Bainbridge Island’s 1,500 acres of parks and open space got a touch of magic over the past six months. A mysterious builder has installed shoebox-sized gnome homes in parks all over the island and left clues on the Instagram account PNWGnomeHome.
My young kids and I hopped on a ferry recently for a midweek getaway and hoped to cross paths with a gnome or two.
Where to check for hints
While a consolidated map isn’t available, many of the posts include geotag information or short video clues to help narrow down the search. Each home features a unique design and a painted number, so would-be sleuths can confirm their finds.
Bring your keen eye, but you don’t need binoculars — homes are typically located adjacent to the trail and at eye-level or below. Evidence of successful hunters often lies in little gifts left behind, such as a piece of sea glass, a teacup shard or a small bunch of snowberries.
You don’t have to trek for miles to find the gnomes. Our hikes averaged two to three miles, which made them perfect for little legs, but interesting enough for adults or older kids. Even if you don’t manage to find a gnome home, many of Bainbridge Island’s trails have kid-friendly features like graffiti art, boardwalks and moss-covered balance beams (I mean, logs).
I should note that gnomes are known for playing tricks on people with poor trail etiquette. Remember to wear your mask when you can’t maintain six feet of distance, stick to members of your pod and to leave gnomes (and other forest finds) in their homes.
A hunting we will go
Our first attempt at finding a gnome took place at Fort Ward Park. We started down the Fort Ward to Blakely Harbor Trail, but after exploring the graffiti-covered old gun batteries, my kids didn’t quite have the stamina to find an official gnome home. We did, however, spot a “fairy piglet” house at the base of one tree and a carved wooden gnome tucked into the knot of another tree.
Undeterred, we spied Gnome Home No. 10 while meandering down the relatively short Peter’s Trail in Gazzam Lake Preserve. No. 9 lurked in a tree not too far along the same trail. Since my toddler son had fallen asleep in the carrier on the hike out, his big sister got the immense pleasure of pointing out our finds on the way back. He was ecstatic to peek inside and chanted “Gnome home! Gnome home!” for the remainder of the hike.
I sometimes have trouble drumming up excitement for a hike with my kids, but the thrill of the chase kept them going along the Forest to Sky Trail between Grand Forest West and Battle Point Park. Even without the hint of a gnome, the milelong trail has some wonderful traditional features like a short boardwalk, interesting mushrooms and a swing-shaped tree branch. We almost missed Gnome Home No. 15 around a curve while searching for deep mud puddles to poke with sticks.
I’ll take any excuse I can get to head outdoors this year, and charming finds like these gnome homes really help motivate us all to hit the trails!
Bainbridge gnome homes: the details
How to get there: Hop on the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry from the Seattle waterfront. Ferries run roughly every 50 minutes.
Parks: All of the parks we visited had free entry and at least six to 10 parking spots. Not all parks have restroom facilities available, but Gazzam Lake Preserve, Battle Point Park and Fort Ward have porta-potties or vault toilets. The Bainbridge Island Parks Department has a helpful map on its website to visualize options.
Where to eat: All that gnome hunting works up a giant-sized appetite. In a tourism-driven spot, Bainbridge restaurants have adapted some of the best COVID protocols I’ve seen. Most of the places we visited offered online ordering or curbside pickup and were hyper-efficient to minimize contact.
Subi prepared a beautiful sushi lunch and offered a kids’ menu with plenty of variety.
Make it a local getaway: We kept the magic going by staying in a frog-themed cottage (Froggy Heights, from $121 per night for two bedrooms).