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It's an easy and rewarding paddle to Saddlebag. East of Anacortes, an island park offers views, wildlife, weekend throngs.

It's an easy and rewarding paddle to Saddlebag The 2-mile crossing to Saddlebag Island east of Anacortes is attractive for a hatful of reasons. Not the least is that novice sea kayakers can easily manage it as a spur-of-the-moment day trip from the Puget Sound area.

This small but lovely island (one of a group clustered at the southeastern corner of the San Juan chain) is a state marine park with meadows decked in wildflowers, groves of towering conifers, and pocket beaches where it's easy to come ashore.

Saddlebag looks out to grand views of nearby Dot, Hat, and Huckleberry islands and east to Mount Baker and the North Cascades. The surrounding waters are famous for abundant Dungeness crab (if you bring a crab trap, you may take a limit of 6 male crab, each of which must measure at least 6 1/4 inches across at the widest part); the season is year-round. Harbor seals are commonly seen, as are numerous sea birds and bald eagles. The birds nest on Dot Island, which is designated as a wildlife refuge, and biologists ask that you keep at least 200 yards away in order not to disturb them.

The launch is only a 1 1/2-hour drive northwest of Seattle, and you can put in at high or low tide from numerous access points along March Point Road. Currents are minimal most of the way.

But don't expect solitude. This accessible island is thronged by boaters of all description on midsummer weekends, and sees plenty of midweek visitors as well. Not all use the island's free campsites, however, and Saddlebag can make a good first overnight for a paddle tour of several days through these islands. Winter gales felled some 50 trees here; for an update on cleared sites, call (800) 562-0990.

To get there, leave I-5 in Burlington 65 miles north of Seattle and drive west about 9 miles on State Highway 20. Just west of the Swinomish Channel Bridge, turn north onto South March Point Road. Drive north about a mile, then angle right to continue on March Point Road. In about 2 1/2 miles, you reach a boat ramp and roadside parking (there are additional access points farther along the road). At low tide, you'll have to carry your kayak out to meet the water.

Paddle north for 1 1/2 miles or so, working your way across on often-busy boating channel (watch for wakes) to Hat Island, where you may encounter small tiderips. Just north is Dot Island. Then comes Saddlebag, named for its shape--twin lobes connected by a narrow isthmus.

Be sure to carry water: there's none on the island.

For navigation help, use National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chart 18427, available at marinas and nautical supply stores.
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Title Annotation:Saddlebag Island
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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