Illahee gets its name from a Chinuk Wawa Native American word that means “earth.” Tucked in between Bainbridge Island and Bremerton, Illahee State Park is an untouched piece of original old-growth forest that once covered northwest Washington. Because it was so difficult to access, loggers never reached this area. As a result, this country’s oldest grove of Pacific Yews, well over 400 years old, still tower in this stretch of tropical forest.
The closest large town is Bremerton, about five miles south. The easiest way to reach Illahee State Park from Seattle, or vice versa, is aboard the Bremerton-Seattle Ferry, which takes about 40 minutes, depending on the weather. The ferry can accommodate a rental motorhome. Olympic National Park is between 50 and 100 miles, depending on which RV campground will be chosen.
Walking along the short half-mile trail, hikers weave through moss-clad ancient trees and fern-blanketed underground. Peat, loamy soil give away under the feet slightly, a hallmark of the perpetual drizzle that blankets the Seattle area. High above overhead, Pacific yews, pole pines, and oaks loom tall, their branches reaching out to knit together and form a lush, green canopy. The trail leads to a rocky beach with 1,875 feet of saltwater frontage that looks out on Port Orchard Bay. Halfway down the beach, a long wooden dock, worn grey by the saltwater and storms, teeters out over the dark green water. Beneath the dark, mysterious green water, shellfish and crabs scurry about at a languid pace, searching for their next meal. In a clearing by the beach, a small picnic area and playground, complete with a baseball diamond, volleyball court, and a horseshoe pits, wait for the next match.
At a glance, the parking lots look like oddly shaped open groves, covered with rough pebbles and a sheet of moss. The parking lots, though diminutive, are a little longer than average to accommodate a travel trailer rental.
In the summertime, when the chilly bay warms a few degrees to tolerable levels, scuba divers jump off the dock or boats into the dark depths of the Port Orchard Bay in search of long-forgotten wrecks. Across the Port Orchard Bay, boats sail by all day long, some powered by engines, others by wind. Though not visible from the Illahee Beach, hikers can follow the gentle curve of the coast and watch the ferries make their hourly transits.
The Illahee State Park RV campground offers 23 spots, and though only two lots have hookups, RV rentals are welcome to occupy the other spaces (max length 40 feet). Due to limited availability, reservations are encouraged during the summer months.
With space being limited, it may be necessary to book an RV in Kitsap County. There are a few short-term RV parks near Poulsbo. Alternatively, head over to Vashon Island for a unique camping experience at AYH Ranch. This rustic western-themed campground is one of the few sites that allows camping in an RV near Seattle. The ranch boasts amenities like free firewood, a free self-serve pancake bar, and several recreational activities.
Exploring the Area
Largely a Navy port town, Bremerton and the neighboring towns are geared toward military-themed attractions. The Puget Sound Navy Museum details the region’s rich naval history that dates back to the late 1800s and displays several artifacts, documents, and photographs. Nearby USS Turner Joy grants visitors a unique tour of a genuine battleship that once performed a significant role in the Vietnam War and patrolled the vast Pacific Ocean.
Across the Puget Sound, Seattle looms large. As soon as the lines of cars, RV rentals, and other vehicles roll off the ferry, several attractions are within reach. The Seattle Aquarium features an underwater dome where sharks, manta rays, and schools of fish swim overhead. Colorful corals wave serenely in an unseen breeze. The outside patios are a good spot to photograph the world-famous Seattle Great Wheel, which is a colorful sight at nighttime. The wheel is covered with 500,000 led lights that light up in a dazzling, vibrating show on weekends. The bustling city, home to nearly a million people, is much beloved for its quirky tech scene. After adding a wad to the infamous, slightly gross gum wall in an alley, hop into an Illahee camper rental and explore the city. Google and Microsoft campuses in Bellevue are open to tours, as is the mysterious Seattle Underground. The existing city was built on top of an older one, and some structures, streets, and homes still stand underground.
Don’t let the perpetual drizzle deter you from exploring the lush, green Pacific Northwest.