin on Hope Island is occupied by a caretaker during summer months.

After dinner, we got the light action spinning rods out and did some trolling for sea-run cutthroat trout from the dingy along the island shoreline; with a falling tide and setting sun, we were lucky enough to hook and release half a dozen fish (Puget Sound’s cutthroat trout fishery is catch and release). These aggressive fish are fun to catch on light tackle.

The evening discussion turned to how to get the maximum the amount of enjoyment from the limited time left on the water. Arlene suggested a lunch stop at Eagle Island State Park on the way home.

Eagle Island

The following morning, after breakfast and a little more cutthroat fishing, we set a course for Eagle Island, located between McNeil and Anderson islands in Balch Passage. For whatever reason, many boaters miss this tiny, 10-acre jewel of a park. There are three mooring buoys, two on the west side and one off the eastern shore. The beach is pleasant and smooth. The island makes for a great mid-day stop. We ate lunch while enjoying the antics of several curious harbor seals and a view of Mt. Rainier.

Located between McNeil and Anderson Islands in Balch Passage, Eagle Island is often overlooked by boaters.

Located between McNeil and Anderson Islands in Balch Passage, Eagle Island is often overlooked by boaters.

After lunch, we headed north back through the Narrows. The tide was in our favor and before we knew it, we had passed out the gateway through which we entered six days before and were already looking forward to our next visit to South Puget Sound.

4 Responses to South Sound’s spectacular marine parks

  1. Heather S. Moore Paradis July 25, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Hi Deane – Thanks for the article! We are sailing south in a few weeks, leaving from our hometown of Bainbridge. Can you recommend towns / marinas in the south sound that we could restock, plug-in, maybe even spend the night ashore? I.e. B & Bs? We have a very beautiful, yet basic, Herreshoff Araminta. Thank you!

    • Deane Hislop July 26, 2013 at 8:45 am #

      Hi Heather,
      Sorry I can’t help you with B&B suggestions but for provisioning and shore power there are a number of opportunities. They are as follows: Arabella’s Landing in Gig Harbor – 360 851-1793; Narrows Marina 253 564-3032; Longbranch Improvement Club Marina 253 884-1384; Jarrell’s Cove Marina 360 426-8823; Boston Harbor Marina 360 357-5670; and in Olympia Swantown Marina 360 528-8049. Suggest reservation because some have limited guest moorage. For more details on each of the facilities and surrounding area suggest Waggoner Cruising Guide. Hope the above is of assistance

  2. Rob Morton July 16, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    Hi Deane,
    What a nice article. We have always went up to the San Juan’s or Canada for our vacations. We have been planning a South Sound trip and this made us want to do it even more. We are hoping for this autumn.
    Thanks for all the details.
    Best Regards,

  3. J. R. Hudson July 15, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Nice post. I grew up in Puyallup and my first saltwater experiences were in the South Puget Sound. The names you brought up brought back memories. I camped on Penrose (now not allowed) and sailed those passages mentioned in my 21-foot Clipper sailboat in the early ’70’s. Thanks again for the memories. I should get back down there with our current 22-foot sailboat!

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