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Originally published March 23, 2013 at 7:01 PM | Page modified June 21, 2013 at 1:06 PM

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Gems of our Washington State Parks: Fort Flagler

The 1899 fort, one of the ‘Triangle of Fire’ forts guarding Puget Sound, is the center of a 784-acre state park overlooking Admiralty Inlet. Here’s the first in a series celebrating the 100th year of Washington State Parks.

Seattle Times Outdoors editor

Gems of our Washington State Parks

Happy birthday, state parks. March 19 was the 100th anniversary of legislation that led to creation of Washington’s state park system, which today includes 117 developed parks and other properties across the state.

Next weekend brings one of the first major celebrations of the centennial, with a free day at all state parks on Saturday, March 30 (no Discover Pass required), plus a day of special events at Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island.

Whether it’s a memory of a first camping trip to Orcas Island, maybe a family hike up Beacon Rock, or an annual Mother’s Day picnic at Lake Sammamish, experiences at state parks help define what it means to be a Washingtonian. To mark the milestone, NWTraveler over coming months will spotlight five “Gems of Our Washington State Parks,” representing some of the best in our state’s natural history, cultural history and recreation. They are your parks; take a look.

— Brian J. Cantwell, Outdoors editor

Today: Fort Flagler State Park

April: Deception Pass State Park

May: Columbia Hills State Park

June: Moran State Park

July: Sun Lakes/Dry Falls State Park

If you go

Fort Flagler and special parks events


Fort Flagler State Park is at the north end of Marrowstone Island, Jefferson County. From the Hood Canal Bridge, drive west five miles and turn right onto Highway 19 (Beaver Valley Road). Go 10 miles to the Chimacum four-way stop and turn right on Chimacum-Center Road. At a four-way stop in Port Hadlock, turn right onto Oak Bay Road. Go about one mile and turn left onto Highway 116. Fort Flagler is at the end of the road, in approximately 10 miles. Discover Pass required except for state-park free days.

Park stays and more information

For information on rental of historic homes at Fort Flagler and other Washington state parks, see vacationhouses.

To reserve campsites at Fort Flagler: 888-CAMPOUT or

For more information on Fort Flagler State Park: or 360-385-3701

State-park centennial events statewide

Parks across the state will host special events throughout the year. Celebrate Saturday, March 30, at Cama Beach State Park, on Camano Island, with a free day of kite building, hiking, beach walks, toy-boat building, craft projects, tours, cake and live music, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Other special activities and events:

100 geocaches in 100 parks: Kickoff events at Camano Island and Larrabee state parks, June 8-9

Centennial 2013 Signature Events: Riverside State Park (Spokane County), June 8; Deception Pass State Park, Whidbey Island, Aug. 3

Painting in the Parks: Artists gather in state parks on selected dates through September.

Kids to Parks Day: Saint Edward State Park, Kenmore, May 18

For a full list of state-park centennial events, see

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When most people talk about “that fort over by Port Townsend, you know, the big state park,” the usual answer is, “Oh, Fort Worden! I love that place.”

And it’s well-known for good reasons: its full palette of arts events, its distinguished collection of officers quarters offered for rent, its lighthouse that prompts everyone to reach for the camera phone, and eye-goggling vistas of saltwater and mountains.

Not everyone knows it has a twin sister, of a sort, in Fort Flagler, only three miles away as the cormorant flies, with many of the same fine qualities.

Hidden at road’s end on Marrowstone Island, across the bay from Port Townsend, Flagler’s off-the-beaten-path character gives it an edge.

It’s also bigger than Fort Worden, with almost double the acres (784) and almost twice the saltwater shoreline (3.6 miles) of its better-known sibling.

Actually, as siblings go, Fort Flagler is a triplet. It’s one of three military forts — each now a state park — that formed the so-called “Triangle of Fire” whose big guns were meant to protect the entrance to Puget Sound, their construction spurred on by the Spanish-American War of 1898. (Fort Casey, home to the Admiralty Head lighthouse seen on some Washington license plates, is the third.)

