Trail Report: Mt. Constitution Lookout
Hike to a Tower on Orcas Island, Moran State Park
We saw an image online of what looked like a castle someplace in Washington. Upon further research, we discovered it to be a structure in Moran State Park. To reach our goal of visiting every state park in Washington, we’d need to venture to Orcas Island, a journey taking several hours and including a ferry ride. Knowing we’d get to explore a tower atop a mountain made us very willing travelers.
We set out on a bright, crisp Sunday morning. Having spent the night on the island, we were well rested and ready to go. It was a perfect day to tackle the tallest peak on Orcas Island. With an elevation of 2,399 feet, Mt. Constitution is the tallest island peak in the state of Washington, and the second tallest in the lower 48. Mt. Constitution is located in the 5,424-acre Moran State Park, and visitors can enjoy bike trails, horse trails, freshwater fishing, wildlife viewing, water sports, and more. We went to Moran State Park to hike, and there was no shortage of paths from which to choose.
There are several access points to the trail and different routes to reach the top of the mountain. You can also drive up an access road all the way to the summit of Mt. Constitution. We chose to drive about midway up the road and begin our trek on the Little Summit Trail. Rated as difficult, this 2.2-mile long trail gains 430 feet in elevation and provides a direct route to the summit, as well as connections with several other trails.
As we set out, we immediately had the opportunity to branch off only 0.1 miles to see Little Summit. Here we saw a handful of deer, in an open area, grazing in the cool of the morning. Picnic tables and remnants of a former structure, perhaps a lookout, were evident. From this rocky bald we had great views of the Cascade range, several nearby islands, the Olympic range, and a sea of clouds shrouding the waters beneath.
The trail, while mainly through the forest, was nicely interspersed with side paths leading to openings that provided sweeping, bird’s eye views. We passed small creeks, which by the sound of them gave the impression of being much more substantial, as water tumbled over rock, earth and log. A grand number of mini waterfalls serenaded us as we crossed through light and shadow beneath the trees. Small birds added their voices to this chorus which seemed to hold an element of excitement of this long-awaited spring.
As our path circle around and further away from the road, the trees and moss covered ground seemed to absorb all sound. There was a quiet peacefulness that spoke without words; it communicated an ancient sacredness, a serenity only found in nature. The breeze swept up the cliff side. Up and through the trees, the chill from the waters below was carried on the wind. As the day warmed, this breeze was a welcome delight.
As we approached the summit and the tower atop it, we encountered dozens of downed trees. Climbing over, under and around these obstacles, we journeyed onward. As we neared Summit Lake, we found ourselves in the presence of larger, older trees.
Past the lake, the trail took us along the cliff line, where once again we had stunning views of mountains, islands, and beautiful blue skies. From here we could clearly see Mountain Lake below.
A bit further ahead on the trail, we heard the sounds of the road again, and we knew we’d soon reach our destination. The path splits to the right, straight up to the tower; and left, to the parking lot and restrooms. After a quick bathroom stop, we explored Ellsworth Storey’s Tower (aka Mt. Constitution Lookout Tower) and the surrounding views. A couple of dozen visitors had made the drive up and were milling around.
This tower is impressive. Said to be modeled after a medieval watchtower, its robust presence piques the curiosity and begs to be explored. Fortunately for us, the tower was open, and we ventured inside. A small foyer-type room opens to another small space with displays on several of the designs initially submitted for the tower.
Up concrete steps with hardy rough-hewn railing and iron detailing, we wound our way upward to another room with informational panels on the walls. The doors to these spaces were thick, unfinished wood with simple decorative metal work, all lending to the rustic feel of the place.
The stairs lead up and out to an open observation deck with panels pointing out the various islands and mountains within view. At the very top is an enclosed, windowed room with 360-degree views. This topmost room, though small, is just like many of the fire lookouts found on mountain tops. We took our turn looking around then made our way back down to allow other visitors to enjoy views.
The trail back was peaceful, and we only encountered a handful of other hikers on their way up. Sightings of squirrels and a woodpecker were highlights of our return trek.
The distant sounds of frogs croaking, the occasional bird warble, the rush of wind through trees and the babbling of flowing water was the melody of the forest. A soul song heard, felt and yearned for. We thought we had come for the views, but we came away with something much more precious.
Stacy & Brandon are transplants to Washington state who spend their free time exploring, hiking, and camping all across the glorious Pacific Northwest. They started Pacific North Wanderers in 2015 to share their adventures and inspire others to enjoy the outdoors.