This is the kind of place we’d like to keep secret and have all to ourselves—but it’s way too late. Just about all South Sound boaters do know about McMicken—a great gunkhole—in Case Inlet on the east side of Hartstene Island. Jo and her family were anchoring here before it became a state park in 1974. It is a pristine 11.45 acres of isolated, partly forested island where bald eagles soar, blue herons stalk shallows for snacks, deer feed in the fields and seals cavort nearby.
McMicken is joined to Hartstene at low tide by a sandy bar or “tombolo,” about 30 feet wide. The first 100 yards west of the park are state park property, the rest of the bar is private and Hartstene islanders are displeased with traffic from boaters visiting the park. “No Trespassing” signs are on Hartstene, posted by oyster growers.
At high tide the tombolo is deceptive. A tombolo is a sand or gravel bar connecting an island with the mainland (or another island), usually covered by water at high tide. Not a good idea to go between McMicken and Hartstene in anything larger than a kayak or dinghy. Some of McMicken’s beaches are almost completely white from broken shells right up to the grasslands, which makes us think they may be an old Indian midden. Waves against the island’s shores leave little ledges of sand and gravel that are quite pronounced and unusual. On the rocky south beach are remains of old, reddish bricks with holes in them.
Five mooring buoys are at the island, two off the south shore and three off the north shore; with 1,661 feet of saltwater shoreline, peace and quiet, and hiking, clamming, fishing, swimming in very clear water. The island has no water and no facilities, except a primitive restroom. The south shore of McMicken boasts—see the charts—a boulder. And it is a boulder, huge and underwater at high tide. It’s another of those erratic rocks that are so common.
Walking the beach all around the island at low tide is intriguing because of all the sea life, plus there’s good bird and seal watching. Several trails criss-cross the island through the woods. Trails are narrow and twisting with tree roots in the paths making the walk a challenge. On a bright and sunny day it’s dark in the forest with only occasional views through thick underbrush. Even on a rainy day it’s fairly dry and protected because there are so many branches overhead.
Anchoring is good on either side of McMicken if the buoys are taken, depending on which way the wind is blowing. In the “off-season” you might be the only boat here, as we have been several times. The island’s meadow is rough and covered with clumpy grass with a lot of snaky ruts and channels underfoot. We thought they might be mole holes that had washed out as the surface is caved-in in several places, but a couple we met told us about them. The woman said she’d been curious about them a few years back and pulled up a board lying over a rut. Under it was a whole pack of writhing, squealing, smelly, beady-eyed rats. She beat a hasty retreat. We don’t pick up boards on McMicken.
Hartstene Island State Park lands begin less than 1/4 mile north of McMicken Island and includes 315 acres of uplands, as well as 1,600 feet of saltwater shoreline. A beautiful beach and trails through the forests and ravines are the joys in this park. A large oyster bed at the south end of the Hartstene Island Park beach has over one million oysters available for the picking. The park ranger said clam and oyster pickers must have proper state shellfish licenses and know the limits. Oysters must be shucked on the beach, leaving the shells where you find them, as they are usually covered with “spat” – baby oysters.
Anchoring is possible all along the park’s shoreline in about two fathoms at low tide. It’s easy to dinghy ashore and stroll beaches and hike trails, Fish havens and a submerged structure are off the park’s north end as charted. Public tidelands extend north from McMicken Island for about 8,000 feet, including tidelands at Hartstene State Park.
This beautiful bay is off the north end of Case Inlet at the northwest end of Key Peninsula. It’s a nifty spot, a great gunkhole, with an interesting entrance and a great public sandspit. At high tide the entrance is wide and inviting and plenty deep for our 5.5 foot draft. But it has only one foot of water at low tides. On incoming and outgoing tides a strong current runs through the pass, which the kids loved to ride in the dinghy. Needless to say, the best time to enter and exit is well above a half tide, preferably an incoming tide. There’s a good anchorage in the south side of the bay.
Depths at MLLW approaching the entrance are charted as two fathoms three feet outside, shoaling to zero fathoms one foot, just inside. Depths increase to one fathom three feet behind the spit. Mid-length of the bay depths increase to about four fathoms. Currents in the channel during flood or ebb tides are not shown in the Tidal Current Tables or in the Current Charts. Favoring the spit side of the entrance we proceed at dead slow with the current, heading south immediately inside the spit to avoid a shoal projecting from the north shore. Then we turn east slightly into more comfortable depths. We anchor inside the spit toward the south and east corner of Vaughn Bay, in two to four fathoms, mud bottom.
