By Selene Muldowney
As the plane descends and softly lands on the water – life slows down. Seattle to the Northeast and the snowcapped Olympic Mountains majestically rising to the West. Traffic is replaced with kayaks and yachts magically transporting a visitor from the bustle of a busy city to a pristine and picturesque sanctuary where the barking seals drown out the cacophony of the city left behind. Hood Canal stretches more than 70 miles through Washington’s forestlands and coastlines spotted with towns like Union, Potlatch, Hoodsport, Lilliwaup, and Pleasant Harbor.
Hood Canal is a natural, glacier-carved fjord which forms the westernmost waterway and margin of the Puget Sound basin. Compromised of rivers and a series of glaciers that exploited a weakness along the edge of the Olympic Mountains. For millions of years, the subterranean ocean plates have moved under North America in the never-ending reshaping of the earth.
Two or three yards at a time every 1,000 years or so, volcanic rock created on the Pacific Ocean floor migrated to what has become the west coast of America. Some was thrust upward, building the Olympics. But most moved under the continental plate until it reached depths where temperatures melted it. That molten rock sought escape in a series of volcanoes that created the Cascades. In between were the Puget Lowlands, and what would become the Hood Canal, which stretches 63 miles from its mouth to the tip of Lynch Cove at Belfair.
Hood Canal offers travelers a wide assortment of accommodations, camping, fishing, bird watching, scuba diving, kayaking, and other water activities. For the select traveler the Alderbrook Resort and Spa offers fine dining, golf, upscale accommodations, and shopping all with a breathtaking view of the Olympic mountain range. “It is a place where you can put your feet up and enjoy life at leisure or take part in one of the many activities from hiking in the forest to kayak estuary tours,” states marina manager Cindy Sund.
In March the marina hosts Saint Paddles Day – a rowing and paddling event for every member of the family. Festivities include vendors, races, demonstrations, lessons, music, and good northwest food and drink from the Restaurant at Alderbrook. Rob Casey, owner of Salmon Bay Paddle and co-organizer of the event, encourages all ages to experience kayaking Hood Canal. Since 2001 Casey has explored, instructed, and shared his enthusiasm of paddling with eager students.
“My favorite spots include Kopachuck State Park, Dabob Bay and Point No Point. Kopachuck has a great little island offshore called Cutts Island which is fun to paddle around,” he enthusiastically describes. “Dabob Bay would be a great beginner or refresher trip. Protected from most wind directions, paddlers will find tranquil waters most of the year. Point No Point can be seen from Seattle in the far distance across from the south tip of Whidbey Island.”
A more in-depth guide to paddle trips on the Hood Canal and Kitsap Peninsula can be found in Casey’s book, “Kayaking Puget Sound & the San Juans, 60 Trips”.
John Kuntz, owner of Olympic Outdoor Center, Director of the North Kitsap Trail Association, and founder of the Kitsap Peninsula Water Trail explored by kayak 370 miles of the Kitsap Peninsula starting along the Hood Canal waterway. “This incredible experience was breathtaking with its spectacular marine environments and mountain ranges. It led me to establish, in 2010, the Kitsap Peninsula Water Trail so others could relive what I had experienced,” Kuntz explains.
Experienced paddlers love to explore Wolfe Property State Park. Paddlers are encouraged to launch from port Ludow and go around the point. Water conditions can sometimes be challenging as the windy picks up at the point.
The Visit Kitsap Peninsula is aunique travel destination because there are so many safe harbors that provide wonderful opportunities for leisure paddlers and families that want an affordable and quiet water experience. Visitors can stop in and explore many of the historic towns along the scenic path.
The Cascadia Marine Trail is also very popular for its numerous access points and a convenient paddle-in campsite along the Hood Canal and Kitsap Peninsula.
Hood Canal geographically separates the Kitsap Peninsula and Olympic Peninsula and extends for about 50 miles (80 km) southwest from the entrance between Foulweather Bluff and Tala Point, to Union, where it turns sharply to the northeast: a stretch called The Great Bend. It continues for about 15 miles (24 km) to Belfair, where it ends in a shallow tideland called Lynch Cove. Along this magnificent water trail countless tourists can visit estuaries and dive sites from Pleasant Harbor to Lilliwaup by boat, SUP, canoe, kayak, or hiking trails.
Christina Maloney, owner of Pleasant Harbor Paddle and also a former marine and fisheries biologist, offers guided and non-guided tours from Pleasant Harbor. “We are a kayak and paddle board rental and eco-tourism company with guided tours including Blackpoint, Dosewallips, and Duckbush. On most of our tours we can see seals, eagles, and a plethora of birds. People are welcome to self-guide – we offer them maps, advice, and tips for a successful trip,” Maloney explains.
There are so many places to dive and explore, with an abundance of sea life and huge rockfish, including Broken Leg (although it is deep and requires nitrox), Pulali Point, Dabob Bay, The Pinnacle(also known as The Seamount), Rosies Ravineand Goby Garden,Rocky Point, and Fulton Reef (aka Arrowhead).
More popular dive sites include:Misery Pointmarks the Northwest entrance to Seabeck Harbor.This is a popular fishing site although tides and currents can pose a problem for divers. The Sistersis a unique geographical landmark with rocks breaking the surface near the Hood Canal Bridge. Local favorites include Pinnacle and the PulaliWalls because of the interesting structures as well as the abundance and variety of critters. Sund Rock is also a local hotspot because of the ease of access. It is quick, convenient, and because it is half mile long divers can dive shallow or deep. There are two access points – public access or pay access through Hood Sport and Dive. They offer access for $16 per diver per day and provide a gear up bench and eating area.”
Wrap up an incredible day exploring Hood Canal with paddle and scuba at Mike’s Beach Resort located in Lilliwaup. Tauted as one of the oldest and most picturesque resorts in Hood Canal with a unique blend of the rustic look of the Northwest and the relaxed, charming, and cozy German chalet style. Mike Schultz, owner and longtime resident encourages divers who need to get their feet wet to start in the house reef because it is safe and very diver friendly. Besides a charming resort, they offer two great dives; Flagpole Point and Sponge Garden. Flagpole Point, a reef established in front of the resort, is loaded with sealife and easy to get to. It is South of the resort in a hidden cove with shallow reefs 30 to 50 feet. Sponge Gardenis out 100 feet and thanks to Washington Scuba Alliance for establishing a buoy, makes the reef easy to spot and very accessible.
Hood Canal holds plenty of unexpected sites: beaches teeming with barnacle-encrusted rocks and sprinkled with oyster-shells; cantankerous old timers fishing, clamming, and crabbing off the beach; an architectural assortment of residences dot the seaside; majestic mountain views; shops and restaurants from fine dining to rustic eateries; resorts and cabins. Within a stone’s throw from Seattle, Hood canal is a place of tranquility and peace known for gentle currents and curious rock formations. Douglas fir, cedar, and redwood trees loom high above the cabins like sentinels; the scents fresh; breeze filling the lungs with salty sea air; spring, summer, fall, and winter offers visitors a place to disconnect and explore.