Off The Beaten Path

Obstruction Pass State Park

Though most people flock to its bigger neighbor, Moran State Park, this park’s quiet beauty is unsurpassed. Opal waters lap at pebbly beaches, and madrone trees cling to bluffs. Rocky viewpoints entice picnickers, birders, lovebirds and youthful explorers. 

Follow the half-mile trail through a low forest, to the bluff and down to the beach. But don’t forget to snag one of 10 first-come, first-served primitive campsites near the south end of the park. If you arrived by kayak or canoe, stake your tent at the Cascadia Marine Trail campsite close to the water. Motoring in on a bigger boat? Tie up to a mooring buoy, and enjoy a night on the water.

Obstruction Pass State Park is a 76-acre primitive camping park on the south end of Orcas Island, south of Moran State Park. The park is one of the few spots on Orcas Island with access to more than one mile of publicly owned saltwater shoreline.

There is a self-guided interpretive trail along the 0.6-mile trail to Obstruction Pass beach. The trail includes information about the geology, ecology and the cultural significance of Obstruction Pass and Orcas Island.

Because Obstruction Pass only has 10 campsites and three buoys, overnighters will feel like they have this spot in the San Juan Islands all to themselves.  There is no potable water at this park, and it is a pack-it-in, pack-it-out location. Please plan accordingly when visiting the park.

Sucia Island Marine State Park

Among the northernmost of the San Juan Islands, this horseshoe-shaped island is accessible only by watercraft. Boaters venturing into its coves and harbors quickly discover why Sucia Island is considered the crown jewel in the state marine park system and a boating destination that’s world class.

The main island, surrounded by picturesque rocks and smaller islands, gave pause to the Spanish explorers who navigated its waters in 1791. They called it “sucia” or “foul,” a nautical term describing navigational obstacles such as the rocks around the island. The island and its waters are, in fact, pristine, and the satellite rocks make for interesting diving and kayaking.

On April 10, 2012, part of a femur bone from a theropod dinosaur was discovered in a rock on the island. Theropods are a group of meat-eating, two-legged dinosaurs, including T. rex and Velociraptor. The 80 million-year-old fossil was spotted and excavated by paleontologists at Seattle’s Burke Museum.

Known for its emerald waters and forested trails, its magnificent sunsets and sandstone formations, Sucia Island is prized by locals for its off-season beauty and solitude.

So, pack up the boat, leave the car behind, and blaze a watery trail to this northwestern paradise.
Private water taxi service from Orcas Island is available through Outer Islands Excursions (360) 376-3711.
Park features:
Sucia Island Marine State Park is an 814-acre marine park with 77,700 feet of shoreline and abundant moorage. The park has 60 standard campsites and four reservable group camps.  The main island and several smaller islands comprise the “Sucia group.” There are no services on this island, and fossil collecting is strictly prohibited in this and all Washington state parks.  The park has 10 miles of hiking trails and 640 feet of dock space for boaters.

The park offers 25 picnic sites, five picnic shelters, potable drinking water at Fossil Bay early April through September, Echo Bay and Shallow Bay May through September and composting toilets. Day-use areas may be reserved nine months in advance by calling the park at (360) 376-2073.

Jones Island Marine State Park

When you dock at Jones Island, your welcoming committee may include otters and deer.

Among the most enchanting of the San Juan Islands, Jones Island Marine State Park is the place to let your heart and feet wander. Your wheels can wander too, as the paved trail through the park’s interior meets ADA standards.

Stroll down that trail, through a forest of moss-covered nurse logs and trees, to a lawn with a small apple and pear orchard. Rest there, grill up a picnic in the shelter and take a short stroll to an untamed beach. Deer may approach in search of a fruit handout. Please don’t be swayed by their big brown eyes. Feeding wildlife does not benefit them and is discouraged.

Enjoy a hike on the island’s perimeter. Check out cliff-side campsites (first come, first served) and picnic tables with million-dollar views of Spieden Island. Pitch a tent and settle in, or keep exploring. Look for elusive cacti, or check out a book from the informal “Jones Island Public Library,” that’s located in one of the restrooms.

Whether you stay for one day or three, you’ll be enthralled by the park’s diversity. You will leave Jones Island with the recognition that you just had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you’ll long to return.

Park features:

Accessible only by boat, Jones Island Marine State park is a 188-acre marine camping park with 25,000 feet of saltwater shoreline on the San Juan channel just one mile west of the southwestern corner of Orcas Island. The park provides mooring buoys on two coves, a dock, an ADA trail, a Cascadia Marine Trail campsite and 24 primitive campsites.  There are four miles of hiking trails and 128 feet of dock space.

Drinking water is available May through September. There is no garbage service to the park. Visitors must pack out what they pack in.

Visitors often feed the deer resulting in their becoming dependent on handouts of unnatural foods and potentially dangerous interactions between wild animals and humans. Feeding wildlife is prohibited by law in state parks. Violators may be fined and evicted.

