Orcas Island’s Turtleback Mountain: Thankful for the Second Chance

When planning a return trip to Orcas Island (one of Washington State’s San Juan Islands north of Seattle), Slaed and I both made short lists.  Short lists of places on the island we didn’t want to miss.  Restaurants, hikes, shops, and other destinations that we loved so much the first time or didn’t get to visit because time or closure.

Neither of those lists included a visit back to the Turtleback Mountain Preserve, located west of the main town of East Sound.  All Slaed could remember was the long uneventful climb along a gravel trail.  Yes, if we veered off, there were a few spectacular views of the water and surrounding islands, but there were other hikes, other parks that we thought were better worth our time.  We were content just visiting once.

Then I heard from one of the best local hiking experts in the state, Craig Romano.  His latest book, Day Hikes in the San Juan and Gulf Islands was just released, and he was interested in having some Pacific Northwest area bloggers review it.  Unfortunately the book wouldn’t arrive before we hit the road for Orcas, but I jumped at the chance to consult with him on his favorite picks, especially with a little hiker in tow.

His top recommendation and in his opinion the very best hike on the island? The Turtleback Mountain Preserve hike

With a little more research I realized that yes, the first bit of the hike was a boring uphill climb, there was just no way around that, but if we remained patient and put in the work, we’d be rewarded.

Orcas Island's Turtleback Mountain: Thankful for the Second Chance | WildTalesof.com

Thankfully I was able to convince Slaed to give the hike another try and as luck (?) would have it, the best opportunity to go during our stay was on Father’s Day.  Such a trooper.

With a hearty breakfast in our bellies, and more rewarding treats in our packs for our halfway point, we set off on that same torturous path.  This time though, we had more of a plan (something I highly recommend).   We’d skip stopovers at the earlier overlooks, and hike 1.5 miles on the North Trail to reach the Turtlehead Trail.  Then we’d hike another 1.2 miles to the top of Turtlehead (1005 feet), and head back.

In order to “get a move-on” and get the first stretch behind us quickly, we opted to stick Bergen in the backpack carrier almost right away.  When we arrived at the trail junction marking the end of our dreaded climb, our prize was waiting for us.  We had the pleasure of meandering through a luscious green forest that began as a relaxing downhill journey.  Bergen promptly got out of the pack, and we took our time getting to the lookout.

Orcas Island's Turtleback Mountain: Thankful for the Second Chance | WildTalesof.com

Orcas Island's Turtleback Mountain: Thankful for the Second Chance | WildTalesof.com

Eventually we all had to do more climbing, but the snippets of surrounding water and island scenery and winding pathways made for a more enjoyable experience.  This also fueled our excitement for the ultimate view at the top.  I started to realize (as did Slaed): Ahh…this is what Craig is talking about!

Orcas Island's Turtleback Mountain: Thankful for the Second Chance | WildTalesof.com

Orcas Island's Turtleback Mountain: Thankful for the Second Chance | WildTalesof.com

Orcas Island's Turtleback Mountain: Thankful for the Second Chance | WildTalesof.com

Orcas Island's Turtleback Mountain: Thankful for the Second Chance | WildTalesof.com

Not always the case, but sometimes the second time around is so much sweeter. Have you experienced this in your travels?

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**Thanks to Craig Romano and Mountaineers Books for providing us with a copy of Day Hiking: The San Juans and Gulf Islands.  We look forward to checking out many more of your recommendations and sharing our experience on the blog. This post also contains affiliate links to our online travel and adventure store.**

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4 thoughts on “Orcas Island’s Turtleback Mountain: Thankful for the Second Chance

  1. have u been to ebby’s landing on Whidbey island? I have been there once this year and hopefully we will go back again. It shares the history of Issac Ebby and founded the island back in the 1800’s or so. The preservation society has restored his house and that is what I want to see. It’s a great day getaway!

    • We love visiting Whidbey Island, Tami, but I haven’t been to Ebey’s Landing yet. Great suggestion! Would love to plan a fun day trip to Whidbey before the summer gets away from us.

  2. Glad you gave it a second chance. That view is beautiful, and the trail through the trees looks so lush and mossy. You are so blessed to have good hiking weather up there. I was excited that it didn’t hit 100F today in Austin.

  3. Pingback: Wild Tales of…2014 Travel and Adventure Highlights | Wild Tales of...

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