How you get there: Hike. There is motor vehicle access off the end of lower Mandus Olson Road – look for the ad hoc “Prue’s House” sign around the bend from the parking area – but the driveway is generally gated for security. Your best bet is to park on either side of the Grand Forest (Miller Road or Mandus Olson lots), find a trailhead and start hoofing. Let the grade be your guide; uphill and you’re on the right path, and when it levels out into an open field, you’re there.
Why you should go: Hilltop is the Constantinople of Bainbridge parks, the junction where East meets West, the confluence into which miles of island trails flow. The 5-acre meadow at the crest is zenith for any number of possible day hikes; you could start at Battle Point Park at one end or McRedmond Road at the other, walk long enough and you’ll eventually find yourself at Hilltop summit. Dramatic views to the northwest take in the distant ridge line of the Olympics, snowcapped in one season, jagged testament to millennia of tectonic collision in another.
As nexus of so many trails, Hilltop gets a lot of thru-traffic (runners and walkers) but perhaps fewer sustained visits than other parks. Poets and painters could find inspiration here. Look for natural highlights like the Royal empress trees, or a madrone and fir twinned in familial embrace; savor the quiet heirloom orchard, or imagine the rustic barn echoing the whinny of horses eager to graze the meadow. Lead an art or lit class here; Prue’s House, an old Pan-Abode cabin, makes a pleasantly out-of-the-way venue booked through the Park District.
Unlike most parks, you can’t really tell where Hilltop begins and ends, blurring as it does into some 540 contiguous acres of public land. But it’s more of an experience anyway, a state of mind.
Time your visit to a sunny afternoon, when a chance breeze sets the tall grasses and ringing broadleaves a-rustle, and feel the rest of the world shrink away beneath the azure dome of the sky. Tarry. You might just believe you have the whole island to yourself.