Why you should go: “Degree of difficulty” is a relative scale; one person’s hillock is another person’s alp. Wherever it falls along the greater continuum, the Westwood Shore Trail is probably the most challenging hike Bainbridge has to offer. You plunge from the island’s second-highest point (Gazzam Lake, Elev. 380 ft.) to the shoreline (Elev. well, Zero) over seven precipitous tenths of a mile. The hike down requires a sure foot, the hike back up a stout heart. It’s not for the casual walker.
The path traverses the former Close property, acquired with Open Space bond funds in 2003 to add a 64-acre waterfront corridor to the previously landlocked Preserve. It’s a topographic wonder, all gouged ravines and dramatic slopes tumbling away at your feet into the green abyss. The trail is so steep at points that rude wooden steps are notched into the hillside for safety. The route is renowned for its acres of gentle ferns, although patches of ivy blight the lower reaches and are starting to climb the trees.
Your reward for reaching the bottom: 500 feet of lovely rocky shoreline along Port Orchard Narrows, one of the island’s more remote reaches in a nebulous stretch between upper Crystal Springs (once known as Westwood) and the Hansen Road area to the north.
You get a peekaboo view at high tide, but a well-timed visit opens up the protected nearshore habitat to exploration. Bowed, second-growth firs cling to life against the slow encroachment of tide and time; signage reminds you this erosion – helpfully illustrated by a naturally sculpted mesa of sediment pocked with stones at the foot of the bluff – is an environmentally healthy process.
Words of caution: Signs as you set out note the possible presence of coyote, owl and bear, meaning your cat and your pet mouse should sit this one out, and picnic baskets may be ill advised.
But do pack water! Allot yourself a good 45 minutes or hour for the hike round trip, allowing time to pause at trail’s end to enjoy the amazing setting, and to catch your breath on the way back up.
Hike the Westwood Shore Trail, post a photo or two on Instagram tagged #12in12biparks to win a prize, and get set for next week’s Bainbridge park adventure.