This prime location for forest wandering and beachside strolling is one of two state parks located along the western edge of Camano Island. (The other, Camano Island State Park, has some trails of its own.)
Nearly every trail junction in the park has a sign post that shows the name of the current trail (in caps at the top of the post) plus various other trails and points that can be reached from there, in different directions.
Sign posts may be easiest to read from the bottom up. Start with the lowest arrow on the sign. Everything shown above that arrow is in the indicated direction, until you come to another arrow. Then repeat from there, working your visual way up the post one arrow at a time. Trails have two ends, and signs will not specify which end is referred to. Usually this will be obvious, but not always. When you need clarification, refer to your map and the description below.
Our suggested hiking route heads first to Cranberry Lake, then to the Marine View Loop Trail, then to the northern end of the Bluff Trail before heading back south to the trailhead. An optional hike extension to visit the Dry Lake Road Trailhead on the eastern park boundary is described later.
Begin at the Drop-off shelter, and head past the adjacent restrooms, taking the trail that curves gently to the right, away from the road. In just a few feet you will see a signpost up ahead that indicates the Cranberry Lake trail to the left (and the Historic District and Beach to the right.) Head left on that trail.
Cross the park road and continue in an easterly direction. In 0.4 miles, walk around a gate and pass a trail on your right that leads to Camano Island State Park. Continue on straight, and carefully cross West Camano Drive. Once across, smile at the sign on your left that offers suggestions for dog owners.
The ongoing trail doubles as a gated service road. Continue on about 500 feet and note a covered sign board on the right. Remember this location for your return. Just beyond the covered signboard, make a sharp right turn onto the Cranberry Lake Trail (the ongoing service road soon dead-ends at a water tower.)
Continue on 0.5 miles or so on the gentle, occasionally rooty trail. The park map shows the route as nearly straight but this trail, like others in the park, has meanders that add visual interest.
You'll pass through mixed forest with an occasional large conifer, and soon reach the trail's end on a narrow spit of land that protrudes out into Cranberry Lake. The "lake" actually is a shallow beaver marsh, the creation of many generations of beavers.
In late spring and summer most of the lake will be covered with yellow-flowering lily pads, and you will hear the croaking of many frogs. Sightings of red-wing blackbirds and smaller birds are likely. Beavers, though, usually are nocturnal so you are unlikely to see them.
By late summer the lily pads start to die back and the frogs and most birds are silent. Later in the season more open water will be visible.
When you have enjoyed a good look at the lake, backtrack the way you came as far as that covered signboard. From there, as you look back in the direction of your trailhead, note a side trail on your right that initially looks rather minimal. There is a trail sign for it, but the sign is way over on your left, the same side as the covered sign board, so you might overlook it. That trail actually is the Cross Island Trail, and it's the route you want.
Follow the Cross Island Trail north about a quarter mile and be alert for the signed Cutoff Trail on the left. (The ongoing Cross Island Trail offers an optional hike extension to the eastern edge of the park. See below. If you intend to hike it, now would be a good time. Then return here.)
Head left on the Cutoff Trail that soon re-crosses West Camano Drive near the park entrance. The trail continues across the road, just to the right of a granite boulder. Follow that trail and head onto the Marine View Loop Trail. The route gradually bends right and eventually comes closer to the road again.
In about 0.5 mi, come to a signed junction where the Marine View Loop Trail heads left. The ongoing trail - not shown on the map - is signed as the "Neighborhood Walkers Trail." It leads out to W Camano Drive and, if you walk a short way farther along the road, you do come to a viewpoint. You can check it out if you like, but then return here and head west on the Marine View Loop Trail.
Soon, a short side trail leads to a viewing platform with views out across Saratoga Passage to Whidbey Island, and down to the Cama Beach Cabins. These are the best distant views you will have on your hike.
Return to the Marine View Loop Trail and continue on south. In about 0.35 miles, reach a second viewing platform that includes bulletin boards with information about local trees and berries.
The ongoing southbound route is the Bluff Trail. It will lead you past yet another viewing platform that includes bulletin boards with information about local ferns and herbs.
Hike on through an area where some large blowdowns have been sawed up and moved off the trail. In mid-2019, this part of the Bluff Trail was closed for several weeks because of the blowdowns, and because eagles nesting nearby would have been disturbed by the noise of saws.
Rather abruptly, the Bluff Trail delivers you back into the parking area at the Drop-off shelter, thus completing your loop.
If you are hiking in the spring, you might find wildflowers blooming all along your trails. Look for buttercups, foamflower, youth-on-age, avens, miner's lettuce, twinflower, thimbleberry, and salmonberry. (Later in the season there might be a few ripe berries, although they tend to disappear quickly.)
Occasionally the prickly salmonberry vines, or a stinging nettle, can lean in over the trail so be alert as you hike here.
In summer, you likely will see robins foraging near the trails, plus some smaller birds. You may see eagles, or at least hear their calls. You probably will see a few Douglas squirrels, and possibly some small bunnies, although the bunnies are not native here.
If you are curious about the 1930s - 1950s era cabins in the Historic District, they are just a five minute walk down the trail from the Drop-off shelter. You might as well wander down and walk quietly past the cabins (please don't disturb renters), check out the Center for Wooden Boats (an affiliate of the one at Lake Union in Seattle,) and investigate the short trail heading north, past the barbecue pit, along the gravelly beach.
Extending your hike
Optionally, you can explore the ongoing Cross-Island Trail that leads to a trailhead at the eastern boundary of the park. The trailhead is located at the dead end of Ivy Way, a very short side street off W Dry Lake Road. Thus, the trailhead is referred to as the "Dry Lake Road Trailhead."
The Cross-Island Trail is easily negotiated but it's longer than other trails in the park, and some hikers consider it less interesting. It would add about 1.8 miles to your round trip, with an extra 180 ft of total elevation gain.
The Dry Lake Road Trailhead sits just east of the park boundary and, according to a link at camanoislandinfo.com, parking there is "free to the public" (i.e., unlike trailheads inside the park, a Discover Pass is NOT required.)
One short segment of the broad trailhead parking area sports a "No Parking" sign and a section of red curb so folks will not block access to a neighbor's mailbox or driveway.
A sign board out near W Dry Lake Road displays colorful posters, including one that may help identify local wildflowers. But the area near the bulletin board sometimes is colonized by bees and wasps, so stay alert if you walk around there.
An ongoing trail that heads north along W Dry Lake Rd is not associated with the park. It's the creation of local residents, and you are welcome to explore it.
History and Navigating the Park
The website for Cama Beach Historical State Park gives you a good idea of the many activities offered at this park. The History tab is well-worth reading and there is an interesting set of vintage photos, some from the 1930s -1950s, when Cama Beach was a family-operated resort camp. Many visitors still come to the park to stay in the (now-updated) rustic beach cabins that date from that era.
You can also download a brochure for general information about the park, and this park trail map offers a good picture of the park roads, but as of Summer 2019 it presents a simplified picture of park trails.
If you use a Garmin GPS unit and the associated NW Topo map, that map may offer a better depiction of the park trails but unfortunately (as of summer 2019) it does not show any of the park roads. So it goes.