Cypress Lake Trail


Every day Seasonal


Cypress Lake, sits on the border between the Island’s recreation conservation lands and the central unit of the Natural Area Preserve. The short trail from the Cypress Mainline to the lake passes by the finest and largest example of freshwater wetland remaining on the island today. The Lake is often home to fish hunting raptors and allows hikers a view into the very heart of this Island.

Beginning at the trailhead on the Cypress Mainline, the trail follows what was once a wagon road up a short rise. In only a few minutes the extensive wetlands of Stella’s Marsh comes into view on the left. Formerly a pioneer site and known as Homestead Lake it now takes its name from Stella Payne who was one of its early owners. This shallow pond and extensive wetland is one of the richest and most varied wildlife habitats to be found on Cypress. Deep and organically rich soils nourish deciduous trees, ferns, and thickets of salmonberry. Fringing the water’s edge, pond lily, cattails, rushes, and salt tolerant grasses may be found. Animal life is abundant as well. A wide selection of riparian, terrestrial, and aquatic species can be observed on any day and in any season. Forest birds, waterfowl, and raptors soaring high overhead are commonly seen. Crossing the trail on their travels to and from the pond, the rough-skinned newt is active on cool wet days and especially in the morning and evening. Their dry, brown, pebbly skin and only occasional flash of bright orange underside make them difficult to notice if you’re not looking for them underfoot.

The trail continues past the marsh and before long reaches Cypress Lake, the largest and deepest lake on the island. The origin of its previous name "Phebe" (still frequently found on modern maps) has been lost causing one to wonder at the name’s spelling and source: a woman’s name, a bird, or a classical reference? The outfall creek from the lake has always been the only dependable stream on Cypress. For centuries the creek was the water source for a summertime village on Strawberry Bay and provided harvestable quantities of cutthroat trout and estuarine species. The lake was also the water source for various settlement attempts on the shoreline of the bay and even today it is the freshwater source for the modern residences of the private Madrona Community. The use of the lake’s water for drinking purposes prohibits swimming or any other aquatic recreation in the lake.

The lack of water recreation at the lake has had a beneficial impact on the wildlife. Animals that call this area home or those that are visitors on migratory paths enjoy the quiet setting that they usually find here. The lake’s deeper water, larger fish and lack of human activity, bring hunters from the sky in the form of the hardworking osprey and the opportunistic bald eagle. Both can be found hunting here and both may potentially nest using fish from the lake to raise their broods. The difference between them, when both species are using the lake, is that the osprey must first catch fish to satisfy the thieving eagle before being allowed to enjoy its own meal. Luckily for both, the osprey is an efficient and highly successful hunter.

While enjoying the lakeside view and seemingly natural setting it’s interesting to look around and attempt to picture the lake when chromate mines were dug into the serpentine rock directly above the lake shore. Apparently unconcerned at that time for contamination and runoff, these operations were (fortunately for the native species) small and short lived. The natural regeneration of native plants around the lake and the establishment of the adjacent Natural Area Preserve have helped nature to hide many of the scars of the past industrial activities.

Looking up from the bottom of this steep sided basin, the surrounding peaks are some of the highest of the island reaching up to 1500 ft above sea level. There is no access to the higher ground due to the preserve status, and the densely forested peaks offer nothing in the way of view or special interest for visitors. These high points were mistakenly thought to be the mountain known as She-ungtih, the home of the great Thunder Bird. The error was in translation and cultural perspectives. The true summit of legend is that of the lower elevation but visually dramatic Eagle Cliff (see article this website). Despite the confusion, this central area of many summits and small lakes were well known to both early explorers and island inhabitants and were collectively and descriptively known at the Lake Mountains.

Hiking the Cypress Lake Trail provides a wonderful visit to the heart of the Island. From tiny creatures to majestic eagles the wildlife viewing is exceptional. The preserve status and use of the lake as a drinking water source requires that visitors remain on the trail, out of the lake and that all pets must be excluded from this trail. The trail’s central location makes it a short, convenient and worthwhile side trip during a number of potential hiking loops crisscrossing Cypress Island.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 3/9/2010


The Cypress Lake trailhead is located near the center of the island at a junction with the Cypress Mainline a little more than 1 and a half miles southwest of Eagle Harbor. From the junction, it is only about half a mile further to trail’s end at Cypress Lake.


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