Northwest Glass Quest 2023

Not All Treasure Is Silver and Gold

“The water runs from frozen ponds / A broken entrance, a tree that does not belong.” So read the final stanza of the riddle I was so close to cracking. The middle of the riddle had led me to the Four Springs Preserve atop the spine of Camano Island. I took the Drop Off Trail into the ravine; I found the frozen ponds. Maybe that remnant of a gate was the broken entrance? On this dreary February day, I found myself on day five of traipsing about the woods on Camano Island, peering under mossy logs, inside rotting stumps and behind clumps of sword fern like some kind of mad man.


Earlier in the week, my two nephews joined in the fray as we visited Elger Bay Preserve farther south, pacing one section of trail for probably 45 minutes, but leaving empty handed. Today, my parents had tagged along for their second time, as we retraced the same sections of trail we so frantically examined the previous afternoon. And then there it was, a single dead hemlock with no others nearby. My phone flashlight proved the final tool, as my eye suddenly caught a glint of something obviously not of nature. I reached into the brush, and slowly pulled out…a clear plastic ball covered in Sharpie scribbles?

Clear plastic Clue ball from the Northwest glass quest
Northwest Glass Quest - Glass Sphere

Northwest Glass Quest

This madness is the Northwest Glass Quest, the greatest annual treasure hunt in the Pacific Northwest! Now in its 14th year, the Glass Quest is a partnership between the Camano Island Chamber of Commerce and local artisans Mark and Marcus Ellinger, annually attracting thousands of people to visit local businesses and parks, vying for the chance to take home a coveted hand-blown glass float.


With February falling between the busy seasons of Christmas and Spring, and often featuring less-than-inviting weather to sightsee or get outside, the initial inspiration for the Glass Quest was to attract shoppers and visitors during a time when traffic and income in stores and restaurants is typically low.


The premise was simple: participating businesses could each have a few glass floats to give away, but the winners had to do some sleuthing first. An inconspicuous 3-inch plastic ball stood in for the float, and was hidden somewhere in the public-facing areas of a store, or in a local park if the business was not set up for regular visitor traffic. Businesses could come up with riddles or clues to follow, and could even cloak the ball with some camouflage, but could under no circumstances give away the secret location. 

As the event grew in popularity, more businesses saw the benefit of participating, and the Ellingers began cranking out more and more glass floats, with a whopping 430 glass floats up for grabs this year! The event now runs for 10 days, from February 17 through 26 this year. Questers, as participants are affectionately called, come from far and wide to hunt through the area, but the Camano Chamber hopes the unexpected treasures are held just as dear, such as the views of the snow-capped mountain peaks and beaches with abundant wildlife.


Eagles soaring overhead, tiny toadstools along the trails, and trickling streams will delight children from 1 to 99, while Questers form bonds with others trying to crack the same stubborn riddles. Top it all off with some tasty local cuisine and quaint shops, and it is hard to have a bad day out on the hunt. Perhaps the truest treasure is not always in glass form, but rather everywhere your exploration may lead you to.

Mustard Seed Artisan Bakery Stanwood, Washington part of 2023 Northwest glass Quest

Where to Visit - Stanwood

As an 8-year Quester, along with being a local to the Stanwood area, I have amassed some great suggestions and tips of where to stop on your journey. To start your day, it is hard to go wrong with a visit to Mustard Seed, a Stanwood artisan bakery making their inaugural appearance in the Glass Quest.


The Mustard Seed family embraces community, especially “the efforts and opportunities created here for kids,” according to owner Natalie Russell, coupled with “a sense of pride which overflows into all aspects of life here.” From cinnamon rolls and muffins to croissants of every variety, the sugar rush at Mustard Seed is sure to get you pumped for your next stops. 

