Smugglers Cove Trail
San Juan County
Northwest corner of Cypress Island
Every day Never Closes
The Smugglers Cove Trail offers a pleasant hike from a lesser known saltwater cove up the forested western flank of Cypress ending at a broad saddle on the northern end of the island. Paralleling a deep stream drainage the trail passes interesting geologic and natural features, ending at a forested lake of exceptional wildlife interest with connections to the rest of the Cypress Island trail system.
Beginning at Smugglers Cove on the northwest end of Cypress, the trail briefly follows the shore before it begins its steady climb to the east. Sparkling sun, reflected off the saltwater, filters through the thin band of trees and shrubs lining the shore bluff. This delightful and level approach soon ends as the first switchback turns you uphill. From this point on, the views are all woodland as you follow the obvious old road bed that now provides the trail’s tread. Glimpses into the dark forest reveal surprisingly dramatic cliff bands on the uphill side of the trail while the stream drainage below you seems to become deeper and more remote with every glimpse. Somehow the elevation and path of both the trail and the stream will meet up ahead before ending together at the outfall of Duck Lake. Though the trail is broad and comfortable the slopes above and below you are steep and unstable. This is enhanced due to the deeply cut stream channel which somewhat marks the boundary between the dissimilar landforms on either side of you. To the north sandstone bedrock and glacial till provide pockets of fairly rich substrate where soil has been allowed to accumulate promoting lush forest growth. To the south however, an unusual surface occurrence of serpentine rock and soil becomes increasingly prominent, limiting the species and growth of much of the plant life.
Once the trail grade relaxes a little it’s not too far until it dips to cross the stream before making one more moderate step up to the lake. Upon reaching the lake a short spur to the right provides you the best views from this side. Standing on this artificially built berm, the many snags that you see rising from the water are a testament to the success of this earthen dam. Covering much of the pond’s surface are native yellow water lilies making an intricately channeled playground for waterfowl. The surrounding wetlands, shrub borders, and forest make this a wonderfully rich area for other wildlife from minute aquatic insects, to darting dragonflies, flitting forest birds and soaring raptors.
Behind you in the braided outfall of the lake, the stream’s headwaters gurgle down the slope quickly but not before saturating a small but intensely lush remnant of the original wetland. In the spring, which occurs here as early as March, the skunk cabbage dazzles with its sun-gold flowered orbs, adorned with its characteristic skunky "perfume." Along with the flower show, frogs love this more protected location, males spar with each other over perfect perches and sing their enticing ballads to prove their attractiveness.
Continuing on the trail, just as you pass beyond the lake, an old log cabin appears in the forest, silent and abandoned. So long neglected, roof and walls are slowly making their way back to the forest floor. Notice the wide spaces at the corners between the notched logs, signs of quick functional construction rather than time consuming craftsmanship that was a luxury unavailable when it was built. Be careful, your best and safest views are easily gained from the trail. Someday this decaying structure will take a hard fall and you won’t want to be near it when that happens.
Beyond this a fork marks the immediate connections with the Duck Lake Loop. Right will bring you to even better viewpoints of Duck Lake; or going left you can continue on to Pelican Beach and Eagle Harbor. When it’s time for you to return to the cove, don't be surprised if the trail still has more to offer. The views and perspective are surprisingly different and you’ll see things that you hadn’t noticed when hiking in the opposite direction. Besides, as so often happens, this trail is even easier to enjoy on the way down.
The trail begins at Smugglers Cove on the northwest end of Cypress Island, north of Tide Point and ends at its junction with the Duck Lake Loop a short distance to the east of Duck Lake.
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San Juan Islands