Kopachuck State Park: Cutts Island Loop

DATE OF SWIM: 8/22/20

A group of mermaids donning their superheroine suits set out to swim from the rocky shore of Kopachuck State Park to Cutts Island State Park, around the island and back. Along the way by both land and sea, the mermaids encountered a bald eagle, baby seal, blue heron, starfish, crab, sand dollars, blackberries and orange madronas. 

Route

Kopachuck State Park to Cutts Island State Park and Back 

Distance

2 Miles

Water

Upper 60s

Support

Mermaids and buoy!

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Swim to the Little Island 

 

A group of swim girlfriends and I set out to Kopachuck State Park in Gig Harbor, WA this weekend, about 30 minutes past Tacoma. We aimed to swim out to tiny Cutts Island State Park (also called "Deadman's Island") only accessible by boat and .6 miles off the coast of Kopachuck State Park. Cutts Island is apparently known as a party island, but also as a seal party island! Seals are known to rest there during seal pup season at low tide. Cutts Island doesn't allow camping, but it does have mooring buoys. We not only planned to swim to the island, but also to explore it on foot, and swim around it!

The drive to this paradise from Seattle took only an hour! The never-ending adventure so close to home never ceases to amaze me. We started swimming at 11 (high tide, going out) after suiting up. The water was so warm - one of our watches measured 65 degrees but we're pretty sure it was nearly 68! Next time, we may plan to skip the wetsuit since it was so warm.

The swim out to the island looked short from the shore, but it felt a bit long. I'm guessing this was either due to my sore body from a 26 mile backpacking trip this week in the Olympics or also my anticipation of reaching the island! We didn't encounter any boats on our way out despite starting to swim a bit later in the morning. I was a little nervous swimming in new unknown water, but I kept breathing through the discomfort.

 

We eventually reached the island at a pretty low tide; a large portion of it was covered in barnacled rocks. Deciding to explore the rocks a bit, we stepped out of the water and looked around at the plethora of anemones, oysters and sand dollars. 

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A Little Mermaid Oasis: Bald Eagles, Blue Herons and Blackberries 

 

Starting our swim around the island, we spotted a majestic bald eagle and blue heron on the way. 

 

We arrived at the little beach where the State Park sign (and bald eagle) was located and decided it was a good place to get out to climb the cliffs. At this spot, there was a trail straight up to the top of the island. Wearing our mermaid wetsuit/superhero suits, we climbed sandy trails and weaved in between madronas to get to the edge of the island. We passed remains of fire pits and imagined how idyllic it would be to swim out and camp here overnight (even though it's not allowed). 

Climbing back down from the cliff, we passed a huge surprise blackberry bush and feasted! We had to be careful not to puncture our wetsuits with the blackberry thorns, but every blackberry was worth the effort. I don't necessarily recommend blackberry harvesting while wearing a wetsuit...but I don't regret the mid-swim snack :)  

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A Sandy Spit for Baby Seals

 

Popping back into the water, we swam around a little spit and stopped to take more mermaid/superheroine glamour shots. It was at this moment that a little baby seal came out to say hello to us! We tried to keep our distance despite its curiosity, as getting too close to baby seals can cause their mothers to leave them. Don't get close to seal pups!

Continuing our swim, we swam around the rest of the island and saw schools of fish, crab and starfish on the way. Swimming back to Kopachuck against the current, we encountered a family of kayakers also heading back, so we swam on their tails to have a unintended kayak escort. The boat traffic definitely increased by this time, we likely started our swim back to Kopachuck at 1:30 pm as we arrived back to the park around 2:00. I definitely recommend starting this swim earlier than 11 so you can take your time exploring the island and sandy spit and also avoid jet skiiers and motor boats heading through the inlet in between the Cutts Island and Kopachuck. 

After the swim, we decided to stop in Gig Harbor and get a beer and dinner. None of us had been to Gig Harbor before, and now we all want to move there! It's the cutest little New England-esque marina town on the water. We stopped at Gig Harbor Brewing and the Harbor General Store for a post-swim feast and treat. 

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A Beautiful State, A Beautiful Community

I want to do this swim on a monthly basis now, I can't wait to see this little island in all of its glory every season of the year. Swimming around this island reminded me of what it would be like to live in the San Juan Islands and have the opportunity to swim around little islands like this regularly. I dreamed of moving out of Seattle and into a little beachside town like Gig Harbor. I loved it so much that I want to do it again next weekend! 

Here are some of my key recommendations for this swim:

  • Starting:

    • Start out by walking down to the beach at Kopachuck State Park by the parking lot. It's a great area to start and swim directly out to Cutts Island. There are a ton of little trails and also day use picnic spots with grills. It would be so fun to swim here and then grill after! 

    • Start early, there were more boats by 1 pm as we were crossing the Carr Inlet back to Kopachuck than at 11 when we started. 

  • During:

    • Add more mileage by swimming around the island two times or more! It's likely about a half mile around. 

  • After:

    • Stop in Gig Harbor after for food and a beer! I grew up in Connecticut and it reminds me of Mystic! 

 

Driving back from the swim, I reflected on how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful state with such diverse nature so accessible from a major city. I thought about how lucky I am to have such a strong community of inspiring swim friends that have kept me literally afloat during COVID. You're all not only incredible swimmers and athletes, but you're also mothers, therapists, marine biologists, teachers, astrophysicists, triathletes, artists, and just overall badass women and men. Thank you for being YOU and for your willingness to go on crazy adventures to explore this gorgeous land with me!

We're also now all officially indoctrinated into the Mermaid Crew, we've decided to emblazon our swim buckets with a sticker from the Gig Harbor General Store! Swim on!  

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NOTE: I am not an expert and this site is meant to give you tips on OWS and some ideas for adventures. If you're really serious about OWS, a swim coach is probably helpful. Your safety is ultimately in your own hands. Be smart out there and have fun!