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Visit American Camp: Exploring History on the Prairie

Path cut through tall grass

American Camp

A getaway to Friday Harbor is not complete without a visit to American Camp, part of San Juan Island National Historical Park. A quick ten-minute drive from The Tucker House Inn & Harrison House Suites, American Camp offers visitors the chance to explore historic 19th-century buildings and enjoy scenic views of the Salish Sea.

A great option for an afternoon or morning walk, American Camp is a lightly trafficked area with mostly flat trails.

While you explore its history, you can also appreciate the breathtaking views of the mountains in the distance and the beaches below. Make sure to keep an eye out for eagles soaring above you and wildlife scurrying through the prairie grasses. Then make your way down to the beach known as Grandma’s Cove which provides the perfect backdrop for pictures.

American Camp path

Step back in time at American Camp

At American Camp, relive history as you learn about the Pig War. In 1859 Great Britain and the United States agreed to mutually occupy San Juan Island until the water boundary dispute between the two nations could be resolved. Each nation occupied one end of the island — the English on the forested northern side and the Americans in the prairie on the southern side. The Pig War began when an American shot a British-owned pig that was rooting in his garden. A legal dispute followed which raised questions about territorial rights. Fortunately, the pig was the only casualty of the war, which ended in 1871 when Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany ruled that the San Juan Islands belonged to the United States.

The original camp set up for the Americans was only 200 yards from the shoreline of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Very high winds coming through the strait led the American troops to move up the hill to the existing American Camp site. The hillside location allowed for better wind shelter and a better position from which to monitor for a potential British invasion. Some of the original American Camp buildings remain standing. During your visit, make sure to visit officers’ quarters, the parade ground, and the laundress’ quarters.

Explore American Camp on Foot

American Camp is accessible for people of all activity levels. Start by exploring the flat grounds of American Camp. If your group is feeling more adventurous, you can take the South Beach trail which cuts across the prairie along the water and towards Cattle Point Lighthouse. Another option is to explore the sprawling American Camp grounds, learn more about the history from friendly National Park Service rangers, and take in the beautiful landscape around you.

American Camp south redoubt

For guests at the Tucker House Inn & Harrison House Suites, our innkeepers are ready and eager to recommend local trails that match your desired activity level. Give us a call to plan your stay in the beautiful San Juan Islands.

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