Hiking and Exploring in the San Juan Islands

Hiking Cattle Point on San Juan Island

The southern arm of San Juan Island where American Camp, a national historical park, is located, offers a number of great hikes and walking trails with amazing views. Of course, it is always interesting to check out the history while exploring the grounds of American Camp, but just a short distance from the Visitor Center are a number of San Juan Island’s gems to explore.

Mt. Finlayson is the highest point in American camp, offering great views of Mt. Baker to the east, Mt. Rainier in the southeast, the Olympic Mountains to the south and British Columbia to the west. The trail meanders up a gentle grassy slope that allows you to take in the view of South Beach below. After about a 1.5 mile walk, you can either turn around and walk back or continue a loop through Jakle’s Lagoon. Instead of looking out onto Haro Strait, this trail is sheltered by a Douglas fir Canopy. The trail leading to the lagoon is a secluded area that is host to an array of wildlife, including raptors and deer.

Across Cattle Point Road from the trailhead to Mt. Finlayson is South Beach. The pebble covered shore stretches along the length of Cattle Point, framed by tall grassy bluffs on one side and open ocean on the other. This is a great spot to have a picnic lunch and walk by the water.

If you are on the northwest side of San Juan Island near Roche Harbor, you will find the English Camp National Historical Park. The grounds of the old English encampment are well-kept with gardens and preserved buildings. From English Camp there is a steep 1.25 mile trail that leads up to the top of Young Hill. A panoramic view of the some of the Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, Westcott Bay and Garrison Bay provides a breathtaking treat at the top of Young Hill that makes the hike well worth the effort.

Lime Kiln Point is known as the best spot on San Juan Island for whale watching. Hang out on the rocks by the lighthouse and wait to see the Orca Whales pass up and down the Haro Strait. In addition to the whale watching, there are other short walking paths around Lime Kiln Point State Park.

Orcas Island

Orcas Island is home to the highest point in the San Juan Islands, Mt. Constitution. Standing at 2,409 feet in Moran State Park, Mt. Constitution is one of the longest and most challenging hikes of the islands, but it is certainly do-able for the average active person. At the foot of Mt. Constitution is Cascade Lake, a pristine lake surrounded by dense, lush forest. You can walk around the entire lake (about a 3 mile loop) or continue past it to the Mt. Constitution trailhead. After a steep and sometimes strenuous climb, you will reach an unparalleled view at the top of the mountain. At the top is an observation tower that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1936. On sunny days, it is possible to see Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, the Cascade Mountains, and many northern islands. Make sure to bring a camera. Roundtrip, the hike is a little less than 7 miles.

Turtleback Mountain is on the west side of Orcas. The Turtleback Mountain Preserve is the largest preserved area of land in San Juan County with a variety of animal species and habitats like grasslands and Garry oak woodlands. There are some great trails here with more beautiful views of the islands.

Lopez Island

Lopez Island is a quiet and undeveloped island with some beautiful, undiscovered places to explore. Shark Reef Sanctuary is one of these spots. This nature sanctuary is home to an array of native sea birds, seals, and other marine life. No bikes, camping, or fires are permitted here, but it is certainly worthwhile to stop by and take in the view.

On the east side of Lopez is Spencer Spit State Park. You can camp here for the night or just stay and explore the trails around the unique spit formation, go beach combing, or watch the sea birds that gather here.

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