A beautiful South Sound sunset over the Olympic Peninsula
A beautiful South Sound sunset over the Olympic Peninsula

Over the past few weeks — and years for that matter — I’ve had several conversations about cruising the South Sound and it seems that many Central and North Sound cruisers aren’t aware of the bounty that waits to the south. And many are outright skeptical.

The previous two summers we did two 10-day cruises to the South Sound and found it to be idyllic. With beautiful parks, warmer water and few boats clogging up anchorages, it is a must see summer cruising destination for those who have never been.

We count the South Sound as being everything south of the Narrows Bridge, and once you get past there, an entire cruising ground opens up to you. But be forewarned Central Sound cruisers, when you tell people of your plans to head south, you’ll likely be met with tilted heads and confused looks followed by questions and statements such as, “Why would you go down there?” “There’s no wind in the South Sound.” And my personal favorite from someone who had never actually cruised there, “There’s nothing down there.”

But from those who had cruised the South Sound before we heard, “Go, you won’t be disappointed.” And, “Everyone else is in the San Juans, so you’ll have the place to yourselves.”

Here are a few of our favorite spots.

Eagle Island State Park:

Porter taking some of his first steps on the beach at Eagle Island
Porter taking some of his first steps on the beach at Eagle Island

Located just eight miles from the Narrows Bridge in Balch Passage between Anderson and McNeil Islands, Eagle Island is great as a first stop after transiting the Narrows or as a last stop while waiting to catch the ebb north. We like to anchor off the east side of the island in about 15 to 20 feet and have always been alone on this side. (There was once a single mooring ball on the east side — is it there this summer?). There are a few mooring balls on the western side of the island, but beware of the nearby reef and strong currents. There isn’t much ashore at Eagle Island, but you can walk the beach all the way around the island at a low tide and views of Mt. Rainier can be awesome.

Boston Harbor Marina: When we stopped in Boston Harbor, we were just coming in for fuel, but ended up finding much more. The dock was full of locals having a BBQ and we were welcomed and chatted up immediately. After topping up on diesel, we made our way to the marina store where we found a pleasant staff and a surprisingly good selection of local brewskis. Seeing as it was a nice evening and we weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere, we grabbed a couple brews from Gig Harbor’s 7 Seas Brewing, took a seat on the deck and enjoyed the view of the Sound.

Hope Island State Park:

The homestead and caretaker’s house on Hope Island

After our visit to Boston Harbor, we loped the few miles north towards the confluence of Pickering and Squaxin Passages to find a mooring ball on the west side of Hope Island State Park. Nestled between Squaxin Island and the Kitsap Peninsula, Hope Island is a camping and marine park with two-miles of hiking trails through beautiful old growth forest and a beach that is over a mile long. Caretakers live in the island’s former homestead and share the park with an abundance of wildlife.

A tug pushes a barge past Hope Island at sunset
A tug pushes a barge past Hope Island at sunset

Tolmie State Park:

Exploring the boardwalks at Tolmie State Park
Exploring the boardwalks at Tolmie State Park

We missed Tolmie on our first visit to the South Sound and wish we hadn’t, as it quickly became one of our favorites. Situated on the southwest side of Nisqually Reach, Tolmie State Park has five mooring buoys and ample room for anchorage. We picked up a buoy and were the only boat visiting the park. This might not be a great place to spend time in a strong northerly, and a large tidal flat extends out from the park, but other than that it is a quiet place to spend a night or two. Ashore we found gorgeous hiking trails, a large beach and due to its close proximity to Olympia, picnic shelters for parties of up to 50 people. There were very few people at the park when we visited in late June, but I bet it would be quite full on a beautiful summer weekend.

Jarrell Cove State Park: For South Sound standards, Jarrell Cove is probably considered a bustling park. With 14 mooring buoys and 650-feet of moorage space, this small cove on the north end of Harstine Island is a good place to stop for a pump out or for provisions or ice at Jarrell Cove Marina’s store. The park also has tent sites for camping and a mile or so of hiking. We had a great time lazily paddling around the cove watching eagles and other birds overhead. The cove would also make a great hiding spot if bad weather is approaching from any direction.

Honorable mention — Olympia: We made it a point to visit Olympia during both our South Sound cruises and found different things to keep us occupied each time. The farmer’s market was truly first rate. We ate lunch while listening to live music, then bought the night’s dinner and more before heading back to the boat. It’s worth a visit.

What about the wind?:

Sailing the South Sound
Sailing the South Sound

Over and over again we were told that we’d have no wind if we cruised the South Sound, and I guess you could say that of most anywhere around the Salish Sea during the summer. Despite the warnings, we took our chances and though the first year we only had a few days of good sailing, the second summer we sailed nearly everyday on breezes ranging from 5 to 20 knots. Bottom line, the perceived lack of wind shouldn’t keep sailors from experiencing the area.

Top tip — buy an Annual Moorage Permit: Tolmie, McMicken Island, Penrose Point, Hope Island, Jarrell Cove, Cutts Island/Kopachuck, Joemma Beach, Stretch Point and Eagle Island all having mooring buoys or docks available for boaters. Sure, anchoring is possible at most of them, but due to currents and proximity to the parks, sometimes it makes a lot of sense to get on a mooring ball or dock. Also, not only is buying a pass is a cost-effective way to use the park’s moorage, it also supports all the state’s parks, which is a win for everyone who uses them.

What are your South Sound cruising favorites?

2 Replies to “South Sound cruising favorites”

  1. Thanks for this! It’s funny, I live in the west end of Tacoma and have moored my boat at Foss Harbor Marina for several years, but I am just now starting to explore the south sound. Went on an overnight trip to Penrose Point last weekend. Although there were a lot of boats there, it didn’t feel too crowded. There are about 4 or 5 Mooring balls on the east side of the point, and about 5 more on the west side inside Mayo Cove. I ended up anchoring in the cove as all of the mooring balls were taken, and had great holding. The water in the cove was warm enough to swim in for hours! That was an unexpected bonus. I plan to visit your recommendations soon.

  2. NO!! Keep our little secret! 🙂 We motor with a toddler too and cruise south sound almost exclusively. Don’t forget about Joemma if the wind is favorable. The dock can be busy, but the beach is good fun. Great write-ups!

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