Illahee: Get away close to home

In addition to horseshoes and 1,785-feet of shoreline, Illahee State Park also offers a glimpse into several different kinds of wildlife, like this Great Blue Heron spotted on Tuesday. - Photo by Jesse Beals
In addition to horseshoes and 1,785-feet of shoreline, Illahee State Park also offers a glimpse into several different kinds of wildlife, like this Great Blue Heron spotted on Tuesday.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

It didn’t take long for Ivon Haug and her family to find things they liked about the Pacific Northwest.

Haug, who moved to Port Orchard from San Diego about four months ago, said her children, 11-year-old Steven, 5-year-old William and 4-month-old Danny, are already in awe of their new surroundings.

“Woah!” Steven exclaimed, running up to his mother Tuesday at Illahee State Park in Bremerton. “I’ve never seen one whole like this! Look!”

Steven held up a shell, no more beautiful or complete or different than any shell Western Washington natives have grown accustomed to. But for Ivon’s kids, it’s a whole new world of amazement and opportunity.

“They’ve never seen a volcano,” Ivon said, pointing to a hazy outline of Mt. Rainier from Illahee’s shore. “So every time they see the mountains, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ It’s amazing.”

The Haugs were among many enjoying the sunny weather Tuesday on the beach. The park, located near the Trenton and Sylvan Way crossing in East Bremerton, offers a variety of activities for all ages and tastes.

From barbecue pits and horseshoes to boating and fishing, Illahee offers myriad outdoor opportunities to last a few short hours or a few long days.

“For being a small, more compact park, we have a lot of things going on,” park manager Steve Kendall said. “We have quite the variety.”

The 75-acre marine park houses 24 camp sites, a utility space, four restrooms and two showers, with sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. A group camp is suitable for up to 40 people.

Trails run throughout the park, connecting the campsites on the far western border of the park to the 1,785-feet of shoreline to the northeast. A boat ramp allows saltwater access, while the accompanying 360-foot dock offers 356-feet of moorage. Diving, fishing, swimming, clamming and oyster fishing are included in beach activities.

Also housed within the park is a baseball/softball field, two volleyball fields, three horseshoe pits, a fire circle and numerous opportunities for picnicking.

The shellfishing opportunities have become a specific draw for many, Kendall said.

“We’re probably one of the few public shellfish beaches,” he said. “That alone brings in a pretty good group of people.”

Brothers Bill and Dave Sumstad were on the beach Tuesday in search of oysters.

For Dave, of Bonney Lake, who found out about Illahee through the state parks Web site (, it was his second trip. For Bill, of Totem Lake, it was his first visit.

“This beach is great,” Dave said. “They have great oysters here.”

“And it’s beautiful,” Bill added.

“We’ll probably do a little swimming here too,” Dave said while slurping down a raw oyster.

Aside from shellfish, the park offers a glimpse at all sorts of wildlife, from squirrels and raccoon, deer and songbirds, to herons, eagles and geese. Kendall said a fox was even spotted in the park in recent years.

In terms of plant life, Illahee plays host to old-growth forest and one of the largest yew trees in the nation.

“It’s one of the last standing old-growth forests in the county,” Kendall said.

But perhaps the greatest feature the park offers is its location, Kendall said.

“More or less, we’re that community-type park,” he said. “The people seem to enjoy that. Our wooded campsites give the impression that you’re more out in the wilderness. But you’re still close enough to go out and get the half-gallon of milk you forgot in the fridge.”

The park has picnic tables and barbecue pits strewn throughout, as well as a children’s playground. It is features like these that add to Illahee’s allure for those with just a few hours to spare.

Kendall said park use has increased by about 25 percent since the state did away with its day-use parking fees earlier this year.

For information regarding the group camping site or larger picnic shelters, or for questions about the park, call (360) 478-6460.

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