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Padilla Bay

Puget Sound and Islands


Puget Sound and Islands -- Bellingham Area
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4.4 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 30 ft.
Highest Point: 30 ft.


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Parking Pass/Entry Fee


This estuary at the saltwater edge of the Skagit River delta is eight miles long and three miles across, and you can travel a portion of it. This hike can be enjoyed by almost anyone in any season. The easy flat trail make this an ideal hike for many hikers. Birders will definitely want to bring the binoculars! Before you start, be sure to check out the large tree on the road to the trailhead, there is a pair of bald eagles that sometimes hang out here.

The name Padilla--which means 'breadpan' in Spanish--was given to the bay by early Spanish explorers, although native people had long taken advantage of the natural abundance of food found here. One of the first features you see as you start your hike is an oft-photographed old barn with some rusting equipment lying about in the mud. Much as you may wish to explore the old barn, the timbers are rotten and the barn best left to the swallows. Great blue herons can frequently be seen hunting in the muck around the barn, maybe one will pose for you as you take your barn picture.

Continue down the path along Little Indian Slough as you head toward the bay. Watch for northern harriers hunting along the shoreline. Note too, the wild roses along the ditch. In spring you will see and smell the single pink flowers, followed in fall by the bright red hips (fruit). Listen for the songs of the small birds that flit through the thickets. A glance away from the bay reminds you that this is farmland of the Skagit flats, still productive even now. In winter you may see the snow geese that feed in the fields.

Is the tide going out or coming in? Watch the current of the water in the slough. At high tide, the water will cover the whole bank. At low tide, the water will be completely gone from the bay, exposing the mudflats. The grass you see growing along the slough is eelgrass, an important native grass harboring small salmon, crab, and other invertebrates that, in turn are food for the eagles, herons, otters and seals.

In about a mile, come to a small promontory. Here comfortable benches are available to take in the view. Across the bay the large island in the middle is Lummi Island, the top of Mount Baker can be seen over the low hills to the northeast,and to the west is the Anacortes refinery. This is also an important stop along the Pacific flyway, so dig the binoculars out of your knapsack. Watch the ducks dive in the shallow water or the herons feed in the mud. Some winters you may be lucky enough to spy a snowy owl. If you do, consider yourself blessed!

Travel along the path for another mile. On this section you will find a large old driftwood stump which is picture worthy on a frosty winter day. Notice the old pilings, and a dock that has since sunk in the mud. When you reach the north entrance look for the old boat crashed on the shore beside the fence. As you return to the start, see how far out, or in, the tide has come since you started.

WTA Pro Tip: There is so much good scenery in this area, don’t just head home. Stop at Bayview State Park (but be sure to have your Discover Pass) and have a picnic, stop in Edison for some delicious baked goods, or head back past the tulip fields, a nice alternative to the freeway even without the blooming tulips.

Wheelchair Accessibility

For the most accessible entry point, start from the southern trailhead. The Northern trailhead parking area is a few hundred feet uphill, and along the shoulder of a road, from the actual start of the trail. 


Padilla Bay

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 48.4803, -122.4731 Open map in new window


Puget Sound and Islands -- Bellingham Area

Skagit Parks Foundation and Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

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Toilet Information

  • Toilet at trailhead

More information about toilets

Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano -- Mountaineers Books)

USGS La Conner

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Getting There

Take I-5 to Mount Vernon. Take Highway 20 West, signed for Burlington-Anacortes. Stay in the left-hand lane as you exit. Turn left at the light to stay on Highway 20 West. In 7.3 miles turn right onto the Bayview Edison Road. There will be a brown sign for Bayview State Park and one for Padilla Bay Preserve. In 0.7 miles come to the south trailhead. Turn left into the parking lot just beyond the locked gate. There is a portable toilet, and room for about 10 cars.

For the north trailhead, from 20, follow Bayview Edison Road for 3 miles. There is no parking at the trailhead; turn right onto 2nd Street, then left into a large parking lot, park here and make your way to the trailhead. There are brown signs for both turns, and a portable toilet here also. The description here starts from the south trailhead.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee


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Padilla Bay

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