Flora and Fauna, questers stop along the hunt

A few blocks west, first-time participant Flora & Fauna has all the houseplants you need to brighten up those dreary winter days. Continuing with the community pride theme, co-owner Ashley Palmer says she loves “being involved with our growing community…We love living amongst such kindness and the gorgeous scenery.” If the early-Spring air has your outdoor green thumb itching, take some time to browse at Orchard's Nursery. Also making their first appearance, Orchard’s has been hesitant in the past due to traditionally low seasonal plant inventory, but will now showcase “a lot more of our own plant productions, as well as new items…that will bring Questers delight in visiting and shopping our store,” according to co-owner Kristina Sanders. Through the 10-day treasure hunt, Orchard’s hopes “to bring in some new customers and some old friends with a different experience.”

Catus Co, questers stop along the hunt

Next Stop - Camano

Jump across Davis Slough, and your hunt continues on Camano Island. Camano Commons serves as another fuel stop, with coffee, baked treats and fun gifts. Be sure to get your picture with the Life’s Better on Camano Island crab board! For more indoor paradise inspiration, Cactus + Co. is just around the corner and up the stairs, with cowboy hat-wearing cacti, radiant green ferns and trailing tendrils of pothos. Farther south, pull off at the Kristoferson Farm farmstand for lavender goods, tasty treats and great gift ideas.


A Glass Quest participant for over 10 years, Kristoferson Farm loves the enjoyment that continues year after year, with Director of Marketing Mona Campbell specifically noting “so many great moments of kids searching and finding a clueball – seeing their gleeful excitement is contagious!” She hopes all visitors “enjoy perusing all the local goodness in the farm stand as they search,” and especially loves when they “learn more about all the activities on the farm and…come back for a zipline tour, u-pick lavender, workshop or special event.”

Into the Forest I Go

If you make it all the way to Cama Beach State Park, brunch is in order at Cama Beach Cafe, where you can nosh on savory biscuits and gravy with wild mushrooms and sausage from Silvana Meats, drool-worthy brioche French toast or some classic sandwich varieties, and of course a bubbly mimosa or a soothing spiked hot chocolate. Take the afternoon to roam the trails of Camano Island and Cama Beach State Park, where you can crane your neck at towering evergreens, view the peace and quiet of a scenic lake and marvel over endless mud, moss and mushrooms.


Nearby Elger Bay Preserve offers some quiet loops through varying terrain and vegetation. Four Springs Preserve is one of my favorite spots to wander year-round, with an old barn, creek-carved ravine, wetlands, and so many varieties of native plants. Finally, Iverson Spit, another favorite of mine, offers something for everyone, with beach access, a loop through mature forest, and an inviting Hobbit Trail, complete with great views of the Cascades and numerous waterfowl species.


If you left your hiking shoes at home, smaller parks such as Church Creek Park east of Stanwood, Heritage Park near downtown and Freedom Park on Camano Island offer grassy expanses, play equipment, and space to run. East of the area, the Snohomish County Parks trio of Kayak Point, Wenberg and Lake Goodwin Parks also get in on the fun with hidden clueballs.

Questers stop at a Bakery for a break


As your day is wrapping up, Tapped Camano pours a variety of local beer and cider favorites, paired with an excellent fried chicken sandwich or fish & chips, not to mention the loaded tots with Beecher’s cheese. Here you’ll also find a quirky, locally-inspired mural by offbeat Seattle artist Henry. Another top-notch local spot for a pint and some grub is Stanwood’s SAAL 

Brewing, set in a historic firehouse, and serving up some of the area’s best street tacos, plus a pork banh mi with the perfect amount of heat, and zesty gyros. SAAL is known for presenting some of the more challenging riddles, inspired “by the nature that surrounds us,” according to owner and founder Kristine Birkenkopf, who adds, “We get an opportunity to show Questers the community through our eyes. We try to get them to slow down and really take in all the beauty.” After you have gotten your fill of both riddles and pub grub, wash it all down with one of their signature beers or a guest cider.

Beer Mural

Meet the Questers

The community of Questers is unique, with seasoned veterans constantly being joined by first timers. Ages range from the tiniest of tots to octogenarians, but all are united by a love for community, a love for exploration and a love for treasure hunting.


