Solitude rediscovered at Hope Island

Rowing back to Yahtzee from Hope Island at sunset
Rowing back to Yahtzee from Hope Island at sunset

A deer grazed near the old windmill by the caretaker’s small, brown house and raccoons glanced at us from under a walnut tree as Porter ran ahead into the orchard. With an hour left before sunset we’d come ashore at Hope Island State Park to burn off some pre-dinner energy, and the island’s other inhabitants paid us little attention as they went about enjoying their evening meals.

Just as we’d remembered from our previous visits to the park, there was no one else around — the caretaker was off island, no other boats swung on the park’s moorings and the campsites lay empty. The solitude was palpable, yet we were just a few miles from quaint Boston Harbor and bustling Olympia.

Welcome indeed!
Welcome indeed!

Hope Island was one of our favorite parks in the South Puget Sound when we first visited a few years prior, so we made it a point to come back again this year. And this was actually our second stop at Hope in four days. As we approached the island from Budd Inlet and Squaxin Passage, we chose to stay on the south side and picked up a mooring ball in a fair bit of current ebbing out from the nearby inlets.

With Yahtzee secured to the mooring, we all piled into our red and yellow kayak for a trip to shore. Landing on the beach near the campsites, we dragged it up near the high tide line and made for the woods. During our first visit to Hope we hiked the two-mile trail around the island but had no need to get that far this time. Porter-the-Explorer was off into the old growth Douglas Fir forest balancing on fallen trees, checking out the empty campsites and tramping across the small bridge leading to the caretaker’s house and orchard.

Boys on the beach
Boys on the beach

After reading the information boards about the island’s history and checking out the antique farm equipment near the house, we continued down to the beach to explore the waterline and throw rocks — a favorite pass time for Porter and me. Magnus and Jill sat at a nearby picnic table sharing a snack and we all watched as clouds rolled over Mt. Rainier in the distance. For a moment it felt like time had stopped as we played and relaxed in this idyllic place.

Yahtzee on here mooring with Rainier in the distance
Yahtzee on here mooring with Rainier in the distance

When we finally slipped our lines from the mooring ball to head for our next destination, it was with a strong sense that we’d once again return to enjoy the seclusion and serenity of beautiful Hope Island.

About Hope Island Marine State Park (Mason County):

Hope Island

Not to be confused with Hope Island (Skagit County) in northern Puget Sound near Deception Pass, Hope Island (Mason County) south is situated in Squaxin Passage near the mouths of Hammersley Inlet and Totten Inlet just nine miles north of Olympia. (Take a virtual tour here).

As with many place names throughout the Salish Sea, Hope Island was given its moniker by the U.S. Naval Commander Charles Wilkes during his charting expedition to the Puget Sound in 1841. The island is not only a state park, but is also part of the expansive Cascadia Marine Trail that extends all the way north to the San Juan Islands.

Only accessible by boat, this 106-acre park has two mooring buoys on the south side of the island and three on the west side. There is also one near the southwest corner that is for the caretaker’s use only. Eight campsites are available in two locations and one site is reserved for those using the Cascadia Marine Trail; meaning you have to arrive by self-propelled boat. Kayak and canoe racks are located ashore so you can store your boat off of the beach and food lockers are conveniently located to keep raccoons and rodents from snatching your provisions. All campsites are available on a first come first serve basis, and there is no potable water available. Also, open fires on Hope Island are not permitted.

A campsite nestled among the trees on Hope Island
A campsite nestled among the trees on Hope Island

Due to its ample beaches, the native Squaxin used Hope Island as an important shellfishing ground and Squaxin Island, located just to the east of Hope, is a reservation. Beyond Wilkes and his crew, the modern history of Hope Island is as a homestead, farm, orchard and vacation site that only changed hands a few times, and the current state of the island reflects this.

On the south side of Hope Island is an orchard and homestead that was where the Louis Schmidt Family, of Olympia Brewery fame, inhabited the property at the turn of the 20th century. They planted apples, pears and walnuts and brought cattle, horses and fox onto the island. They also setup a working vineyard and grew Island Belles grapes that they sold to to a winery on Harstine Island. Besides the orchard and vineyard, they did little to alter the rest of the island’s old growth forest. Walking through the orchard and near the current caretaker’s house, artifacts from the Schmidt Family’s time on Hope are readily apparent. The rustic old windmill and rusted farm equipment give you the feel of a time gone by in Puget Sound.

The current caretaker's house on the site of the old homestead
The current caretaker’s house on the site of the old homestead

In 1943, Sarah and Robert Munn bought Hope Island for $20,000 and used it mostly as a vacation destination. When Sarah Munn died in 1990 at the age of 97, the island was given to the Washington State Parks. The park has been kept in excellent condition ever since and whether you are there by yourself or with full moorings and campsites, the charm of the island’s history will surely remain.

Yahtzee sitting on a mooring at Hope Island at sunset
Yahtzee sitting on a mooring at Hope Island at sunset

Hope Island is one of those special places in the Puget Sound where you can truly get away from it all. Paddle over from a nearby park or pick up a mooring buoy, if seclusion is what you seek, you probably won’t be disappointed in your time spent on the island.

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