Barracks to Boats Trail

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Review

Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
They could have named the trail the rather lackluster “English Camp Connector” or the even more generic “North Bay Trail” but instead chose the poetic Barracks to Boat title which as it turns out is both functional and descriptive. This trail provides a wonderful connection between the rich history of the National Park’s English Camp and the extensive services of Roche Harbor and its large marina. Along the way there are seemingly limitless possibilities for loops, connections and natural areas to explore.

If you begin at English Camp, first stop by the large white visitor center. Opened seasonally, this building is in fact the Barracks referenced in the trail name. At one time more than 35 buildings could be found here but only a few renovated originals and faithful replicas remain. If visiting in the early summer you will often find a telescope set up outside to allow visitors a view of a long established osprey nest in the top of a tall distant tree. This is a great way to view the nest without causing any disturbance to these fierce looking raptors. The tree is also a feature along the trail that you’ll soon be hiking.

Making your way from the barracks up the hill (toward the tree) you’ll pass several interesting structures: a renovated house that once served an early settler, a small black pole-mounted bat house placed here to invite these mosquito hungry mammals, a meteorological station, and the ruins of an old fireplace. The stone ruins are a reminder that this was the first location in the San Juan’s that limestone was gathered and burned to make lime that was then used for disinfection, mortar and later as a soil amendment.

The trail proper begins on an old service road. Beneath its surface may be the remnants of the original sheep path that connected to the Hudson Bay’s Bellevue Farm and eventually was upgraded to a wagon road to the American Camp (see article this website). Notice the exceptionally large tree up ahead on your right, slow down and look up as you pass but don’t stop or you may anger the osprey parents guarding their tree top nest. Further along the trail there are steep ridges in the forest on your right. The flat areas below these ridges were where the British Marines found small shallow limestone solution caves and were able to sledge hammer thin blocks of limestone from them; hauling the rocks back down to the fort for processing.

In a short distance you’ll come to busy West Valley Drive, be careful and use the cross walk. On the other side of the road the character of the trail immediately changes as it leads deeper into the forest. The narrow boot tread follows the contours closely with small ups and downs and twists and turns as it wanders through the woodland avoiding wet areas and larger trees. Though rougher than the earlier segment it provides a more intimate nature experience. Passing by connections with various roads and trails of the Roche Harbor Highlands it eventually leads to the popular large parking area at the intersection of Roche Harbor and the West Valley Roads.

From this end of the trail, the choices are expansive: hike through wetland, forest and meadow to Roche Harbor, explore the forested Roche Harbor Highlands, or make a longer loop back to English Camp by way of trails connecting with Mitchell and Young Hills. Whichever way you choose you’ll find more interesting areas to enjoy but be careful to consider the length and possible difficulty following this labyrinth of trails. Also, don’t forget the opening and closing times at English Camp when making plans; you won’t want to end your day with a vehicle trapped behind a locked gate.

The hike is enjoyable in any direction and as part of any number of combinations but is possibly the most thoroughly appreciated with a shuttle ride from Roche Harbor, beginning the hike at English Camp; wandering through very different natural areas; and ending with the comforts of Roche Harbor’s resort and marina.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 6/30/2011

Directions

The shortest hiking segment of the Barracks to Boats trail can be found between the large trailhead parking lot at the junction of Roche Harbor and West Valley Roads and the National Park English Camp. This trail can be part of many combinations of hikes but in its entirety is most easily experienced as a one-way outing beginning with a shuttle from Roche Harbor to English Camp, then hiking back passing the Highlands Lake Loop and Roche Harbor Wetlands Loop Trails finishing at Roche Harbor (see articles this website).

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