See Nature at Padilla Bay in Mount Vernon

About an 11/2 hour drive from Bellevue is a nature lover’s paradise. Padilla Bay is filled with stunning natural beauty and is an easy and accessible place for the entire family to explore during the holiday break. Before you arrive, you’ll enjoy the change of scenery as you drive through farmlands of Skagit Valley that are nestled beneath views of the snow-capped North Cascade and Olympic mountains.

The bay provides an ever-changing landscape. It’s filled with water at high tide. As the tide flows out, the mudflats come alive, and their diverse ecosystem is revealed. The area is the winter home to one of the largest populations of peregrine falcons in North America as well as many other raptors, including bald eagles, snowy owls, and merlins. You might even see orca or grey whales in the surrounding waters.  

The huge Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, home to the Breazeale Padilla Bay Center, has a 1.5-mile upland walking trail, which takes you on a tour of meadows and forests. Although it’s not officially identified as an ADA trail, it is wide and level enough to be accessed by most using a wheelchair that can be taken on dirt paths. You can borrow a trail guide and bird identification guide and binoculars from the front desk and learn about the plants and animals that call this area home. 

When out on the trail, watch for small shoebox-sized containers put together by local schoolchildren that contain watershed education information.

An ADA wheelchair-accessible paved trail winds slightly downhill from the interpretive center through a tunnel under the road to a viewing platform, where you will be treated to stunning views of the bay and San Juan Islands. From the platform, a spiral staircase leads down to the beach, where you can get up close and personal with the rocky shore and creatures that might be exposed at low tide.

There is no charge to visit the Breazeale Interpretive Center. In addition to amazing views, trails, and beach access, the center provides educational exhibits, saltwater aquariums, an auditorium where presentations are given, and a hands-on play area for children.

The center also offers facility tours, youth programs, workshops, classes, beach walks, and mudflat safaris. The parking lot and trails are always open, but you’ll want to contact the center via phone or check on their website to see when the Interpretive Center is open and what activities will be available. There also are opportunities to volunteer, work on restoration projects, assist researchers, and provide information to visitors in the interpretive center.

The Padilla Bay Shore Trail is a 2.25-mile paved pathway constructed atop a dike that provides amazing views that can be enjoyed by bicycle or wheelchair in addition to walking. The trailhead is only 3.3 miles down Bayview Edison Road from the center.

Want to make a nature weekend out of your trip? Bay View State Park provides cabin rentals as well as sites with RV hookups. There are also tent sites for brave souls who enjoy winter camping, or for anyone else later in the season, when the weather is warmer.

There also are inns, bed and breakfasts, and cottage rentals less than 10 minutes away in Edison, Bow, Mount Vernon, and along the Swinomish Channel near Anacortes.

Birdwatching, photography, boating, kayaking, whale watching, or just enjoying the natural beauty and fresh air make a visit to Padilla Bay the perfect holiday adventure for a day, or a long weekend.

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