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Bainbridge Island: A Seattle Retreat

August 15, 1993|JOHN McKINNEY

A half-hour ferry ride across Puget Sound from metropolitan Seattle delivers you to Bainbridge Island, an intriguing mixture of forested retreat, busy marina and bedroom community.

The isle's very hilly terrain does not seem to discourage cyclists, who arrive in droves. It's pretty good for walking, too, and much easier than biking.

The Seattle-Bainbridge Island ferry ride is an intriguing one. If the weather cooperates, you get grand views of Seattle's skyline against the dramatic backdrop of the Cascades and scenic vistas of Puget Sound, as well as the Olympic Mountains looming above Bainbridge Island's woodsy slopes.

En route, movie fans may notice some "establishing shots" similar to those in two recently released movies: "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Another Stakeout." The latter film was shot on Bainbridge Island.

Bainbridge had few roads or people until the 1920s, when auto ferry service began. No doubt, the frequent ferryboats have changed the character of the island, from an isolated farming and shipbuilding backwater into a pricey-by-Puget-Sound-standards bedroom community.

A few woodsy suburbs aside, most of the island remains a natural environment. Greeting visitors at the ferry dock are gulls, kingfishers, great blue herons and many more shorebirds.

On weekdays, the ferries are packed with somnolent commuters. On weekends, pleasure seekers hop aboard: islanders head to the big city for a little excitement, while Seattle residents ferry to Bainbridge for a day of cycling, kayaking, walking and unwinding.

With more than 20 ferry crossings a day, Bainbridge Island is easy to reach from Seattle. It's not too expensive, either: $6.65 for an auto/driver plus $3.30 per passenger.

If you want to stay overnight on the island, there are 17 B&Bs. A list is available from the Chamber of Commerce. Our family enjoyed Mary's Farmhouse (206-842-4952; $50 a night), with its pastoral setting and generous breakfasts.

Coming or going, travelers will be astonished by the number of espresso-selling establishments clustered near the docks. On the Seattle waterfront, you can get java from a drive-through stand or from the waterside McDonald's. On Bainbridge, it's hard to walk a block without seeing a sign offering coffee for sale. Even the ferry offers a mega-mug of Starbucks coffee for about two bucks, and you get to keep the colorful Washington State Ferry mug (best souvenir deal around).

Once buzzed, begin your Bainbridge exploration with a stop at the Visitor Information Center located one block up from the ferry terminal at 509 Winslow Way E. Ask for the free publication, "Trails of Bainbridge," published by the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District. The publication has thumbnail sketches of nine short walks.

In town (which was known as Winslow until 1991; it's now known, post-annexation, as Bainbridge Island), a good leg-stretcher is The Walkabout, a mile-long footpath exploring the Eagle Harbor waterfront.

The best hiking is at Ft. Ward State Park, where a two-mile loop links forest and shore. The locale's commanding marine views made it attractive to the U.S. military at the turn of the century. Gun batteries were designed to protect the Bremerton Naval Shipyard across the water.

Trails drop from a wooded picnic site down a fern- and fir-filled slope to the shore. A beach road (closed to vehicles) runs above the park's shoreline.

From the road, walkers can join short trails leading to the shore.

Another short hike (2 1/4 miles) can be found at Manzanita Park, situated in the middle of the island. A nature trail explores the trees typical of northwest habitats--Western yew, Sitka spruce, hemlock, white pine--as well as related flora--huckleberry, skunk cabbage and a variety of ferns. No manzanita, though; early settlers mistook the native madrone for manzanita.

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