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Spencer Island

Puget Sound and Islands > Seattle-Tacoma Area
47.9942, -122.1793 Map & Directions
6.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain
0 feet
Highest Point
15 feet
Calculated Difficulty About Calculated Difficulty
A heron waits for a meal on Spencer Island. Mount Baker in the background. Photo by Linda Roe. Full-size image
  • Mountain views
  • Wildlife
  • Good for kids
  • Dogs not allowed
  • Rivers

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

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Spencer Island is part of a larger area known as the Snohomish River Estuary and is a stop on the Washington State Great Birding Trail. The mix of saltwater from Possession Sound and fresh water from the Snohomish River create a unique ecosystem, making it one of the best birding spots in Puget Sound. On this walk, you don’t want to forget your binoculars! Continue reading

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Hiking Spencer Island

Spencer Island is part of a larger area known as the Snohomish River Estuary and is a stop on the Washington State Great Birding Trail. The mix of saltwater from Possession Sound and fresh water from the Snohomish River create a unique ecosystem, making it one of the best birding spots in Puget Sound. On this walk, you don’t want to forget your binoculars!

The hike starts inauspiciously under the freeway by the sewage treatment plant and right across the river from the railroad yard. Walk fast the first half mile to leave the treatment plant behind and continue along the paved path by the Snohomish River.

As it gets quieter, listen for birdsong coming from the thicket of plants growing by the river and alongside the trail. The bright red branches you see in winter belong to the red twig dogwood, a native shrub that thrives in a moist location and is found on riverbanks throughout Washington. Along the way there is an occasional bench to stop and rest. Come to a junction of the Snohomish River and Union Slough, the trail will follow the slough north. In 2 miles you will come to a gravel road and a bridge. This bridge is called Jackknife Bridge, built in 1914. The bridge is one of the few bascule, or counterbalance bridges still standing and is on the National Register of historic places. It gets its name from the way it folded the deck as it was raised. Originally over Ebey Slough, it was replaced in the 1950s and stored in a boatyard. After Spencer Island was publicly acquired, it was towed and placed here.

Cross the bridge and come to a T in the trail. The island is divided into two sections, north and south. The north (left) is Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife managed land, hunting and dogs are allowed on this section. For your loop, turn south (right). This area is a Snohomish county park. As this is a wildlife preserve, there is no hunting and no dogs are allowed. Notice the old barn roof. More of it used to be standing, but now it is slowly sinking into the mud.

Walk down to the viewing platform and look for herons. Once back on the path, you will see a trail on top of a levee heading out across the water, this is your return. For now, continue down the wide gravel path and cross a long bridge. Make a note of a stump or log in the water. When you finish the loop, check back and see how far down, or up, the water has come--this area responds to the nearby tidal influence of Puget Sound.

There used to be a dike here, but the dikes on this side of the island were breached to allow salt water to return with the tides and restore habitat for juvenile salmon. This will encourage more native plant growth and in turn provide a more varied environment for other wildlife. Cattails are one plentiful plant growing here that will hopefully beat out the invasive canary reed grass that was planted when this area was agricultural. Cattail roots thrive in the low oxygen environment of shallow standing water.

Where there are cattails, there will be blackbirds, so listen for their distinctive song in the spring. Did you know that the female blackbird is not black like the male, but brown? Look for her hidden among the cattail stems. Note also the wood duck nest boxes and bat houses along the trail and listen for marsh wrens.

As you come around to the back side of the loop, you will be following Steamboat Slough. There is lots of brush along this section; if you get lucky, you may see a river otter or maybe a deer. On your left you will see your return trail on top of the levee. The trail in front of you just ends at a breach.

Once on top of the levee, you should get some great views of the water-filled island. Here is where to look for ducks, mergansers, green winged teals, buffleheads and of course mallards and lots of Canadian geese. Watch for eagles and hawks above. Cross a bridge and directly west is the Everett skyline. Look north and there will be Mount Baker, east Pilchuck and Three Fingers. You may see the tip of Mount Rainier to the south if the sky is clear. Once across, head right, back to Jackknife Bridge and your return.

From here, go the way you came, or keep straight on the gravel road. The gravel road will take you back past the sewage lagoons, a shorter, but less scenic route.

WTA Pro Tip: The north side trail is brushy and somewhat overgrown, but offers more wildlife viewing opportunities and good views of Mount Rainier. Parking just after the Y and taking the river trail from there will add more mileage.

Toilet Information

  • Toilet at trailhead

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Hike Description Written by
Linda Roe, WTA Correspondent

Spencer Island

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 47.9942, -122.1793 Open in Google Maps

Before You Go

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Parking Pass/Entry Fee


WTA Pro Tip: Save a copy of our directions before you leave! App-based driving directions aren't always accurate and data connections may be unreliable as you drive to the trailhead.

Getting There

From I-5, take the Marine View Drive Exit 195. After exiting the freeway, turn left onto E Marine View Drive. In 1.3 miles, come to the intersection with the 529 bridge to Marysville. There will be a light. Get in the left hand lane, turn left and cross the 529 bridge. After crossing the bridge, take the first right, signed for Langus Park/Animal Shelter. Then turn right again on 35th Ave NE at the sign for Dagmars Marina. Follow this for a short ways, then turn left onto Ross Avenue.

Follow Ross Avenue through Dagmars Marina and in 1.2 miles come to a Y. Go right. In 1 mile, just before crossing under the freeway, park in the gravel parking lot by the sewage treatment plant. If this parking is full, go back and park in the parking lot by the shell (crew) house, and access the paved path from there. There is a portapotty once you get to Spencer Island.

When you are driving back out, note that you cross under the 529 bridge on Ross Avenue. Turn right and follow the road on the other side, so you are turning right onto the bridge to head back into Everett.

More Hike Details


Puget Sound and Islands > Seattle-Tacoma Area

Snohomish County Parks

Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: Central Cascades (Romano--Mountaineer Books)

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Spencer Island

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