Hikes on San Juan Island
If you want to wear hiking boots, experience some history, and see views that take your breath away, tackle Mount Young. Situated at the north end of the island, the 650-foot summit offers unmatched panoramas of San Juan, Canada’s Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, and beyond. Pick up the trailhead across the road from English Camp, occupied by the British in 1860 and find traces of its history on Mount Young itself—watch for the 1860s Royal Marine Cemetery.
The trail rises at a steady gradient, with plenty of places for you to stop, catch your breath, and drink in the views, which get more and more rewarding as you climb. The forest of evergreens, madrones, and oaks thins to a clearing at the summit. You’ll see several varieties of wildflowers in the spring. If you’ve brought lunch, settle down and enjoy some of the best views in the area. You have the world at your feet.
The highest point on San Juan’s south end is Mount Finlayson. At 295 feet, this is not a challenging climb, although a few sections run a little steep. With South Beach, Jakle’s Lagoon, and Fourth of July Beach nearby, this hike fits very well into a day of south-end sightseeing. From the Jakle’s Lagoon parking lot and trailhead, you can start at either end of the loop trail.
Head right on the wide Mount Finlayson Trail, which climbs gradually across golden grasslands lined by wind-blasted, contorted firs paralleling Cattle Point Road. The trail crests on the long ridge of Mount Finlayson, named for one of the founders of Victoria, B.C., which you can see from along the trail. At 1.3 miles a trail leads left, near a group of large firs—your return route. But walk a bit farther for a grand view of Cattle Point and its lighthouse. (Watch for eagles, plovers, sandpipers and hawks.) Loop back down into a cool forested ravine to reach a trail junction at Third Lagoon after 0.25 mile. Turn left onto an old woods road, 1.75 miles back to the trailhead.
Or at the parking lot, take the wide trail through the cool evergreen forest to the summit, then follow the high, open ridge and hike down the mountain back to the parking lot. From the summit you’ll have spectacular views across Haro and Juan de Fuca Straits to the Olympic Mountains and Vancouver Island. Watch for whales in these waters.
Lime Kiln Point State Park
At Lime Kiln Point State Park, a.k.a. Whale Watch Park, relax in the shade of madrones, lunch at picnic tables next to the still-working 1919 lighthouse, and keep an eye out for orcas, minke whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and otters along the shoreline. (The park is considered one of the best land-based places in the world to view orca whales, especially in late May through September.) Then hike out on one of a variety of trails, where helpful placards diagram possible routes and offer historical facts. A short walk takes you to the old lime kilns that give the park its name, or climb the park’s wooded trails to some fabulous views. Hikes lead along an old quarry or to a cliff above it with a clear view out to Vancouver Island. Interpretive programs and lighthouse tours are available during the summer months.