Patos Island Marine State Park

Turning into Active Cove between Patos and Little Patos islands, you’ll feel like you’re landing on the moon. A pebble beach leads to a bare, gray, rocky outcropping. Once you have beached your craft or dinghy, walk to the top of the butte and savor the out-of-this-world views.

The landscape shifts as you wander up, into a colorful forest of Pacific madrone trees and follow the half-mile path to a lonely lighthouse run by the U.S. Coast Guard. The dramatic rock formations at the point are punctuated by yellow lichens and kelly-green moss.

Up for a scavenger hunt? Find the Coast Guard international boundary marker in front of the lighthouse and take the paved path back to a former Coast Guard station, now a ruin, and spy the former helicopter landing pad. Since 1893, the Patos Island Lighthouse has been guiding vessels through Boundary Pass between Canada and the United States.

Patos is only a couple miles from Canadian waters, and is the northernmost of the San Juan Islands.

If you’re planning on a longer stay, grab one of the park’s first-come, first-served campsites, pitch your tent and take in the beauty of this rare, haunting isle.

Park features:
Patos Island is a 207-acre marine park with 20,000 feet of saltwater shoreline that is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Washington State Parks manages the campground at Active Cove on the west side of the island and maintains the two mooring buoys and a 1.5-mile loop trail. The group campsite is often reserved for the local volunteer group that maintains the lighthouse. There is no potable water on the island and visitors must pack out what they pack in.

Lighthouse tours are offered on most weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day (weather and tides permitting).  Please call Sucia Island State Park at (360) 376-2073 for information and availability.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission has the largest state-managed mooring system in the nation, with more than 40 marine parks and more than 8,500 feet of public moorage space for your enjoyment of Washington’s waterways.

Matia Island Marine State Park

Accessible only by boat, Matia Island Marine State Park is a 145-acre marine park with 20,676 feet of saltwater shoreline on the Strait of Georgia. The island is part of the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Under a mutual agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, five acres at Rolfe Cove are available to boaters as a marine park.

Matia Island has use restrictions that are different from most Washington state parks. Fires are not allowed on the island. With the exception of the six campsites at Rolfe Cove, the loop trail and its beaches, the island is closed to public access and is used to protect habitat and wildlife.

Clark Island Marine State Park

Are you craving a day at the beach on your San Juan Islands vacation?

Head out to Clark Island for your choice of fine-grained sand or warm gray pebbles.

Midway between Orcas and Lummi islands, this long stretch of land is the perfect napping, camping or relaxation spot after a big day of boating or paddling.

First-come, first-served campsites sit on the east side’s pea gravel strand. A short walk to the island’s west side leads to a sandy beach bookended by large rocks.

Sunsets here are spectacular, even on partly cloudy evenings, and watching the sunrise from your tent on the beach cannot be beat.

Once you’ve had a restorative visit, whether for an afternoon or a night, you’ll be reinvigorated and ready to sail or paddle forward on your adventure.

Park features:
Accessible only by boat, Clark Island Marine State Park is a 55-acre marine camping and moorage park with 11,292 feet of saltwater shoreline on the Strait of Georgia.

Boaters anchoring offshore or using the park moorage buoys should be aware of the strong currents on the west side of the island. The east side moorage area is subject to large waves created by passing commercial shipping in Rosario Strait.

Bug repellent is recommended into September, particularly for those using the more shaded camp spots.

The park has 15 campsites, one composting toilet and two vault toilets. The nearest fuel and limited groceries are at Blakely Island Marina. Campsites are open year round. Campsites 1-6 and 14 and 15 accommodate up to eight campers, campsites 7-13 accommodate up to four campers.

Cellular phone service is often available here, as Clark Island is close to a cell tower on Orcas.

Blind Island State Park

Tiny Blind Island is full of intrigue.

Can you imagine finding a chunk of rock in the middle of a salty strait, staking a claim and planting an orchard there? A cluster of 19th-century sour apple trees and two formerly freshwater wells offer evidence of early farming on Blind Island.

This marine state park is an unassuming mound in the San Juan Islands. In high season, the isle is a popular stop for kayak groups, including youth groups. In off-times, it is the perfect spot for contemplation.

The park offers two campsites at the top of the island, among the fruit trees now choked with grasses and brush. Each site has a 360-degree vista of Shaw and Orcas islands and the narrow channel between them. Stunning Mount Baker shows itself on clear days, and big skies full of clouds offer changing views when the mountain is hiding.

So, beach your dinghy or kayak, bust out your camp chair and maybe a maritime tale, and prepare to enjoy this unique state park.

Park features:
Accessible only by boat, Blind Island is a 3-acre marine camping park near Blind Bay, Shaw Island. Year-round moorage is available. Because the park is part of the Cascadia Marine Trail, its campsites are only available for boaters arriving by human- or wind-powered watercraft.

There is no potable water on Blind Island; the wells, now dry or stagnant, do not have fresh water. Visitors must pack out what they pack in.

Recreational crabbing in Blind Bay can be excellent. For more information about harvesting crab, obtaining the proper license and catch reporting guidelines, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.