Best Hikes in the San Juan Islands
Whether you want a quiet walk on the beach or a challenging hill climb, you'll find some of the best hiking in Washington State in the San Juan Islands
Walking in a quiet forest of Douglas fir and Western Red Cedar, you find that your cares fall away. In the San Juan Islands, you'll find hiking trails along beautiful rocky bluffs, or driftwood covered beaches, past historic lighthouses and stunning vistas of little islands dotting the Salish Sea. Choose your level of difficulty, from easy walks to challenging climbs in many different landscapes on countless nature preserves and public lands.
Where's the Best Hiking on Orcas Island?
If you want the challenge of a steep hike and the reward of breathtaking views, grab your hiking boots and a packed lunch and head to Mount Constitution in Moran State Park, the highest point in the San Juan Islands—2,409 feet. It’s not a hike to be rushed, however, as there is a lot to appreciate on the way up. Hike from the cool shade of old-growth forest to sunshine and wildflowers in alpine meadows.
From the summit, you’ll have 360-degree views of the San Juan Islands, Vancouver, and the mainland, bracketed by snow-tipped Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier. Enjoy an added touch of historical interest in the watchtower, built from hand-cut stone by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936.
If you have small children or just fancy something less strenuous, there are a multitude of easier hikes farther down the mountain. Or arrange to be dropped off at the top and have someone pick you up at the bottom for a leisurely downhill hike.
There is a paved road all the way up Mount Constitution, so consider parking partway up for a leisurely and beautiful three-mile stroll around Mountain Lake—you can even jump in for a cooling swim. Beyond Mountain Lake, trails lead out to Cascade Falls and Twin Lakes. With over 38 miles of trails, 5,200-acre Moran State Park offers something for every fitness level.
The distinctively shaped Turtleback Mountain is a much-loved area for hikers—at 1,520 feet, the second-highest summit in the islands. For hikers and nature lovers, that translates into fantastic views and fascinating flora and fauna. The south-end approach, up the turtle’s “head,” is for those willing to tackle a steep ascent. You’ll enjoy wide-open vistas for much of the climb, but this also means more exposure to the sun.
For those less inclined to pant up an exposed climb, choose the north ascent. Here, conifer forest and wetlands replace the grasslands and Garry oaks of the south face.
Obstruction Pass State Park
Obstruction Pass is a small gem for those seeking the atmosphere of a wilderness escape. Situated at the far southeastern tip of Orcas, Obstruction Pass offers 80 acres of parkland to explore plus 10 primitive campsites. The main trails run well under a mile through lush vegetation and forest.
The easterly trail leads to a 150-yard beach unique in the islands, covered with marble-sized multicolored pebbles—as well as views of Lopez Island, Blakely Island, and Obstruction Island. The westerly trail ends in a panoramic water view and great picnic site.
Hiking Lovely Lopez Island
Hummel Lake Preserve
Located on the south end of Lopez Island’s largest freshwater lake, 80-acre Hummel Lake Preserve boasts beautiful lakefront shoreline, a dock for fishing (but no swimming), and about a mile of trails through a second-growth forest that ends at Port Stanley Road.
Known locally as “the heart of Lopez,” Lopez Hill offers a forest escape for hikers and nature lovers. The area spans 400 acres, with the hill standing at 535 feet. An intricate network of trails (at least seven are mapped) offers challenging hikes through rocky knolls, canyons and prairie land. Plant lovers can feast their eyes on a range of island flora, from fungi to lichens to wildflowers. From the summit, enjoy views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and beyond to the south.
Agate Beach is on the southernmost tip of Lopez Island, with an amazing view of the water and Iceberg Point, part of the new San Juan Islands National Monument lands. At low tide, a sandy beach is accessible. Donated to the County by Seth Richey in 1948, the is one of Lopez Island's most beautiful spots.
Shark Reef Sanctuary
Don’t miss the Shark Reef Sanctuary on the west side of the island, where a short 10-minute walk through a forest will lead to a rocky shoreline where you’ll get views over the water and an almost certain seal (and perhaps sea lion and otter) sighting—just be sure to follow the path around to the left.
San Juan Island's Best HIkes
If you want to wear hiking boots, experience some history, and see views that take your breath away, tackle Young Hill. 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.
You can also hike from English Camp to Westcott Bay Shellfish Farm, through lush forests and along the water.
Lime Kiln Point State Park
Also known as Whale Watch Park, Lime Kiln Point State Park is a 36-acre day-use park with an iconic lighthouse set on the west side of San Juan Island. You may see orca whales swimming through the kelp beds in the waters off Lime Kiln, looking for salmon, since this park is considered one of the best places in the world to view whales from land. The shoreline viewpoint is about a 300-yard walk from the parking lot, restrooms, and seasonal interpretive center.
The park, which features a richly diverse environment, includes the remnants and landscapes of a history filled with change, along the rocky shoreline and through the wooded uplands. Minke whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions, otters and bald eagles also cruise the shoreline. The lighthouse was built in 1919 and still serves as a navigational beacon for ships in the Haro Strait. Interpretive programs, an interpretive center with gift shop and lighthouse tours are available during the summer months.
South Beach in American Camp National Historical Park is the longest public beach in the islands, with views over the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Mountains. All along this pristine two-mile pebble-and-sand beach, a wide swath of massive driftwood has washed up and been bleached in the sun for decades.
A wonderful place to take photos, enjoy a brisk walk for exercise, or a slow stroll for beachcombing, South Beach also has broad golden hills where eagles and hawks reel, rabbits forage and red foxes hunt at sunset, a historic “redoubt” or temporary fortification made during the Pig War conflict between the American and English troops from 1859 to 1871 – a standoff during which no shots were fired. Now, the only flames you’ll see are the summer bonfires at sunset as locals and visitors gather to enjoy this stunning and special place.
Jakle's Lagoon & Mount Finlayson
Named after the first Cattle Point Lighthouse keeper, George Jakle, Jakle's Lagoon is located just south of the Fourth of July Beach on Cattle Point and is part of the San Juan Island National Historical Park. A forest loop hike takes you to the top of Mt. Finlayson, the highest point on San Juan's south end, with a beautiful view of Cattle Point Lighthouse towards Lopez Island.
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 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.