17/06/2024

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Getting Outdoors on Bainbridge Island, WA

12 min read
Getting Outdoors on Bainbridge Island, WA

The charming community of Bainbridge Island, WA, offers some of the best outdoor experiences near Seattle. Read on for our top picks of ways to enjoy getting outdoors on Bainbridge Island.

Bainbridge Island, WA, is a short ferry ride from Seattle. The island, with fewer than 30,000 residents, is a tranquil place filled with trees and surrounded by water. Along with great art and culture—and some incredible food and wines—you’ll also find fun ways to get outdoors during your visit.

As you wander along the harbor, explore the local farms for produce and flowers, or hike through forests of Douglas Fir, Cedars, and Maples, I’m betting you fall in love the way I did. Here are some of my favorite ways of getting outdoors on Bainbridge Island.

Bainbridge Island ferry

The moment you step on the ferry for Bainbridge Island, the world slows down. Photo by Keith Brofsky Courtesy Visit Bainbridge Island

Getting Outdoors at Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island

Bloedel Reserve is one of my favorite spots for getting outdoors on Bainbridge Island. The reserve sits on land that was ancestral grounds for the Suquamish people. Bloedel acknowledges that in their heritage statement, which reads:

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We express deep gratitude towards the Suquamish People, People of the Clear Salt Water, for sustaining the land within which our healing landscapes thrive. Those entrusted with caring for Bloedel Reserve acknowledge that the sacred ancestral territory on which the Reserve resides flourishes because of the stewardship, since time immemorial, by the Suquamish people. We will honor and respect their legacy by nurturing this land and the waterways of the Central Salish Sea for present and future generations.

You feel that respect when you enter the grounds.

History of Bloedel Reserve

The first 67 acres of what would become Bloedel Reserve was dedicated by President James Buchanan in 1856 to benefit the construction of a Territorial University, which would go on to become the University of Washington. The land was sold and logged to raise revenue to develop curriculum for the university. Lumber from the site went to construct the first university buildings in downtown Seattle.

The Collins family bought the land in 1904 and added acres to it. Looking to create a summer retreat there, Mrs. Collins hired J. Lister Holmes to design and build an 18th-century French Country-style home, which remains today.

In 1951, the Bloedels purchased what was then called “Collinswood” and called the property home for the next 30 years. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Bloedels added more acres to have room for sheep and chicken, along with barns, vegetable gardens, meadows, and formal gardens. They added water features and trails and built a guest house.

In 1970, the Bloedels set the property aside for the public through a gift to the University of Washington. The Arbor Fund, established to manage the property, bought it in 1986 and opened it to the public in October 1988.

Exploring Bloedel Reserve

Today, Bloedel Reserve is an experiential public garden and forest reserve covering 140 acres with 23 distinct landscapes. I spent several hours at the Reserve and didn’t begin to see everything.

The Reserve includes a 2-mile loop of well-maintained bark and gravel trails and paved roads that wind through the grounds. We started out on the loop and took a few detours to see some notable highlights.

Bloedel Reserve walking paths

You can easily enjoy outdoors on Bainbridge Island with the walking paths at Bloedel Reserve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The Must-See Stops at Bloedel Reserve

You can’t see everything in one visit, so these should be at the top of your list.

Swan Pond and Orchid Trail

Swan Pond and Orchid Trail winds through cedar and fir forests, past huge ferns, and leads to the Japanese Garden.

The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden is one of my favorite spots in Bloedel Reserve. It is so tranquil and wows with its simplicity. I imagine this is glorious in spring, but I did enjoy it with fall colors.

Japanese Garden at Bloedel Reserve.

Japanese Garden at Bloedel Reserve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The Japanese Guest House

The Japanese Guest House sits adjacent to the Japanese Garden. Its unique structure melds the Northwest Coast Native American Longhouse with Japanese architecture. It seems a perfect balance as you wander around the structure, peering through the windows.

Japanese Guest House at Bloedel Reserve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Japanese Guest House at Bloedel Reserve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The Moss Garden

The Moss Garden is the country’s largest public moss garden, with more than 40 species of moss and lichen. It really is a fairyland. It was hushed as we wandered past old moss-covered Alder stumps. I kept looking for something magical to happen. I realized I didn’t need tiny fairies to feel the magic as I inhaled the fragrance of the forests.

The Moss Garden at Bloedel Reserve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The Moss Garden at Bloedel Reserve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The Mid Pond

The Mid Pond is a wow moment as you come around the bend and see the residence in the distance. It sits wrapped in green lawns and natural open spaces. I discovered a lovely bench where I would have enjoyed sitting with a book for a few hours.

The Mid Pond and Residence at Bloedel Reserve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The Mid Pond and Residence at Bloedel Reserve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The Reflection Pool

The Reflection Pool is past the Mid Pond on the walk toward the residence. It’s also worth a stop. The pool, fed by a natural spring, perfectly reflects the surrounding trees.

