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Cattle Point Lighthouse on San Juan Island

small lighthouse lit up at night under the stars
Content and photos by Jennifer Furber published on July 19, 2017

One of our favorite scenic views on San Juan Island is the southern tip, known locally as Cattle Point. On a clear day, you can look across Cattle Pass to Lopez Island or across The Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Peninsula. Cattle Point Lighthouse is an attraction of San Juan Island’s National Historic Park.

Getting There

Cattle Point Lighthouse is just off Cattle Point Road, south of the town of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. It’s about a 25 minute drive from the Harrison House Suites. The lighthouse is closed to the public. However, visitors to the adjacent San Juan Island National Historic Park are welcome and encouraged to walk the grounds.

What’s in a Name

Cattle Point got its name from a nineteenth-century farm and ranch. Hudson Bay Company Belle Vue Farm, established in 1853, operated the farm. The farm workers frequently unloaded livestock from a dock along the bluffs. Herds of sheep and cattle would graze on the hillsides above the point of land. British charts, as early as 1853, display pencil markings from navigating mariners, “cattle along point of land.” Then, in 1857, a vessel was stranded along the coast of San Juan Island until its load of cattle were forced to swim ashore near the point of land. In 1858, Cattle Point began showing up on official British navigational charts. The Lummi Indian name for the point of land is Who-shung-ing.

What’s in a Structure

At first, the light at Cattle Point was a lens lantern lit on the first of October in 1888. A sheep farmer tended to the light. He filled the kerosene reservoir each week with five-gallon barrels offloaded at Griffin Bay monthly by another lighthouse keeper.  

In 1921, the US Navy took over lighthouse maintenance and built a radio compass station (site of the current covered picnic and Cattle Point Interpretive Center). Ships sailing through the Strait of Juan de Fuca could mark their bearings, even in dense fog, with this aid-to-navigation broadcast radio signal.  

In 1935, the US Navy closed the radio compass station and built a 34-foot octagonal concrete tower, which still stands today at 94 feet above sea level.

What’s Unique about this Lighthouse?

Unlike most lighthouses built along the west coast, the new Cattle Point Lighthouse had no full-time keeper, but hired a private lighthouse contractor to maintain the lighthouse and activate the beacon and fog signal as needed. In the late 1950s, it was one of the first automated lighthouses in Washington State.  

Summer Sky Watch

star gazing in the san juans

In late July, with peak being the 27th-30th, a Delta Aquarids meteor shower is visible, with 15-20 meteors an hour streaking across a dark night sky.  The waxing crescent moon sets before the midnight hour, making the sky a perfect dark canvas. The few hours before dawn are the peak of this show.  

On August 12th and 13th, from midnight until dawn, the annual Perseid meteor shower returns. These meteors are typically fast and bright. So watch for the tail trails often left for a few moments after they streak through the sky.

On August 21, the sun will take part in the most magical celestial act. This is the first time since 1918 a total solar eclipse will be visible from coast to coast. A total solar eclipse will cross North America changing daytime skies to dark twilight for a few minutes.  

Any clear night of the summer, look up at the night sky from Cattle Point. You will see shooting stars, constellations, and possibly Northern Lights. We highly recommend bringing a blanket to gaze upon.

Just a Scenic Drive Away

Once you’ve star-gazed to your heart’s content, head back to a cozy feathertop bed at the Harrison House Suites. Enjoy one of our homemade cookies and sip a warm cup of tea or lavender hot cocoa before falling asleep to gear up for your next adventure!

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