San Juan Islands Scenic Drive

A Day Trip to San Juan Island

We went to San Juan Island, WA, to drive part of one of Washington State’s newest Scenic Byways, the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway.

Anacortes

While waiting for the ferry to arrive and dock at the terminal in Anacortes, I strolled around at the by fog mystified beach near the terminal and spotted an American Bald Eagle sitting on one of the wooden poles. Before I could change the lens with a telelens, it flew away! Bummer!

Sailing to San Juan Island

We sailed to San Juan Island in the midst of a thick fog. We assumed the captain knew how to navigate these waters under difficult conditions. It feels unsurreal having quite some speed and sailing “blind”. However, 1.5 hours later, we arrived safely in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, and started with the scenic route after disembarking in downtown Friday Harbor.

After disembarking in downtown Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, we drove to our first destination, Jackson Beach.

Jackson Beach

Jackson Beach, two miles from Friday Harbor, is known for its driftwood-strewn shoreline caused by strong currents and tides, which wash up and deposit large pieces of wood from the surrounding forests. We strolled around a bit for the sun to break through! Although the weather improved and the fog became thinner, we missed out on views of the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Mountains.

Cattle Point Lighthouse

We continued to the island’s southeastern tip, to Cattle Point Lighthouse. The octagonal-shaped lighthouse was built in 1935, sits in a beautiful setting surrounded by cliffs, and still guides ships through today’s waters.
Since 2013, the lighthouse has been part of the San Juan Islands National Monument.

San Juan Island National Historical Park

At San Juan Island National Historical Park, we learned about the Pig War Crisis of 1859-1860. The killing of a pig on the island grew into an international incident between Britain and America. Both claimed ownership of San Juan Island. The American Camp was functional from 1859 to 1874 to protect American settlers. A few original buildings are still standing.

Lighthouse Lime Kiln Point State Park

Our next stop was Time Kiln Point State Park. The park is considered one of the best places in the world to view wild orcas from the shore, as close as 20 feet. We walked to the whale-watching platform on a bluff overlooking the Haro Strait. The strait is a famous feeding ground for orcas, gray whales, and humpback whales. An information sign at the (also still active) Lime Kiln Lighthouse showed no whales had been spotted in the area for a few days. So, we did not see them. The park and lighthouse were worth the visit, though.

Roche Harbor

Roche Harbor(4) was founded in 1886 by John S. McMillin, a Tacoma lawyer who discovered a large deposit of lime in the area. He built the still-operational Hotel de Haro (5) 1886 to house workers at his lime quarry. The Queen Anne architectural-style hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Back in Friday Harbor, we parked the car at the Cannery Landing (6). This waterfront complex, a former cannery, was converted in the 1980s into a shopping and dining area. We wandered around and had a drink and snacks at the restaurant while we waited for the ferry (7) to arrive.
While sailing back, we got superb views of Friday Harbor (8) and Mount Baker (9), views we missed in the morning because the day had started with a thick fog.

Even though we didn’t see any orca whales at Lime Kiln Point State Park, we had a fantastic day on this mesmerizing island.  However, we might actually have seen three orca fins near Cattle Point Lighthouse (10) 🙂

Date

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Distances

several walks
about 5 miles

Moving Time

about
2.5 hours

WEATHER

(start) 54°F, fog
(end) 64 °F, sun