The Reflection Pool at Bloedel Reserve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The Reflection Pool at Bloedel Reserve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The Residence

The Residence is a must during your visit to Bloedel Reserve. This was the Bloedel home; you can tour the first floor during open hours. There is some history of the Reserve and the family throughout. The magnificent views over Puget Sound leave no doubt as to why the Bloedel family treasured this land.

View from the Residence at Bloedel Reserve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

View from the Residence at Bloedel Reserve. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Visiting Bloedel Reserve

You must purchase timed tickets in advance. Prices are $22 for adults, with discounts for seniors and military ($15), students ($10), and children ($5), with free entry for those 4 and younger. There are no on-site tickets available. Prices are higher from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

Bloedel Reserve is open Tuesday through Sunday all year. Check online for hours based on the season.

Get Outdoors and Go Hiking on Bainbridge Island

With so much beautiful scenery, your outdoor time isn’t restricted to Bloedel. There are great spots for hiking and biking around the island. Here are a few of my favorite spots for hiking outdoors on Bainbridge Island.

Blakely Harbor Park

Blakely Harbor Park, a 40-acre waterfront park, is on the south end of Bainbridge Island. In the 1800s, Port Blakely Mill stood here. As you stand on the tranquil spot today, it’s hard to believe it was the world’s largest sawmill a century ago.

Blakely Harbor Park sits on the abandoned and reclaimed site of a lumber mill. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Blakely Harbor Park sits on the abandoned and reclaimed site of a lumber mill. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The old Graffiti Building, left over from the mill, is now a living art canvas for visitors and locals. There are hiking trails, footbridges, and nearby restrooms. You can download a map online.

Graffiti Building at Fort Blakely Park

Graffiti Building at Fort Blakely Park. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Grand Forest Walk

The Grand Forest covers 240 acres with 8 miles of trails on the island’s west side. These relatively flat trails wind through conifers, firs, and cedars. Most people head to the largest section, the West Grand Forest, covering 121 acres. Here you’ll find the Main Trail, a 1.5-mile loop. Highlights include the wood bridge over Issei Creek, a small pond, and a rock cairn. Other connecting trails lead to the East Grand Forest. You can find a complete map here.

Fay Bainbridge Park

Fay Bainbridge Park is on the northern end of Bainbridge Island. It covers 17 acres with 1,420 feet of shoreline and gorgeous views over Puget Sound.

Fay Bainbridge Park. Photo courtesy Visit Bainbridge Island

Fay Bainbridge Park. Photo courtesy Visit Bainbridge Island

Along with hiking trails, there are picnic areas, cabins to rent, tent camping spaces, and RV spots. A map is available here.

Fort Ward Park

Fort Ward Park features 4,300 feet of shoreline and 137 acres of park. The former military post is relatively flat, and many trails are paved, but no cars are allowed on the paved roads. This makes Fort Ward Park ideal for those with strollers, in wheelchairs, or wanting a flat surface for biking. You can explore the old bunkers and walk along the rocky beach. Fort Ward is on the Cascadia Marine Trail and includes some campsites exclusively for paddle craft users. There are also picnic tables with grills. You can download a map here.

Pritchard Park

Pritchard Park sits on Eagle Harbor, near the current ferry terminal and across from Seattle. The 50-acre park has a beautiful shore and is home to the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. The park is essential to the island’s culture, both for the Suquamish People who called it home and to the Japanese Americans who were sent from this spot to internment camps during World War II. The park’s mile-long shoreline is breathtakingly beautiful. The Memorial is hauntingly beautiful and sobering. Download a map here before you set out.

Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Farms on Bainbridge Island

Farming has a long history on Bainbridge Island. Most lumber mills shut down in the 1920s, and the workers started farming. Many of those brought in to work the lumber mills were Japanese immigrants who had been farmers in Japan. As you explore the island, you will see farms dotting the roadsides—several of those welcome visitors.

Suyematsu Farm

Said to be the oldest, largest, continually operating farm in Kitsap County, Suyematsu Farm raises strawberries, raspberries, flowers, pumpkins, squash, and Christmas trees. It is open year-round for farm tours, u-pick days, u-cut flower days, a Halloween pumpkin patch, fall gourd picking, and Christmas tree cutting with Santa visits.

HeyDay Farm

The highlight of my first visit to Bainbridge was lunch and a visit to Heyday Farm. Owners Tadao and Tifanie Mitsui own and operate the farm. They grow and sell farm fresh food and invite guests to share a table at the farm for farm-to-table community events.

Heyday Farms on Bainbridge Island

I loved the flower gardens at Heyday Farm on Bainbridge Island. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

You can book one of the Thursday or Friday evening community dinners online. They also offer events throughout the year, from dinners and concerts to brunch and wine pairings. While you’re there, take time to wander through the flower gardens.

