Lake Sammamish is ultimate summertime destination

July 2, 2011

By Laura Geggel

Kyle Ritland, working for his mother Barbara Gronseth, of Issaquah Paddle Sports, takes inventory on Sunset Beach of the paddle boats, canoes and paddleboards, and kayaks for one, two or three passengers. By Greg Farrar

The crystalline lake is much more than a swimming hole

It has a sunken forest, great blue and green herons, and canoes dipping up and down in the waves. At seven miles in length, Lake Sammamish is a refuge and an entertainment spot for boaters seeking solitude or a good time.

Whether on a motorboat or in a kayak, or balancing on a paddleboard or a Ski-Doo, outdoor enthusiasts flock to Lake Sammamish for its views, wildlife and watery expanse.

Boat owners can purchase a $7 daily watercraft-launching permit at the park if they choose to use Lake Sammamish State Park as their take-off point.

Teresa Eneix, of Marysville, took her boat out on the water with her family on a warm day June 5 to go “droll cruising,” a term she defined while laughing as “looking at all the neat houses that we could never afford.”

She said she spotted a brace of ducks and a gaggle of geese, but the best part was that boaters don’t use Lake Sammamish as much as Lake Washington, meaning the water is less choppy.

Nichole and Peter Wengert, of Sammamish, who had spotted a bald eagle, also admire the communities surrounding the lake’s periphery.

“We hug the shoreline and look at all the houses,” Peter Wengert said.

Though the family has a motorboat, they have also gone kayaking.

After all, “it’s nice to go without the motor and check out the lily pads,” he said.

For those who don’t own a boat — or who don’t have friends with boats — another option exists. Issaquah Paddle Sports rents paddle boats, kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards to water lovers, and co-owner Barbara Gronseth has plenty of recommendations for where boaters can explore.

• • •

George Gronseth has a natural ease in a kayak. His boating lessons for groups like the Mountaineers Club and the Washington Kayak Club made him so popular that he decided to start his own business.

In 1991, he founded the Kayak Academy, which is how he met his wife, Barbara. She began operating Issaquah Paddle Sports on Lake Sammamish in 1997, and used George’s school to train her employees. After much banter and many boat rides, the two wed in 2004.

Now, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Gronseths rent boats at the state park’s Sunset Beach. The Kayak Academy also offers classes from March to November, with novice training starting at Lake Sammamish and advanced classes held in the San Juan Islands.

“I love being on the water,” Barbara said. “I want to be able to share letting people have access to the water.”

• • •

Boaters have access to all seven miles of the lake, but many of the scenic views are near the state park, including the heron rookery and Issaquah Creek. Further north, boats will encounter green parks, including Timberlake Park, the sunken forest, Vasa Park, Idlywood Beach Park and, if they’re feeling ambitious, Marymoor Park in Redmond.

Once boaters don their life jackets, they can head a half-mile northeast to where Issaquah Creek empties into Lake Sammamish.

“It’s a great little safe haven of peacefulness from all of the boats and the noise on the lake,” Barbara said. “There’s lots of birds in there.”

She listed great blue herons, green herons, eagles, king fishers, ducks, geese, beaver and river otter as animals that call the creek area home.

Bring a camera, but be sure to put it in a waterproof bag. Just about everything gets wet in a boat, especially a kayak or canoe. If people bring valuables they don’t want to get wet, they can leave them at the Heron Roost snack bar at Sunset Beach, said Whende Keatts, Issaquah Paddle Sports employee.

Boaters are required to wear life jackets at all times.

“We provide all ages because we allow infants to go in the paddle boats,” Barbara said.

• • •

Near Issaquah Creek is the heron rookery. Though boaters should give heron nests a buffer of 1,000 feet, they can spy on the birds with a pair of binoculars.

Explore Lake Sammamish

Learn more about Issaquah Paddle Sports at www.issaquahpaddlesports.com. Rental boats are available Wednesday and Friday through Sunday. Prices range from $20 to $30 per hour, depending on the type of boat. An adult must accompany children younger than 18.

    The best way to see herons near the rookery is to sit in silence. Boaters should be able to see herons flying to and from their nests year round, though sometimes the nests are harder to see in the summer.

    “At this time of year, once the foliage comes out, it’s hard to see in the reed,” Barbara said. “They choose a pretty protective nest area.”

    Boaters with binoculars and a sixth sense for feathered creatures can also find eagles and their nests, high in trees above the southern part of Lake Sammamish.

    Boaters can crisscross about a mile from Sunset Beach to the lake’s western side for a trip to Issaquah’s Timberlake Park, a green, forested area with trails, beach access and picnic tables. Dogs are allowed, but only if they’re on a leash.

    Near Timberlake Park is the lake’s sunken forest, a geological wonder that formed after a landslide 1,000 years ago. Boaters can see the ancient tree stumps poking out of the water. The forest is a good place for fishermen.

    “I know it’s a great fishing location, because when I’m paddling over there, there’s a lot of bass fisherman fishing around the logs,” Barbara said.

    Boaters who want to explore more of the lake can paddle to Bellevue’s Vasa Park, also on the west side of the lake. The park boasts water slides, a picnic area and wide-open spaces.

    In the middle of the southern and northern parts of the lake, boaters will see two King County lake-monitoring buoys that measure the wind speed, air and water temperatures of both areas.

    Farther north are Idylwood Beach and Marymoor parks in Redmond, the latter being about a four-and-a-half-hour round trip by canoe or kayak, Barbara estimated. There is a beach at Idlywood Beach Park and a public restroom, which could prove a good pit stop for boaters.

    No matter the reason, boating is a great way to cool off on a summer day.

    “It’s great,” Barbara said. “On a hot day, there is always a little breeze on the lake.”

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