Book Direct For Best Rates

The Best San Juan Island Hike: Grandma’s Cove

Content and photos by Jennifer Furber published July 11, 2017

The best part of San Juan Island is the abundance of public beaches. Sometimes it’s hard to choose from rocky shores, secluded sandy coves, and driftwood coasts. About five miles from the Harrison House Suites is my favorite beach. Grandma’s Cove is in San Juan’s largest park and within the historic site of San Juan Island’s American Camp National Historic Park.

American Camp is about five miles from town, towards the south end of the island. It’s the historic home to US soldiers during the US/British occupation of the mid-1800s. This occupation took place during the Pig War, a boundary dispute over the ownership of the island. Adjacent to the parking lot, there’s an interpretive center with a great selection of historic books and artifacts found over the last hundred years, as well as Native American cultural artifacts like harpoon points and shell pendants.

American Camp is open daily, 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

How to Get to Grandma’s Cove

grandmother cove beach

A short walk down the trail is a flagpole that stands on the site of the original Army flagpole. Continue through the treeless prairie and the historic army buildings that consist of a restored farmhouse, former laundress’s quarters and a huge picket fence. Along the way, keep your eyes up to see terns, gulls, bald eagles, and yellowlegs.

Grandma’s Cove is a beautiful arc of land that rises up in sharp rocks and meets the ocean in a large stretch of sand, especially at low tide. It consistently has the best sea glass in greens and fogged-white and even the coveted dark blue sea glass. The water is part of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, which separates San Juan Island from the Olympic Peninsula. You can see the snow-capped Olympic Mountains from across the straits. In the distance to the right is Vancouver Island of British Columbia.

Why You Sometimes Hear it Called Granny’s Cove

Not long ago, a matriarch of our local orca population passed away. Her name was Granny and her decades-long presence caused many islanders to refer to this beach as Granny’s Cove. But as I’ve recently learned, this cove has a different namesake. The waters to the left foreground cover a shallow underwater ridge referred to as Salmon Bank. The ridge extends 1.75 miles into the straits.

Archeological research indicates an Indian summer village stood above the beach for 2,700 years. The village became a famous place for preserving and catching fish. In 1850, the Hudson Bay Company (the island’s first trading business) built a fishing station consisting of a shed and vats for salting fish. The Native Americans, who exchanged sixty fish for one blanket, caught the fish. Two to three thousand barrels of fish were salted, packed, and shipped annually. As islanders began to settle, the elderly tribal women were mainly the ones packing and salting the fish and, thus, this cove became known as “Grandma’s Cove.”

Tell Us What You Think!

After your day of adventuring, we love to hear all of your tales! So once you have visited Grandma’s Cove, be sure to tell the team at the Harrison House Suites all about your outing. And, if you are staying at our sister property, the Tucker House Inn, the other guests at the breakfast table would love to hear about your trip to grandma’s cove as well.

Recent Posts

One of Our Favorite Hikes for Fall: Afterglow Vista

Afterglow Vista, also known as the McMillin Memorial Mausoleum, is one of the best things to do in Roche Harbor—especially as we near Halloween—as the trail leads you through an ancient cemetery up to a haunting open-air memorial to the family of John S. McMillin, a leader in the limestone

Read More »

Day Trip: Things to do on Orcas Island

This horseshoe-shaped addition to the San Juan Island archipelago is not only beautiful but there is also a ton of fun and adventurous things to do on Orcas Island. As the third stop from Anacortes on the ferry boat, Orcas Island is the largest and perhaps the most visited of

Read More »

Your Guide to the San Juan Island National Park

The San Juan Island National Park comprises two historic properties on opposite ends of the island: English Camp on the north and American Camp to the south. These two camps now stand as a monument to an incident in 1859 that nearly led the United States and Great Britain to

Read More »
Scroll to Top

Recognized by Travel & Leisure Magazine

We have been humbly recognized by Travel & Leisure Magazine as the best place to stay when visiting Friday Harbor and San Juan Island.

Get our Travel Planner to the San Juan Islands.  20+ pages outlining the Best of the Best!