Discover Hood Canal

Most boaters in the Puget Sound area head north to the San Juan Islands when they want to get away for a one- or two-week vacation on the water. Many others spend their time in the Central and South Sounds. A few choose to go to Hood Canal. Cathleen and I live in Port Ludlow near the entrance to Hood Canal and conveniently cruise there more frequently than when we lived in the Seattle area. We found that it offers recreational boaters a variety of anchorages, two marine state parks, a full service marina, and a luxury spa-resort with ample dock space for welcoming visiting boaters. Both the marina and the resort’s docks can accommodate larger vessels. There are also several other marinas that cater to smaller and trailerable boats.

Hood Canal is a glacier-carved natural fjord that forms part of Puget Sound and the larger Salish Sea. It is not a man-made “canal” as the name might suggest. Captain George Vancouver named it Hood’s Channel in 1792, which was recorded on the charts as Hood Canal. It separates the Kitsap Peninsula on its eastern shore from the Olympic Peninsula (and Olympic National Park) on its western shore. The region is largely undeveloped and mostly forested giving visitors a feeling of remoteness for much of the journey. From its entrance near Port Ludlow, Hood Canal extends 50 miles southwest to the town of Union, then bends northeasterly for 15 miles where it ends in shallow tidelands near the town of Belfair. It spans one to two miles across at an average depth of 177 feet. Zoomed out on a chart, it resembles the shape of a fish hook.

A few miles into Hood Canal you will encounter the Hood Canal bridge, the world’s longest floating bridge on salt water; only two on fresh water are longer. It spans 1.25 miles with a drawbridge in the middle for very tall boats and naval submarines, and fixed openings on each end, one 55 feet above the water and the other 35 feet. The floating bridge carries State Route 104 across the fjord connecting the two peninsulas.

After passing under the bridge, you are likely to encounter armed military boats patrolling the water outside of Naval Base Kitsap, one of two Trident submarine bases operated by the Navy. The restricted area is easily identified by the lighted buoys and security barrier, both visually and on the charts. If you happen to venture too close, you will be greeted by one or more of the armed military security boats.

A wonderful stopping point for the night is at Pleasant Harbor Marina. It is located 26 nautical miles from Port Ludlow and offers the Galley & Pub Restaurant with a rooftop patio, local beer and wine, and occasional live music. Basic groceries are also available. The pool is open seasonally and the hot tub year-round. There is also a fuel dock and pump-out facility. If the marina is full or you prefer to anchor, Pleasant Harbor has plenty of room to anchor in depths of 18-42 feet. The harbor is very well protected from all winds except from the NE. It is a serene and picturesque anchorage. Other boaters have always been very considerate about their wakes when Cathleen and I have anchored there. Indeed, the harbor lives up to its name.

The ultimate destination for most recreational boaters on Hood Canal is Alderbrook Resort & Spa located in the town of Union 23 miles south of Pleasant Harbor. Their T-dock with 1500 feet of moorage, power, and water can accommodate many boats. Moorage comes with full access to resort amenities. Various watercraft can be rented to explore the surrounding area. Fine dining is available in the resort restaurant and casual dining at an outside table overlooking the water. We enjoy cocktails in the Adirondack chairs on the grass near the water. There is an assortment of scenic nature trails nearby for hiking. If you like golf, you will love the PGA-class Alderbrook Golf Club. Finally, you may want to indulge yourself with a massage, sauna, or swim in the saltwater pool. Cathleen and I always spend at least three days here when we visit.

Hood Canal is largely undiscovered by recreational boaters. Yet it offers magnificent scenery, serene anchorages, marinas, and a destination resort all without the summertime crowds experienced north of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. If you are like us and enjoy these sorts of things, Hood Canal serves them up very well.

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