With only 175 miles of land inside its borders, San Juan is the smallest of Washington state's 39 counties by far.
But whatever they may lack in acreage, the San Juan Islands make up for with a unique assortment of parks, trails, scenery, campgrounds, wildlife, shorelines, sunshine, labyrinth of waterways, peaks and valleys, rustic rural character, laid-back lifestyle… well, you get the picture. And when it comes to outdoor adventure, the San Juan Islands can't be beat.
The 2013 edition of our annual Parks & Trails Guide offers an overview of recreational opportunities, highlights of various public agencies that together make the islands unsurpassed for adventure in the Great Outdoors, like the Land Bank (pg. 13) and San Juan Island National Historical Park (pgs. 5-12), as well as detailed information about the summer hikes sponsored by a pair of local trails organizations (pgs. 14-15).
In addition, on pg. 2 you can zero-in on a convenient mountain bike expedition, or read about a park on outskirts of Friday Harbor where dogs are king. A story on pg. 16 recounts the San Juan Islands recent designation as a National Monument, and below is a list and description of both state and local parks and campgrounds.
Trails to you.
San Juan County Parks
San Juan County operates 17 different parks spread across the four islands served by the state ferry system. The majority, 14 to be exact, are day-use parks. Nearly all are situated along the shoreline and each offers a picturesque setting where one can gaze out over the water, break out a picnic basket, a book or a boogie board, or just sit back, relax and watch the world — or whales — go by.
The most prized of county parks are its three campgrounds. Why? Location, location, location. All three, with more than 60 campsites and 150 acres combined, are positioned on the shoreline and offer quick and easy access in and out of the water.
Located about a mile south of the ferry landing on Lopez Island, Odlin Park features 30 campsites — nine by the beach — a boat ramp, dock, mooring buoys, a softball field and a picnic area with a covered pavilion. It also boasts an extensive network of trails that weave along the shoreline and through the woodlands of the 80-acre campground and park.
Shaw Island County Park, on the banks of Indian Cove, has the longest stretch of white sandy beach — 4,610 feet — in the San Juans, as well as 11 campsites, a picnic shelter and a boat ramp for shallow-draft vessels. It’s about two miles south of the ferry landing, overlooking Thatcher Pass.
Coveted for decades by boaters and campers alike, San Juan County Park rests on shore of San Juan Island's spectacular westside, looks out toward Canada over Haro Strait and is perhaps the most perfect spot on the globe to launch a kayak or soak up a sunset. The 12-acre park features 20 campsites, a boat ramp, gravel beach and, like the Odlin and Shaw campgrounds, is part of the Cascadia Marine Trail system.
(For more on county parks and campgrounds, or to reserve a campsite, visit, www.co.san-juan.wa.us/parks/default.aspx, or call (360) 378-8420.)
Washington State Parks
Wherever you go in the San Juan Islands, there's a state park nearby. Washington State Parks manages 15 separate parks totaling nearly 6,000 acres, including two of the more perennially popular campgrounds in the entire state system, Moran State Park on Orcas Island and Lopez Island's Spencer Spit State Park.
Home to the tallest peak in the islands, Mount Constitution, at 2,409 feet, Moran State Park, with more than 5,000 acres, encompasses the vast majority of the island's state park land. It features old-growth forests, alpine meadows, five fresh water lakes, an stone observation tower — built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936 — 151 tent sites, a playground and swim area, picnic pavilion and more than 35 miles of hiking trails.
While no match for Moran size-wise, Spencer Spit State Park boasts nearly two miles of saltwater shoreline, 42 fully equipped campsites and a total of 16 mooring buoys, a consistent draw for the boating crowd. The 138-acre park and campground is also home to a rustic clam-shelling shack from days gone by, which rests on a rocky sandbar that stretches out to nearby Frost Island like a spear.
On the westside of San Juan Island, overlooking the busy waterway of Haro Strait, where three pods of semi-resident killer whales forage the waters of their seasonal hunting grounds, is Lime Kiln State Park. Although it has no campsites, Lime Kiln features a historic lighthouse built in 1919 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Because of the frequency with which the orca whales travel by, Lime Kiln is also known as Whale Watch Park.
In addition to the “Big 3” mentioned above, state parks also manages eight marine parks accessible only by boat, kayak or canoe. Several have docks, like Stuart Island, and most, such as Matia, Sucia, James and Jones, feature protected coves, modestly equipped campsites and mooring buoys.
(For more on Washington State Parks campgrounds and marine parks, visit http://www.parks.wa.gov/)