Lauren Kramer | 07/25/2019 | Insider Blogs |   

Secrets of Chuckanut Island and the Salish Sea - by Kayak

Beau Gaughran photo Moondance Sea Kayak
A guided tour with Moondance is a great way to spend a weekend on the water. Photo credit: Beau Gaughran

It was a picture perfect Whatcom summer’s day: blue skies, loads of sunshine, a calm ocean with not even a ripple in sight and windless conditions perfect for a leisurely kayak. At Wildcat Cove I was suiting up for a full-day paddle with Moondance Sea Kayak Adventures, the county’s only kayak tour operator.

Moondance has been operating since 1992 and its experienced guides lead small groups on half-day, full-day, evening and even multi-day kayak excursions. Destinations including Lummi Island, Chuckanut Island and Cypress and Sucia islands for overnight visitors. Our destination was Chuckanut Island, a four-hour excursion that delivers a fabulous, safe and friendly introduction to kayaking and to the sea life and rock formations in the Salish Sea.

With lifejackets and spray-skirts on – the latter a precaution in case our paddles dripped even a few droplets of salt water onto our kayak apparel – we headed out into Chuckanut Bay in two-person kayaks. The pace was leisurely and unhurried. Between our guide, Kristi Kucera, and the other two guests in the group, a mother-daughter from Seattle, we were all too intoxicated by the scenery, the perfection of the conditions and the blissful joy of spending a sunny week day in a kayak on the Salish Sea to want to reach our destination with any speed.

On the steep ocean banks that separate Chuckanut Drive from the water, million-dollar houses with enviable views perched improbably atop the rocks. We gazed at the long, naked trunks of arbutus trees, which reached toward the sea at precarious angles, and paddled slowly past incredible sandstone formations, thousands of years old. Wind and water have whipped the sandstone over centuries, sculpting incredible contours into these rocks. Look carefully and you can make out the facades of gargoyles, animals, giant lizards and wizened old men.

It was the first days of crabbing season, and red and white buoys bobbled in the sea around us, a testament to the number of avid crabbers seeking a meal of Dungeness crab. We watched one boat haul its catch out of the water, the captive crabs clattering inside their cage as they emerged from the deep blue.

There is so much life in the Salish Sea. On the rocks a safe distance away seal pups and their mothers eyed us warily, too relaxed in their sunny repose to consider our kayaks a threatening presence. Like giant slugs with big eyes and gentle faces, they stretched lazily on the rocky outcroppings. One followed us a distance, popping its head above the water every so often to make sure we were all still on the same route.

It was low tide, which meant the inter-coastal life was exposed in all its vibrancy. We paddled close to the shore to inspect the brilliant purple and salmon-orange hues of starfish, nibbled on bladderwrack seaweed floating close to the shoreline and laughed as fish somersaulted out of the water, their bodies glistening in the sunshine for seconds before disappearing again.

Our lunch destination was Chuckanut Island, a five-acre island whose pristine crushed-shell beach is washed daily by the tides. Gifted to the Nature Conservancy in 1976, it is a gem of a place with a trail that circles the island and a feeling of utter peace all around. Kucera unpacked a lunch of gourmet sandwiches, freshly picked blueberries, health bars and sparkling water and we sat near the water’s edge, watching the pigeon guillemot birds chatter noisily as they dipped and dived nearby.

After lunch we toured the island on foot, climbing the trail to lookouts that are easily 150 feet above the sea. Salal berries were ripening around us and at the halfway mark we admired a grove of arbutus trees before turning back. The trail is maintained by volunteers but gets overgrown quickly. Like ourselves, previous visitors had tread lightly and left nothing behind. It’s a treat to have an island to yourself, particularly one with no evidence of human pollution whatsoever.

 We headed back to Wildcat Cove with reluctance, our kayaks pulled gently by the current and a soft breeze. The four hours had spun by and our easy paddling was punctuated by laughter, exclamations of appreciation at the scenery and nuggets of fascinating information shared by Kucera. Kayaking is an incredible way to spend a summer’s day experiencing the Salish Sea and Moondance Kayak makes it safe, easy, informative and most of all, fun.

If You Go

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism
Visitor Center Located at I-5 Exit 253 - Check Hours
904 Potter Street, Bellingham, WA 98229
Phone: 360-671-3990

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