Two distinctly different islands lie near downtown Everett. Both have interesting terrain, abundant wildlife and spectacular views. Their salt marshes, mudflats, rivers and sandy beaches provide habitat to a variety of creatures. Not more than five miles apart, each island tells a different tale. Miles of trails and park-run programs make each of these areas ideal for a family day trip — from the Seattle area or beyond.
Jetty Island is a two-mile man-made spit stretched across Port Gardner Bay just west of downtown Everett. Although it’s a short ferry ride away, it feels more like a California vacation. Families step off the boat onto a land of sandy beaches, salt marshes, mudflats and meandering trails. Bobbing ducks, nesting seabirds and a funky driftwood hut with its own “reality” show are part of the island’s allure.
Kids will love the island’s beach, because, unlike others on Puget Sound, the waters are not frigid. “The shallow waters are bathtub temperatures and some of the warmest waters you will find in our county,” says Chris Betchley, a former Jetty Island ranger who now leads beach walks for school-age children through the Snohomish County Beach Walkers program. Shade is sparse, so sunscreen, drinking water and beach shoes are essential.
Before hitting the beach, kids will want to check out the many programs offered by Everett Parks and Recreation. All are great fun, and parents will appreciate the common thread of education and stewardship that runs through each of them. Park rangers show children how to hug bugs, watch for “fish hawks” (ospreys) and look for animal tracks. A quick stop at the Discovery Hut gives kids a live, close-up view of the ospreys that live in Port Gardner Bay.
Families can explore nature trails that meander through the salt marshes or join one of the 45-minute interpretive walks that are led twice daily by rangers. For example, kids joining the mudflat safari might discover beach critters such as barnacles, pile worms, crabs or soft-shelled clams, Betchley says. And, for a perfect end to your day, you might want to watch the sunset while gathered with others at one of the many family-friendly campfire programs.
About five miles northeast of Jetty Island is Spencer Island. It’s a 412-acre wetland in the Snohomish River Estuary and accessible by walking across a short bridge from a nearby parking lot. Families are on their own here to walk all or part of the 3.6 miles of well-maintained dike trails and cedar boardwalks.
Once you cross the bridge, the trail heads north or south — and either way is good. The entire natural area showcases plants, animals, rivers, tidal marshes and ponds. It’s a place for leisurely walking with wide-open views. While exploring the north stretch of the trail, you might find wading birds, songbirds, and ponds filled with a variety of waterfowl. Coyotes and deer are easy to spot. Some year-round residents are great horned owls, belted kingfishers and five species of woodpeckers. Along the way, look for helpful interpretive signs and viewing platforms.
Along the southern part of the trail, green-winged teals, pintails, buffleheads and other ducks can be viewed as they swim and eat in the ponds, especially in the spring. Children can watch for Canada geese foraging in the marshes. Big birds like great blue herons, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles can be seen anytime, anywhere.
Kids can hunt for pileated woodpeckers. Signs of them are everywhere. You can find their excavated oblong holes in practically every snag. Their loud call can be heard throughout most areas of the island. In the spring, marsh wrens are another bird that’s easy to spot. The marshes are thick with them, and their call is unmistakable as they build their nests in the cattails.
If you are patient, you might spy a family of river otters swimming near the entrance bridge. A nearby bench is a good place to rest and watch. These playful animals entertain adults and children with their comical antics — wrestling, jumping and crawling all over each other.
Binoculars and field guides are helpful if you have them, but not necessary. Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes.
Rebecca Bailey is a writer and lover of all things wild and natural — including kids! She lives in Everett, but spends much time exploring remote areas of our beautiful Pacific Northwest.