Our Favorite Places on Earth: Sucia Island State Park, Washington

From childhood trips to sailing voyages, this wave-licked chunk of sandstone has never lost its magic for me.

Just south of the Straits of Georgia and the sea border with Canada, a horseshoe-shaped island—and state park—rises in waves of sandstone and madrone from the Pacific. I visited every bay over childhood summers of boat trips and kayaking, wandering from cove to cove with seals, eagles, and sea otters as my companions, and I’ve hiked every trail on the island at least twice; but unlike so many of the spots that seemed wildest to me as a kid, the magic of this place has never faded.

Accessible only by private boat or water taxi, the Sucia Island group (the Spanish word is really pronounced “soo-see-uh”, but locals call it “soo-sha”) is barely over a mile square in cumulative area but has almost 15 miles of shoreline. The secret is ice; the glaciers of the last Ice Age carved the edges of this chunk of sandstone to lacy inlets, hiding tiny coves around every corner. The weathered sandstone is home to anemones, star fish, crabs, and the occasional swimming garter snake; farther offshore, the main island’s largest bay plays occasional host to orcas, porpoises, and flotillas of bright orange and purple lion’s mane jellyfish. Wildlife is far more common than people here. Ten miles of established trails and beach walks wind from the water’s edge to the bluffs above Echo Bay.

More recently, nearly a decade and a half after my first visit, I stood dawn watch beside the same sandstone cliffs halfway through a sail to Canada, listening to the eagles slowly wake before catching the wind across the straits. As 4 a.m. ticked on to 5, a pod of porpoises came alongside, every arcing splash of a fin rippling across the still bay. Far to the east, across the water, the first sunshine of the morning struck sharp golden glints from ice-capped Mt. Baker.

“I take the moment and make it part of me,” I wrote about exploring this place in the first piece of writing I ever published. As night turned to day on deck I took in a deep breath, sealing the new memory, and knew: No matter where I went, Sucia would always feel like home.