Take the Fast Ferry To Slow Down On Blake Island
By Brandon Fralic
Taking a ferry ride is one of those quintessential Seattle experiences — right up there with visiting Pike Place Market and Seattle Center. There’s something special about cruising through Puget Sound, windblown hair and all. Time seems to slow down the moment you step on the boat. So when my partner and I were invited to Blake Island for the day, we jumped at the opportunity to experience the nature, history, and flavors of Seattle.
Blake Island Fast Ferry
Accessible only by boat, Blake Island is said to be the birthplace of Chief Seattle. If you don’t have a seafaring vessel, the easiest way to get there is via Argosy Cruises, “your friend with a boat”. From Seattle’s Pier 55, it takes only 27 minutes to reach Blake Island via the Argosy Fast Ferry. Watching the Seattle skyline broaden from the back of the boat, we picked out familiar landmarks like the Great Wheel and Space Needle. Soon we were cruising around West Seattle, where the Alki Point Lighthouse comes into view. In nearly no time at all, we’d arrived at Blake Island.
Arriving at Blake Island means leaving the traffic and noise of the city behind. There are no cars or paved roads; the only vehicles you’ll see are boats and park maintenance carts. The entire island is a 1,127-acre Marine State Park with camping, restrooms, and showers. Though the Space Needle is never out of sight, Blake Island feels a world away from the city.
Most visitors go to Blake Island for the day due to its ease of access from Seattle. You can spend a few hours or an entire day exploring the island’s numerous activities. Stepping off the boat, the first attraction you’ll notice is the Tillicum Longhouse. Crushed seashell paths wind gently upwards to its doors. Inside, the smell of wood smoke greets you. Order food and drinks, book an activity, or simply walk around and enjoy. Here’s how we spent a day on the island.
Guided Nature Walk
We kicked off our visit to Blake Island with a 2-hour guided nature walking tour. Our guide began the tour with a practical matter — showing us the native stinging nettles to watch out for, and teaching our group how to treat stings with sword fern spores. We learned about the history of the island, including its significance as a meeting place for the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes. A member of the Swinomish tribe herself, our guide shared traditional stories from the indigenous people who used these plants and trees in their daily lives. Ever wonder why the Western Hemlock is droopy, or how to identify Douglas Fir cones by their “mousetails”? You’ll have to take the nature walking tour to find out!
There are 8 miles of walking trails on Blake Island. We set out on the wide, forested perimeter road trail for a 2.4-mile roundtrip hike. Along the way, we spotted various ferns, foxglove, oyster mushrooms, and edible berries. When we had questions about identifying plants and trees, our knowledgeable guide had the answers. Upon reaching the northwest point of the island, we took a break at the beach. Additional boat-in camping is available here, with restrooms (including flush toilets and running water) just up the hill.
Looking west, we could see the Kitsap Peninsula and Olympic Mountains across Puget Sound. A raccoon scurried across the beach at low tide; an eagle soared overhead. We’re told that deer inhabit Blake Island, too. Nature thrives on this quieter side of the island. It’s absolutely worth the walk.
Coast Salish Cultural Presentation
Enter Tillicum Theater for an educational presentation on the history and culture of the Coast Salish tribes. This 1-hour experience is a must-see for Blake Island first-timers. We were regaled with colorful storytelling, masks, and ancestral dances by cultural coordinator Frank Mather. Telling these stories is personal for Frank, who honors his ancestors through dance and oral tradition. His family-friendly presentation ranged from Lummi and Snoqualmie legends to interactive dancing (where volunteers can participate). After some language learning and fun facts, Frank left each audience member with two small gifts — one to keep, and one to give away.
Guests can stick around post-presentation for a Q&A session. This is a good time to take a better look at the masks, hats, blankets, and other cultural items on display. For Frank, “knowledge is wealth”, and he was more than happy to answer our questions about the Coast Salish tribes. Years from now, Frank says, “you may not remember my name...but you’ll remember this experience.”
Dining and Wine Flights on Blake Island
After a few hours of activities, we were ready for a meal. “Seattle’s only island restaurant”, the Longhouse Cafe operates on days when the ferry is in service. We enjoyed Tillicum Harvest Wraps with smoked steelhead, side salads, and smoked salmon chowder. Diners can choose from shaded tables and Adirondack chairs across the sprawling lawn, with views over Puget Sound to Seattle.
The menu also features beer, wine, and specialty cocktails. Showcasing Washington wineries, the wine flights make for an excellent meal pairing (and even come with tasting notes). Keep an eye on the Winery and Brewery Schedule, as Argosy hosts regional wine and beer producers on select weekends for tastings, bottles, and swag from June to September.
Additional Island Experiences
For those seeking to spend time on the water, Vashon Adventures offers hourly tandem kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals at Blake Island. No experience is necessary on these family-friendly excursions and all safety gear is included.
Finally, visitors can also reserve private fire tables for an hour at a time. This kid-friendly activity is a great way to wind down before catching the ferry home. Add on a s’mores kit for a true campfire experience — without the hassle of building the fire!
Tickets and Reservations
Blake Island Fast Ferry tickets can be booked online ($29 round trip, ages 3 and under are free). In 2021, the fast ferry runs Wednesday - Sunday during summer (July 19 - September 6). During fall (September 7 - October 24), service is reduced to Friday - Sunday. There are several departures each day. Parking is available at nearby lots and can be reserved in advance.
Activities can be booked online. You can also join activities while on the island, but it’s best to reserve in advance to guarantee your spot. Argosy offers several suggested itineraries on their website to help you find the best fit.