Hiking in the San Juan Islands: The Best Trails to Hike
The San Juan Islands of Washington state may be the top sea kayaking tour destination in the US, but the scenic hiking trails are a treat, too. After using your arms for propulsion on a kayak trip, a good day hike on a panoramic trail is the perfect complement to keep your body and mind balanced. Here’s a review of the best hiking in the San Juan Islands.
Orcas Island Hiking – Mt. Constitution & Moran State Park
First up is one of the most spectacular viewpoints on the entire west coast. Enjoy a panoramic 360 degree view of the San Juan Islands, the Salish Sea, volcanoes, and several different mountain ranges from the 2,409-foot peak of Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island. The highest point in the San Juans is the located in the largest state park within Washington, Moran State Park. With over 5000 acres and 30 miles of hiking trails, you can hike and explore for several days, cool off in the lakes, or camp (but be sure to reserve many months in advance). Search the web to get a virtual view from the live webcam.
Lopez Island Hiking – Iceberg Point, Chadwick Hill & Watmough Bay
Iceberg Point is part of the newly created San Juan Islands National Monument, and perhaps the most impressive inclusion. The rugged, glacially-carved bedrock at the south end of Lopez was released from the icy grip of 2 mile thick glaciers only 12,000 years ago. Left bare upon their departure, a thin veneer of soil has developed since then. Not enough to support a dense forest, but plenty for a lush wildflower meadow. The peak of the bloom is in April, but the trails are worth hiking at any time of year. The Olympic Mountains and Strait of Juan de Fuca make a fine backdrop for observing marine birds, sea lions, and occasional whales. Hikers on Lopez Island may also want to enjoy the excellent views on the trail up 470-foot high Chadwick Hill or relax on the beach at scenic Watmough Bay.
Hiking on San Juan Island – Cattle Point Lighthouse & American Camp
The southernmost point of San Juan Island is called Cattle Point, known for its small lighthouse featured in several television commercials. The short hiking trail to the lighthouse rewards hikers with the same superb views one finds at Iceberg Point, but Cattle Point is much better for whale watching thanks to an underwater formation known as the Salmon Bank. Orca whales forage here almost daily in spring and summer as salmon congregate over the shallow bar. The Salmon Bank is also the best place for seeing minke whales in the San Juan Islands, but these are usually seen at the tip of the bank near the buoy so binoculars or a spotting scope is useful. If you don’t see killer whales on your kayak tour, you should start hiking east from Cattle Point on the prairie trail that follows the edge of the sea bluff as it leads into the American Camp unit of San Juan Island National Historical Park. The beach below the bluff is the longest in the entire archipelago and offers a parallel hiking route. You can also hike on parallel trails along the windswept top of the glacial moraine and through the sheltered north-facing forest edge along Griffin Bay. Perpendicular cross trails connect them all to create loops of anywhere from a couple of miles to over eight miles, covering many different habitat types. You can learn about the Pig War and the American military occupation while visiting the park, too.
More San Juan Island Hiking Trails – Young Hill & British Camp
The British military occupied an area on the north end of San Juan Island during the Pig War that is also included in the San Juan Island National Historical Park. There is a nice hiking trail that follows the shoreline around Bell Point and another that leads to the top of Young Hill. The wildflower meadows and oak trees along this hike provide a start contrast to the dark forests that most people associate with the Pacific Northwest region. Young Hill is a great place to watch the sunset over Vancouver Island and the Gulf Island Archipelago of British Columbia, Canada. Connecting trails allow you to hike on loops of several miles.
Great Hiking Trails & Superb Sea Kayaking Routes in the San Juan Islands
All of these hiking trails are for day hikes only. There are no back-country campsites in the San Juan Islands, except those that can be reached while sea kayaking. Each major island has at least one drive-in campground, either in a state park, county park, or a privately-owned camp ground. Most of these require reservations in advance, and sometimes you will need to plan ahead by several months.
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