Perhaps you have hiked to each of the four named high points of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL,) or even combined two of these "summits" for a longer hike (e.g. Little Round Top and Sugar Cube, or Mount Erie and Sugarloaf.) So here's a thought: why not do a grand tour that reaches all four named summits in a single loop hike? Intrigued? Read on.
The ACFL has quite a maze of trails so you'll have options for a route. Because most ACFL trails just have a number, many trail signs will not be helpful without a map. Fortunately, an excellent map, "Principal Trails of the ACFL (Whistle Lake Area)," is available as a pdf download.
Alternatively, paper copies of a set of three ACFL maps are available for purchase at some Anacortes bookstores and other businesses, or from City Hall and the Visitor’s Information Center.
Your trails today vary from wide and smooth to narrow, rooty, stony and steep. Sturdy footgear is recommended, and it would be a good plan to bring a trekking pole for balance.
If you prefer, you can pick your own route. Or try different routes on different occasions. But, for openers, here's a route that works well. It follows some very scenic trails and gets you to all four high points efficiently.
Begin at the main trailhead where the Mount Erie Road leaves Heart Lake Road. The elevation here is about 480 feet. Start out on the level trail behind the sign board. It's Trail 215.
After just 0.2 miles, head left onto Trail 320. Along this short trail, you will find the most impressively large evergreens you are likely to see on your hike, so be sure to pause and admire some of them. And soon you will see hints of Heart Lake off to the left, shimmering through the trees.
In 0.18 miles, your Trail 320 merges with the wide Trail 21, and you will head uphill for a while. Along the way pass Trail 313 on your left and Trail 226 on your right. Then, in another 0.1 miles, head left onto Trail 305. Very soon, head right onto Trail 300. In another 0.15 miles, head left (uphill!) on Trail 302.
Continue on about 0.25 miles to reach the rounded dome of your first summit, Little Round Top (elevation about 950 feet.) There is no summit marker here and no view, but it's a good place for a break and a sip of liquid or a bite of snack food (you did remember to bring them, didn't you?)
If you are hiking in late April or early May, look for a few white fawn lilies blooming near the summit. Be alert for other wildflowers along the way too.
When you are ready, continue north on Trail 302. In 0.1 miles, pass Trail 305 on your left. Then, at a T-junction, head right on Trail 303. This short (0.19 mile) trail meanders through interesting and varying forest scenery. Take your time and enjoy it.
When you reach Trail 300, head right. There are some ups and downs ahead, and some short sections will be steep. In 0.1 mile, pass Trail 232 on your right (Actually, this is optional because Trail 232 soon rejoins your ongoing route.) In 0.08 mi head left on Trail 231 and, in an additional 0.08 mi, pass the other end of Trail 232 and continue on.
In another 0.32 miles, at a low point, merge with Trail 202 and turn right. Head uphill here for 0.2 miles, with about 80 feet of elevation gain, to reach your second summit, Sugar Cube (elevation about 870 feet.)
There is no summit marker here either, and nothing resembling a cube. (The name likely was coined by comparison to the higher Sugarloaf, 1.25 mi off to the west.) You will know you have reached the summit of Sugar Cube when the ongoing trail starts to head downhill.
After an optional short break continue on down Trail 202 toward Whistle Lake. The upper part of this trail gets a lot of sun in summer, and it's dryer and more open than what you have seen on your hike so far. Near the lower end you will be back in the trees.
After dropping about 300 feet from Sugar Cube, Trail 202 ends at a T-junction with wide Trail 21, where you will turn right. In 0.11 miles, Trail 22 heads off to the left but you will continue straight on Trail 21.
At this intersection note a venerable wooden sign board with an old trail map, dated 2007. The map was an Eagle Scout project, and was accurate at the time. But new trails have been added in recent years so today it's mostly of historical interest.
Hike 0.15 miles past the signboard, then leave Trail 21 and head left on Trail 207. Lose a little elevation, cross a rustic wooden bridge, and head back uphill, passing Trail 230 on your right.
Your goal now is Mount Erie, another 1.25 miles ahead and 600 feet higher. First, in 0.28 miles, come to a three way intersection where a tree displays several weathered sign boards. One board actually has an arrow and letters "Mt Erie," rather than just another trail number. It will point you toward Trail 216 that continues on past some wooden posts.
The steep ongoing trail has many changes of direction, and there are occasional competing social trails. Please try to stay on the official trail. (It's generally the one that is well-maintained and has brush trimmed back along the edges.)
In about a half-mile pass a shoulder of the Mount Erie Road. This may seem encouraging, but the summit itself is 0.4 miles farther along, and another 400 ft higher.
When you are almost there, assuming you have stayed on the official trail, note a signboard with the word "SUMMIT" directing you left. A few feet farther along, head right around a rocky section and you will be there.
A convenient privy is located a few feet to your left, the only one you will see on your hike.
The 1300-foot summit has both a northern viewpoint and a southern viewpoint. Be sure to visit them both. To reach the northern viewpoint, continue past the privy, cross the parking area, and head down a few concrete steps. Then return and check out the southern viewpoint.
Views from the summit can be outstanding, depending on cloud cover and haze. Look for nearby lakes and islands (refer to your map) and check for distant Cascade peaks. Perhaps take a few photos and, if you have some remaining snacks and beverages, take a break and enjoy some of them.
Depending on the season and day of the week, you may have company at the summit. Some folks drive there. And an occasional tour bus manages to negotiate the steep road too. So just smile, and relish the thought that you have had a much more memorable experience than those folks who arrived the motorized way.
Tired? As the raven flies, Sugarloaf is just 0.75 miles to the north and about 200 feet lower. It's your one remaining summit, and you might as well head there now.
Backtrack down Trail 216 as far as that tree with the multiple sign boards, then head left onto Trail 26. In 0.2 miles, it will bring you to the Mount Erie Road. Head right (gently downhill) and walk carefully along the edge of the road for a short 0.2 mi. Stay alert for occasional motor vehicles coming from either — or both — directions, and step off the road if necessary.
The beginning of Trail 215 will be obvious on the right. Head up it for 0.22 miles, gaining some 260 feet. Part way along you will note an odd no-hiking sign. No worries. It's meant to discourage folks from leaving the official trail and creating paths across the broad hillside. It's OK for you to continue on the trail.
A right turn on Trail 228, a few more feet of elevation gain, and a final right turn at an unsigned T-junction (remember it for your return!) will lead to your fourth summit, Sugarloaf.
It's a fine viewpoint at about 1100 feet of elevation. There are no cars here, and it's much less crowded than Mount Erie. You might even have it to yourself. Sit a few minutes. Relax and take in the views. Be alert for hawks, eagles or ravens gliding past.
To continue, backtrack the short way to Trail 215 and head right. Soon you will come to a rocky viewpoint on your left. Pause here and enjoy the views toward the northwest, with Orcas Island's Turtleback Mountain and Mt Constitution visible in the far distance.
Now, with regret, it's time to descend back to the lowlands. Trail 215 soon begins to head steeply downhill, dropping about 300 feet. It levels out when you come to the junction with Trail 320, thus completing your loop. Continue left on Trail 215 for 0.2 miles to return to your trailhead.
Well, you've done it, and hopefully had a great day. If you had any interesting wildlife sightings, or found the wildflowers or fall colors at their peak, consider writing a trip report to share your experiences. Do the same if you noted any maintenance issues that will be of concern to the next hikers on the trail.