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Camping Gems

Camping Gems

Find those fun and funky “special” places across the country. Hit the road and discover all the odd roadside attractions that make getting there more than half the fun. Road tripping gives you an excuse to search out hidden gems along your route. Look inside for suggested trips and inspiration to plan your own camping gem journey.

Blake Island, Washington

In the western reaches of Washington State, just a quick boat ride from Seattle, you'll find Blake Island, a small island that's been turned into living museum for Native American heritage. This evergreen island sits in the Puget Sound, an island-dotted body of water that stretches from Seattle to the Pacific coast.

Blake Island is a well-kept secret that makes a terrific trip because of Tillicum Village, a full Native American experience. At Tillicum Village, you and your family can take part in a Native-American style salmon dinner and see demonstrations of Northwest Indian dancing. You can explore a re-created long house and see how native peoples kept themselves warm and dry during the damp northwest winters.

This island was an ancestral camping area of the Suquamish tribe, a group that now lives on the mainland between Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island. The Suquamish were skilled paddlers and canoe-builders who visited the island regularly to fish and collect shellfish.

The entire island is part of Blake Island State Park, an area that's only reachable by tour boat or private boat. This 475-acre marine camping park has five miles of saltwater beach shoreline. On the island's southern side, you can see the Seattle skyline, framed by the distant Cascade Mountains. On the northern side you'll have views of the Olympic Mountains, Washington's oldest mountain range, and one that overlooks the Pacific Ocean to the west, Canada to the north, and the inlets of Puget Sound to the east.

After you visit Tillicum Village and get to know the heritage of the area, you can spend some time exploring the island's rocky beaches and tide pools, looking for crabs, limpets, clams, starfish, sea anemones, sand dollars. In the water, watch for river otters and seals, and in deep stretches, keep an eye out for Puget Sound's "J" pod, a family group of orca whales that call this body of water home. Overhead, you might see bald eagles (sometimes being chased and annoyed by crows). In bays and inlets, watch and listen for kingfishers, gulls, ducks, and cormorants.

You'll find tours headed to Blake Island from Seattle (via Argosy Cruises, piers 55 and 56) and Port Orchard (via Kitsap Harbor Tours). The boat trip from Seattle takes about 45 minutes. Approximately 100,000 people visit Blake Island every year. The park includes a 324-foot public pier with a 180-foot float, so there's plenty of mooring space.

The island includes 12 miles of hiking trails, including one that circumnavigates the island, crossing the bluffs high above the beach. Occasionally, important meetings and summits are held here, including the 1993 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference (APEC) that was attended by President Bill Clinton and the heads of state of China, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, and more.
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