It's a familiar Puget Sound scene. The whistle blows as the ferryboat, packed with island-bound vacationers, slowly pulls away. And you, still on the dock, stay by your car and lament that you have another two hours to wait until your turn comes.
But there is one great island you don't need a ferry to visit: Camano Island, about 55 miles north of Seattle and reached by a bridge over tiny Davis Slough. There's no ferry schedule to memorize, no ferry lines to wait in. Camano offers as accessible an island experience as you can find.
A landscape for artists
Originally the summer fishing grounds of the Tulalip tribe, among other Native Americans, Camano was known as Kal-lut-chin, or "land jutting into the bay," an apt description of the island's elongated shape. The first white settlers arrived on Camano in 1855, seeking to take advantage of extensive stands of old-growth forest.
To get a feel for the wild island that these settlers encountered, pay a visit to Camano Island State Park, about halfway down the scenic west shore along Saratoga Passage. Bald eagles perch in snags, searching the waters below for fish; trails make their way into dense green forest. More developed sections of the park include a boat launch, picnic area, and campsites set on bluffs overlooking Puget Sound. Another Camano Island treasure just north of the park is scheduled to open in two years: the Cama Beach resort, where the state park system is restoring cabins and building a lodge for retreats.
If you're looking for accommodations less rustic than a campsite, you have two good choices. Camano Island Waterfront Inn is a 1904 Arts and Crafts building set on a bluff overlooking Saratoga Passage. The Inn at Barnum Point on the eastern side of the island is a Cape Cod-style house overlooking Port Susan Bay.
Camano Island's proximity to the famous Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood has led many artists to move to the island. Of particular note on the gallery scene is the History of the World Fine Arts Gallery near the island's southern tip, where you'll find seasonal exhibits of art glass (including the Pilchuck staff exhibition in summer) and local artists' paintings. This month, see landscapes of rural America by co-owner Karla Matzke. And if, after this, you still feel that the island itself is the nicest piece of art around, the artists probably won't mind―after all, some have chosen to live here.