Visit The Anacortes Community Forest

“Going to the woods is going home.” 

While this proclamation by John Muir might easily land on a Top 10 list of quotes you may see thrown around on Instagram, there is something to be said when such a line actually refers to a community’s proverbial “back yard.” Such a sentiment, combined with strong mental, emotional and spiritual connections, and further still, a tangible display of native flora, led to the initial conversation around what would become the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. 

In the early 1900s, the City of Anacortes utilized the forest lands for a municipal water source and to generate income through the harvest of timber. Much of the clear-cutting was conducted out of sight of most residents, but was brought to light starting in 1987 by four local outdoor enthusiasts and conservationists, who found overwhelming citizen opposition to the logging. Concurrently, a study as part of the Park Comprehensive Plan established by the city “identified hiking trails as the most valued recreational facility in town.”1 By 1989, forestry operations had ceased, followed by a 1998 adoption by the city of the Conservation Easement Program, which, at a rate of one acre per $1,000 raised, preserves the land as community forest forever, prohibiting such uses as commercial development, logging or mining. Easement parcels, amounting to over 1,600 acres of the forest, are managed by local conservation organization Skagit Land Trust. 

view from the trail of the Anacortes Community Forest

Ok, Now What?

Today, the ACFL encompasses nearly 3,000 acres of mid-growth forest, with such native tree species as Western Red Cedar, Western Hemlock and Big Leaf Maple. Other native growth includes Sword Fern, Elderberry, Salmon Berry and Oregon Grape. The recovery growth has been so robust, in fact, that plant surveys from the early 2000s found, on average, “an astounding 8,310 visible plants…carpets of moss and masses of fungi” in each acre of forest, with an average of 360 standing trees, 3,530 shrubs, and 4,195 smaller herbaceous plants.2 Further, multiple animal species and dozens of bird species frequent the forest lands. The mosaic is completed with numerous lakes, ponds and marshes. 

For two-legged visitors, the ACFL offers over 50 miles of year-round hiking trails, with some select areas also being open to cycling and equestrian uses. The larger lakes are open to fishing, swimming and paddle sports. Trails range from a three-mile stroll around a lake, to several miles with significant climbing to reach the top of Mt. Erie, which at 1,273 feet is the highest point both in the ACFL and the entire Fidalgo Island (for those unable to make the full trek to the summit, it is accessible by car as well). Full trail maps can be found here. Water-resistant print maps in full color can be obtained from Anacortes City Hall or Visitor’s Information Center.3 

Get Wandering!

Though I cannot quite say I have hiked every mile of the ACFL trails, proximity to my home allows for frequent enough visits to have explored a generous portion of each of the three main areas. Perhaps my favorite hiking route is the Four Summit Loop, which takes you up and over each of the four highest points in the forest, checking off Mt. Erie, Sugarloaf, Sugar Cube and Little Round Top, for a grand tour of 6.5 miles and 1,700 feet of total elevation gain. My top summer evening option is the saunter around Heart Lake, with under three miles and negligible elevation gain, sticking close to the shoreline of the shimmering lake most of the time. The start/end point invites a quick dip to cool off, or to paddle out and enjoy the long shadows and late-day sun glistening through the trees. In winter, I enjoy the routes to either Cranberry Lake or Whistle Lake, depending on the weather and how much time I have. Both provide great viewing opportunities of native waterfowl, along with various fungi and seasonal plant attractions.

Anacortes Community Forest views
the Anacortes Community Forest
signage on the Anacortes Community Forest
A mushroom on the trail of the Anacortes Community Forest

Fuel-Up or Wind Down

Take a random sample of hikers in the PNW, and many are likely to tell you that a pre-hike pastry or a post-hike beer is absolutely essential. Well, my dear fellow forest enthusiast, you are in luck, as I have three must-stop locations. In order to start your day on a positive note, it is imperative you try one of the myriad flavors of muffins at a side street locale simply known as The Store. Even with my travels across 46 states, I maintain the best muffins in the country are located here in Anacortes, and I will readily debate anyone who says otherwise. Sure, they offer other baked goods like cookies and bread, all of which hold their own merit, but there is a reason they offer a stamp card only for muffins. Expect locals to be waiting in their cars before the store opens each day, and muffins being sold out by afternoon is not unheard of. Flavors change daily, and, after 20-plus visits in the past six years, I have only repeated a flavor selection a couple times. If you please, The Store also offers other breakfast and lunch items, a large selection of wine, and various other snack and beverage options. 

Once you have exhausted your energy and your legs shudder at the mere mention of the word “stairs,” be sure to swing by Bastion Brewing for great beer options, ranging from a light, clove-forward hefeweizen to an off-the-IBU-charts IPA, and everything in between. Seasonal rotations are fun to try, whether something dark and strong for winter, or a tart gose in summer. There are food offerings as well, and this used to be the home to some of the best fish n’ chips in the area, but recent menu changes have seen some of the long-standing staples removed. The recent food reviews have been mixed, but I find it hard to go wrong with one of their burgers.

A muffin on the trail of the Anacortes Community Forest
ice cream near the Anacortes Community Forest

Finally, where would the world be without dessert? Locals are very familiar with Lopez Island Creamery, a long-time purveyor of frozen faire that started on Lopez Island and later relocated production to Anacortes. This summer, the tasty treat troupe opened a brand-new, 17,000 square foot factory and tasting room just east of Anacortes of Highway 20. Though the footprint and grocery store reach have grown, the quality and taste of these small-batch offerings remains as it has since the 1980s. Whether it is 90 degrees in August or 35 in January, youknow you want to treat yourself to a towering scoop in a crunchy waffle cone. After you have wiped all the melted drips from your chin, you will be hard pressed to not succumb to the urge of buying a pint to take home.

Bonus Stops: Fidalgo and Beyond

So you have hiked all 50-plus miles of trails in the ACFL and you are looking for something else? Just in case the forest lands are not quite your jam for the day, the greater Anacortes area offers three other great options to work those legs, and I cannot leave you without at least mentioning them. Perhaps most well-known is Deception Pass State Park, with miles of trails, beaches, camping and other recreation opportunities, spanning both the Fidalgo and Whidbey Island sides of the passage. On a simpler scale, the Tommy Thompson Trail offers exceptional waterfowl and wildlife viewing, as well as a great vantage of Mount Baker on clear days. But my personal favorite option is Washington Park, with a scenic loop road popular with walkers, and other smaller trails, plus camping. The park offers one of the best places for year-round interest, with wildlife and plants changing with the seasons. I have wandered it in all times of the year, and all types of weather, and believe you will want to be a repeat visitor as well.

view from the Anacortes Community Forest
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.

4 Comments

  1. Jerilyn Tyner on September 12, 2022 at 8:42 pm

    Beautiful photos and vivid writing. Makes me want to do it all! (Except for the hike to the top of Mt. Erie.) Thanks, Eric.

  2. Peggy Costley on September 14, 2022 at 6:47 am

    Great article, thanks Eric! New trails and places to explore!

  3. Lindsey Holland on September 14, 2022 at 9:46 am

    I need to check some of these hikes off my list! I am glad the muffins made your highlights, they really are the best ever!

  4. Visiting the Anacortes Island | Explore Washington on September 22, 2022 at 4:17 am

    […] colorful, look no further than The Donut House. This purple-painted bakery is a huge hit within the Anacortes community, with many hitting it up before work or classes, so get there early. Try their strawberry doughnuts […]

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