Play Pickelball on Bainbridge Island

A great way to get outdoors on Bainbridge Island is with a game of pickleball. And it is more than appropriate to play the increasingly popular sport here. On Bainbridge Island one summer afternoon in 1965, two men created a new game to entertain their bored kids.

Washington congressman Joel Pritchard and his friend, businessman Bill Bell, discovered their vacationing families sitting around with nothing to do. Their property had a badminton court, but they had no equipment. They picked up ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball, lowered the badminton net from 60” to 36”, and gave birth to pickleball. Soon, the men, along with friend Barney McCallum, created rules, always keeping in mind the idea that it is something for an entire family to play together.

In 2019, under the watchful eye of Barney McCallum, Bainbridge Island began constructing The Founders Courts on the site where it all started. The courts are located at Battle Point Park. The 90-acre park is not only home to The Founder’s Courts but has ponds, a jogging trail, ball fields, picnic areas, a disc golf course, and more. There are some great children’s play areas at the park, including an ADA/All-Abilities KidsUp! Playground.

How fun to play a game of pickleball right where it all started!

Play Pickleball on The Founder's Courts on Bainbridge Island. Photo courtesy Visit Bainbridge Island

Play Pickleball on The Founders Courts on Bainbridge Island. Photo courtesy Visit Bainbridge Island

Astronomy in the Park

Another feature at Battle Point Park, a World War II naval radio station responsible for monitoring transmissions, is the Battle Point Astronomical Association. The association runs the West Coast’s largest publicly available telescope and observatory. The Ritchie Observatory, housed in the old Helix Building from the Naval station, is home to the 27” Ritchie Telescope.

Entertainment in the Park

There are drive-in/sit-in movies throughout the summer, usually on Friday evenings. The Sounds of Summer outdoor concert series, usually held on a Wednesday evening, is a favorite with locals and visitors alike. The concerts typically occur from 6 to 8 pm and feature Pacific Northwest musicians.

Bring your lawn chairs and blankets, and listen to free music in the park or watch free movies there. Pack a picnic dinner or purchase something from the local food truck on site for the event.

Water Sports on Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island is… well… surrounded by water. With this setting and more than 50 miles of coastline to explore, there is little wonder why water sports are so popular. Kitsap County, which includes Bainbridge Island, is part of the National Water Trails System, run by the National Park Service.

The National Water Trails program is a network of water trails open to the public. The goal is to protect and restore rivers, shorelines, and waterways while providing excellent water entertainment.

There are a variety of water sports available here, depending on what you want to do while enjoying the outdoors on Bainbridge Island.

Sailing While Visiting Bainbridge Island

You don’t have to know how to sail to set out on a sailing adventure. Check out Sail Bainbridge to book a two-hour chartered sail during the day, a relaxing sunset sail, or circumnavigate Bainbridge Island. For something above and beyond, enjoy the two-hour sunset sail and then spend a romantic night at anchor in the waters off the island. A light breakfast and coffee is included. What a way to enjoy those beautiful waters of Puget Sound!

Enjoy sailing while exploring the outdoors on Bainbridge Island. Photo by Ben Matthews courtesy Visit Bainbridge Island

Enjoy sailing while exploring the outdoors on Bainbridge Island. Photo by Ben Matthews courtesy Visit Bainbridge Island

More Water Sports on Bainbridge Island

If you want more adventure, head to Exotic Aquatics Scuba & Kayaking. Exotic Aquatics takes full advantage of the watery surroundings. Exotic Aquatics runs the city’s kayak and SUP rental program from the spring through the fall. You can also book guided tours, take SCUBA and kayak lessons, and go on longer adventures.

Articles Related to Bainbridge Island

Getting into the Great Outdoors on Bainbridge Island

I adore Bainbridge Island. There’s a feeling of release the moment you step on the ferry in Seattle. Crossing Puget Sound, watching the city fade behind you as the island approaches, there is a feeling that life is slowing down. I love the arts and crafts on Bainbridge Island and am always up for great culinary experiences and some incredible wine tasting, but getting outdoors on Bainbridge Island is unlike anything else. The trees are majestic as they reach toward the sky. The water laps at the shore. As I strolled along the harbor on my last day there, I knew I would always feel drawn to this tranquil Pacific Northwest island.

Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island with Puget Sound and Seattle in the distance. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island with Puget Sound and Seattle in the distance. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

We invite you to check out more Wander With Wonder articles when you’re ready to explore the Pacific Northwest. We also have more great coverage of Bainbridge Island, Seattle, and elsewhere throughout Washington State.

The charming community of Bainbridge Island, WA, offers some of the best outdoor experiences near Seattle. Read on for our top picks of ways to enjoy getting outdoors on Bainbridge Island. | Bainbridge Island Adventures | Things to Do on Bainbridge Island | What to do near Seattle | Outdoor Adventures Near Seattle

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Getting Outdoors on Bainbridge Island, WA

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