The wonderful spit has tidelands of nearly 2,000 feet, owned by the Department of Natural Resources, along the Vaughn Bay side. It is accessible only by boat. The bay side is quite steep, especially near the entrance. There are no facilities on the beach—just a wonderful place to bask in the sun and let the kids run. With silvered driftwood carelessly flung across the top by wind-driven waves, the spit is great for beachcombing and clam digging: littlenecks, butters, horse clams; red rock crabs are here, too. The old dock on the spit is long gone, only old stub piles and rusted out old cables remain. The outside (Case Inlet side) of the spit slopes gradually to the water, with fine, pea-gravel along the beach. In fact, when some friends anchored their 40 foot sailboat along this shore and the tide went out, the boat grounded and laid over on its side. Embarrassed, but always prepared, the skipper went below and brought out scrapers. Barnacles were removed from the bottom before the tide came in and the boat righted itself.
A launch ramp is on the north shore of Vaughn Bay about 0.5 mile from the entrance; there is limited parking. At low tides the ramp is unusable. Several boats are permanently moored in Vaughn Bay. This is a protected, favorite anchorage with many South Sound boaters, especially because of the spit tidelands to explore. Except for the public tidelands, the rest of the Vaughn Bay shoreline is private. Vaughn Bay community is a pleasant mix of summer residences and permanent homes. At the bay head, near the bridge, is the Key Peninsula Community Center
Stretch Point Marine State Park
Stretch Point Marine State Park is on the northwest side of Case Inlet at the northeast point of Stretch Island. The park extends around both sides of the point. It is easy to spot the three mooring buoys east of the sandy point, and the two buoys in the bight west of the point. Anchoring in the bight is possible if the buoys are all taken. There’s protection from all but a northerly in here. The buoys look close to shore, but they’re in about 40 feet of water. The park, accessible by water only, is undeveloped and adjacent to private property on either side. It is a satellite of Jarrell Cove State Park on Hartstene Island. With 4.2 acres of land and 610 feet of shoreline, it’s one of the smaller parks. There are no picnic, water or toilet facilities. The park is a favorite spot for water skiers. There’s swimming, beach-combing, clamming, fishing and picnicking, on either side of the point. By sunset the water-skiers usually quit and it’s a quiet, peaceful anchorage. The little bight inside the northeast corner of the island is a nifty gunkhole;a lovely, choice spot. The beach is fairly steep and gravelly. We tie to a mooring buoy and enjoy a delightful, peaceful evening after a quick dinghy trip ashore and a swim. The sun sets slowly over the trees and all’s right with the world. Wooded bluffs are along the eastern shore of the island, with large boulders on the beach. Although there are a fair number of homes on Stretch Island, it somehow seems not quite as urbanized as other places in this area.
We were going to put in at Jarrell’s Cove State Park and Jarrell’s Cove Marina on Hartstene Island on this cruise, but since we covered them in May 2005, we’ll just sail on to Hope Island State Marine Park. However, Jarrell’s Cove, is a great place to visit. So, on we sail to Hope in Squaxin Passage near the junction of Totten Inlet and Pickering Pass. This is an enchanting spot, and is the newest of the state’s marine park acquisitions— another treasure. The 106 acre island park has 1 1/2 miles of beach and two miles of trails through old-growth forests and past saltwater marshes. allowed on the island.
The main trail begins up behind the caretaker’s house and winds amidst the trees gently upward to 120 feet at the north end of the island, then dips back down at the southeast end to relatively low land. It’s a peaceful, wonderful, but not always well-defined trail. Although the caretaker told us we might get lost, we only strayed off the trail a couple of times and never felt “lost.” There are no facilities ashore, and dogs are not
Five mooring buoys are around Hope Island and anchoring is possible off the eastern shore in about 12 to 20 feet where currents aren’t too strong. It’s easy to dinghy ashore at any of several delightful little beaches sprinkled around Hope. The island’s caretaker lives in a small, red cabin in the cove along the south shore. We’ve circumnavigated Hope Island staying about 150 yards offshore, in depths of nine to 50 feet. From much of Hope Island the views are lovely — Mount Rainier down Squaxin Passage to the east on a clear day, the friendly old evergreen forests to north and northeast, Arcadia Point at the entrance to Hammersley, and sparkling waters surrounding the island — while to the southwest the view is across Squaxin Passage—to hundreds of houses. Public access from the mainland closest to Hope Island is the launch ramp at Arcadia.
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