Sibling rivalry isn’t the point, though. Fort Flagler is a great park all on its own.

“We’re at the end of the road here, and when folks get here it’s like they’ve hit a new kind of Nirvana,” said park manager Mike Zimmerman, who has been at Flagler 16 years.

What makes it a gem in our book:

Beyond its hideaway nature, there’s sheer variety.

Drive in the gate and you’re cruising through a virtual tunnel of cedars, firs and hemlocks, many untouched since the fort’s construction more than 100 years ago. Beyond the forest are broad beaches of sand, cobbles and drift logs, with clam shells big as your hand and bull-kelp whips that could tame a lion (or a golden retriever, anyway).

Waters here are rich, near the corner of Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where all the seawater feeding Puget Sound churns in and out with daily tides. Marrowstone Point, named by Capt. George Vancouver in 1792 for the type of rock and clay in the island’s bluffs, is bordered by an underwater shelf where nutrients well up and herring swarm.

In silver salmon season, anglers can be elbow to elbow bordering the Marrowstone Point light station. “You’ll do better off the beach than guys out there in boats,” said local angler Pete Leenhouts.

To the natural wonders add the man-made: a broad and pretty parade ground (often grazed by deer) surrounded by old military homes you can rent for the night, looking out on views of Mount Baker, Mount Rainier and every big ship and little tug entering or leaving the Sound.

What you won’t find everywhere:

Military history that will make you think about the pace of change.

Only a few decades before this fort’s 1899 activation, men waged war by charging across fields with muskets. Within a few years of its opening, Flagler had big state-of-the-art “disappearing” guns that could spring out of their bunkers and then hide away for reloading — only to be rendered obsolete with the arrival of aircraft and long-range guns on battleships. By World War II, Flagler was primarily a training fort. By the 1950s, it was deactivated and became a park.

A small museum chronicles the fort’s history. Watch a short video to learn facts like this: Less than five miles apart, with guns that could shoot six miles, the three forts could deliver 29 tons of high explosives into the “Triangle of Fire.” (Open weekends in offseason, daily mid-May through September, by donation.)

Not to be missed:

A lonely walk on the Bluff Trail, with salty views of the Port Townsend ferry scuttling across Admiralty Inlet, and overlooking the red-roofed light station (now a U.S. Geological Survey marine research post). You’ll pass a half-dozen old gun batteries, like ghostly pyramids buried in grass, each named for a military figure, including Battery Revere, memorializing Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere’s grandson — also named Paul Revere — who died in the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg.

Watch paragliders soar over the bluff from designated launch sites on windy days, or fly your own kite.

Rent one of the fort’s old homes, dating from the 1890s to 1940s, or hold a group retreat in the old World War II barracks (with barbecue and volleyball net outside). I was happy with a recent stay in the Engineer’s House, the first structure built at the fort, at the Parade Ground’s north end. It has two bedrooms, a picnic table inside an immaculate white picket fence (which helps you ignore peeling paint elsewhere), Adirondack chairs on the porch, and an unobstructed view of water and mountains. (Fort Flagler rentals $117 to $191 a night April through October.)

Or camp at the beachside campground next to a launch ramp and dock on protected Kilisut Harbor, or an upper campground on a bluff with harbor views (117 sites total, plus two group camps, open March through October).

Just for fun:

• Five miles of trails open to hikers and bikers.

• A summer outdoor concert series, on August weekends at Battery Bankhead.

• A Halloween festival, including the Powerhouse of Peril, a haunted house in the fort’s echoing, bunkerlike old power station.

• Boating on the harbor, with summer kayak rentals at nearby Nordland General Store.

• Visit the domestic geese, former pets of the ranger’s children, at a pond near Battery Wansboro.

• Host a reception or concert in the fort’s renovated hospital (with oak dance floor), a project of the Friends of Fort Flagler, an active volunteer group. Or attend a dance or other event in the old theater.

• Take a guided tour of historic buildings and gun emplacements, offered Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from mid-May to mid-September, by donation.

Brian J. Cantwell: 206-748-5724 or

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