If you can see Mt. Baker, you are part of The Experience

In search of a campground

Remnants of the Lummi Island Rock Quarry on the Aiston Preserve in Smugglers Cove.

Story and photos by Tony Moceri

My brother and I had been going to Lummi Island for most of our life. We had played on the beaches, paddled in the waters and hiked the trails, but something eluded us all those years: A campground accessible only by water.

In the past, we made plans to go find it, but weather or laziness always seemed to get in our way. This summer we decided the excuses needed to end. We would make it happen.

A friend of ours was getting married on the island in Sunrise Cove, and the plan was to camp there for the night. We marked the date on the calendar and agreed there would be no excuses.

After a night of dancing and drinking, we pulled ourselves out of bed to see what the weather was like. The skies were a bit gray and there were a few ripples on the water but nothing worth making an excuse over. With the rest of the party sleeping, my brother pulled his kayak off his Jeep, and I began pumping up my paddleboard. By 8 a.m. we were gliding through the water of Sunrise Cove hoping that, one, this campground actually existed and, two, we would be able to spot it from the water.

Leaving the cove we pointed east, straight for Portage Island, before curving around Echo Point and heading south. By looking at the map, it seemed we would have an approximately six-mile paddle round trip. Slightly dehydrated, and a little short on sleep from the previous night’s festivities, the distance still seemed manageable if the water cooperated. As we entered more open water there were some rolling waves but nothing large enough to deter us.

Shortly into the excursion, we were greeted by a seal that popped its head up long enough to check us out but not long enough for me to capture its image. As we made our way along the shore, we took in sites of the large rocks jutting into the water with Pacific madrones precariously growing out of them as only they can. Clinging to many of the rocks were purple sea stars, which reminded me of my youth when this species was so abundant on the island. In recent years their population had been in decline, but it appears to be making a comeback.

Taking our time paddling in and out of coves I stopped to take pictures while my brother took his time to document cedars along the way for the Forest Health Watch, which is tracking the health of cedar trees throughout Washington state with the help of volunteers.

With Bellingham now visible on our left, we approached Smugglers Cove, impossible to miss because of its exposed rock and large, aged steel dock – remnants of the Lummi Island Rock Quarry. Now the Aiston Preserve, it’s a reminder of the cargo that once left the island.

Eliza Island now in front of us, we passed Inati Bay and Reil Harbor, knowing we had to be getting close. Rounding the last bend, we spotted a hammock in the distance and knew we must be on the right track.

We paddled toward the camper giving him a little holler to confirm we had made it to the correct spot. We pulled our crafts onshore and excitedly explored what was a foreign part of this island we knew so well. We had approached on the backside of the campground and as we wandered the trails, we awkwardly approached people in their campsites.

Far more established than we envisioned, this DNR campground has picnic tables, fire pits and pit toilets. The site appears to be well-used as multiple sites were occupied and others were loading up their kayaks for their paddle home. There are five first-come, first-serve spots with some being a little more inland and others offering incredible bay views. Information about the campground can be found at www.dnr.wa.gov/LummiIsland.

Thrilled by achieving our goal, we returned to the water heading back to Sunrise Cove. Excited by the idea of returning soon to camp our paddles seemed to cut through the water quicker than they had on the trip out. With less sightseeing on the way back, we made good time. The paddle was uneventful until some harbor porpoises made our day. They swam past showing off their dorsal fin multiple times, one rising long enough to pose for a picture. We sat taking in the scene until they left us behind then finished our paddle into the cove where other wedding-goers had begun to rise. x

Tony Moceri is a freelance writer who loves to get out and explore the world with his family. He shares his journey @adventurewithinreach and tonymoceri.com.