Longtime Quester Lori Carlene Wentz notes the challenge of finding something so simple and often in plain sight, recalling an evening after a fruitless day, when her “headlights caught a brief reflection of something in the lacrosse goal net near the fence” at Heritage Park. She continues, “after having been fooled multiple times already by trash…I almost kept driving!” But lo and behold, upon closer inspection, there sat a simple plastic ball suspended in the net.


Despite searching for several years with no result, Kelly Snyder and her family “enjoy meeting new people, finding new shops, figuring out the clues and being outdoors.” Last year they finally found a clueball, with her husband first noticing a mismatched wood pile that contained the ball, but choosing not to tell the others, who “wandered for over an hour on the same property…[until] one by one we all discovered his success.” Another Quester who makes the annual pilgrimage is Gena Van Engelen Flores, who likes to spend her weekend at the Cama Beach or Camano Island State

Park cabins and who really loves the aspect of being out to “meet new people and usually [ending] up sharing stories about adventures.”

Northwest Glass Quest

Sounds Kinda Xtreme

The area parks also happen to be where you may encounter some of the most seasoned Questers, especially members of a local Facebook group called Xtreme Quest of the Great Northwest, a community of Questers who found “normal” questing just a little too run-of-the-mill. Co-founder Chuck Barlew fell in love with Glass Quest early after its creation, hooked on the ideas of following clues, and then later on, creating his own clues and helping hide the balls.


Co-founder Amy DeCrescenzo notes Barlew “has honed his hiding and riddling skills for years while collecting his own entourage of followers who started looking forward to his clues each year.” In 2019, they decided to expand their annual Glass Quest efforts to reach a greater community of riddle lovers and some of the most dedicated Questers, and now offer other Questing opportunities throughout the year.


Their riddles tend to be challenging, with DeCrescenzo saying her ideal hunt lasts “at least a week, [but] no more than a month, and keeps people happy, motivated, and supporting each other while searching,” though one of their hardest hunts lasted over a year before the clueball was found. Xtreme Quest also hides additional finds including “pebbles, painted rocks, or XQ buttons so we can spread out the love, extend the hunt, and keep up the hype for the holy grail for the duration of the Quest,” according to DeCrescenzo.


Quest Kindly

Regardless of which stops your tour includes, and in spite of the end result of your hunt, we kindly ask all visitors to be respectful and kind, bringing extra doses of patience and selflessness. Please follow all stated rules, and especially Leave No Trace principles in the parks. Clueballs should not require you to leave the trail, nor require any destruction of vegetation.


In past years, I have seen tree stumps mutilated, shrubs trampled and saplings uprooted. Please also show courtesy to other trail users, especially those who might not be out Questing, but just trying to enjoy our native environment. In stores, be respectful of property, being mindful that you should not have to move things around to spot the clueball. Making a purchase is not a requirement, but please remember most locations are local, family-run businesses, and your support, no matter how small, helps sustain their livelihood.


Finally, consider taking part in the new “Kind Quester” program, which invites Questors to think of how they can give back to the community, whether by picking up trash, supporting the local food bank, or simply learning about nature and history.

For full information on the Glass Quest, along with rules, tips and lists of participating businesses, visit the Northwest Glass Quest website or their Facebook page. Be sure to download a .pdf of the event booklet, and start mapping out your hunting route! Note that many of the participating businesses will utilize social media for clues and updates on each glass float.

To read more articles about the previous years questing read A Trip to the Great Northwest Glass Quest.

Eric Allan Headshot

Eric Allan

Eric is a lifelong PNW native, realizing his dream as a travel writer, photographer and reviewer. With his wife of 6 years, he currently splits his time between Arlington and Ocean Shores; they are currently progressing toward goals of visiting all 50 states and seeing every National Park. Together they share a passion for independent, local business, especially in the craft food and beverage industries.

1 Comment

  1. Ruth Pringle on February 11, 2023 at 2:36 pm

    Such a great community event to get people out into the community. Also a wonderful way for families to do something together. In this day and age it so nice to have a community do such a positive event. Great story Eric. Can’t wait to revisit the Camano Island area.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.