Island Experience

Best Hikes in the San Juan Islands

Beach walks, mountain trails, fall foliage and adventure around every corner

Along rocky bluffs and driftwood covered beaches, you'll find historic lighthouses, stunning vistas and unmatched Salish Sea beauty.  Choose your level of difficulty, from easy walks to challenging climbs, across many different landscapes on countless nature preserves and public lands. Maps for each island can be found below and or on our Hiking Maps page.

#hikesanjuans

The best hikes for fall color

Fall is one of the best seasons to be on a trail in the San Juan Islands. With a crisp sea breeze nipping the coast and golden sunlight bathing inland farms, hiking in autumn is a unique island experience. Pack an extra jacket, fill your thermos and discover an entirely new side of the Islands.

Cascade Falls: Inside Moran State Park, this short 3-mile trail winds between Douglas firs and Bigleaf maples – creating stunning contrasts of color against a lush green backdrop. Perfect for beginning hikers and dogs on leashes, it’s a fall escape for the whole family.

Cascade Fall, Moran State Park, Orcas Island, Photography by Nicole Sanabria

Agate Beach: No list of island hikes would be complete without at least one beach. An ideal place to watch an autumn sunset, this is the quintessential fall beach walk. The bright red trunks of Madrona trees glow in the afternoon sun and fall colors line the classic Pacific Northwest rocky shoreline.

Agate Beach, Lopez Island, by Barbara Marrett

Young Hill: Dominated by Bigleaf maple, Red Alder and Pacific Madrone, fall colors at Young Hill are a must-see. Your climb will be rewarded with sweeping views of San Juan, Canada’s Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, and beyond – every direction offering glimpses of fall.

Deer on San Juan Island, Photography by Dana Halferty

Turtleback Mountain: Garry oaks and Conifer trees guide hikers through a colorful trail up the second-highest peak on Orcas Island. Wide-open vistas of the fall colors below, make for a rewarding, though steep, climb. Photos at the top offer a stunning backdrop of rolling farmland and distant outer islands along the horizon.

Hiking Turtleback Mountain, Orcas Island SJIVB

Lopez Hill: Not all fall color comes from leaves. On Lopez Hill, hikers are delighted by colorful mushrooms and ground cover that come to life in autumn. An intricate network of trails, visitors are introduced to diverse and relatively pristine plant and animal communities, all bursting with color during the autumn months.

Lopez Hill, Lopez Island, Photography by Friends of Lopez Hill

Roche Harbor: If there's one place to put on your fall hiking list, it’s Roche Harbor. The quaint cobblestone streets of the resort are lined with vibrant reds and yellows and the maze of hikes winding above the harbor offer picturesque shots of the marina, historic chapel and nearby islands.

Fall colors at Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, Photography by Dana Halferty

Best Island Hiking

Hiking Mt. Constitution, Moran State Park, Orcas Island, Washington
Hiking Cascade Lake, Moran State Park, Orcas Island, Washington, Photography by Carl Silvernail

 

Where's the Best Hiking on Orcas Island?

Mount Constitution

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.

Turtleback Mountain Hike, Orcas Island, Monica Bennett
Obstruction Pass State Park, Orcas Island, Washington

Turtleback Mountain

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.

Find maps of more Orcas Island hikes.

Hummel Lake Preserve, Lopez Island, Washington
Lopez Hill, Lopez Islands, Washington

 

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.  

Lopez Hill

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, Lopez Island, SJIVB
Hiking at Shark Reef, Lopez Island, Photography by Robert Harrison

Agate Beach

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.

Find more maps of Lopez Island hikes.

Young Hill, English Camp, San Juan Islands National Historical Park, San Juan Island
Lime Kiln Point State Park, San Juan Island, Washington

 

San Juan Island's Best HIkes

Young Hill

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, San Juan Island National Historical Park, San Juan Island, Washington
Mt. Finlayson, American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park, San Juan Island, Washington

 

South Beach

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.

Find more maps for San Juan Island hikes.

The San Juan Island Trails Committee and the Lopez Community Trails Network work hard to make trails safe and accessible for locals and visitors, and both organizations have a selection of online trail maps for popular island hikes.