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Have Wetsuit Will Travel: Places to Swim on San Juan Island

child diving into the water
written by Shelley Sharp

Visitors who expect to find miles of sandy beaches with 80 degree water on San Juan Island may be in for a shock. Yes, we are an island known for our beautiful shoreline. And, yes, it’s easy to spend an afternoon with your family exploring the rocky crags, grassy dunes, and piles of weather-worn driftwood. But, alas, bathwater-warm swimming holes are in short supply. However, for hearty souls brave enough to immerse themselves in a 55-60 degree salty sea, we’ve highlighted a few swim spots to take a plunge after a day of touring San Juan Island.

1. Grandmother’s Cove (aka Granny’s Cove)

Granny’s Cove A short walk from the American Camp Visitor’s Center parking lot takes you to this secluded slice of heaven. With a half-moon of brown butter sand and shallow approach, this local’s favorite is often free of tourists. With only the island foxes playing at the berm and bald eagles and osprey circling for their dinner, Grandmother’s Cove offers privacy and sheltered waters. This limestone encircled spot is a fantastic spot to bring a picnic lunch while scanning the horizon for ships and whales. Stop by the National Park Visitor’s Center for a map of the encampment property and a history lesson by a friendly volunteer ranger.

2. San Juan County Park

This small pristine patch of land north of Lime Kiln Point State Park is often overlooked on a loop of San Juan Island. As you enter the park, pass through the first section up the rise to the grassy terrace. With a green field of grass overlooking Haro Strait, San Juan County Park has a pristine little campground and picnic tables for day use. But best of all, on the north side of the lawn, a secret staircase leads to a sheltered cove, perfect for a late afternoon swim.

3. Jackson Beach

Just a short 5 minute drive or 30 minute walk from your room at the San Juan Island Inn Collection brings you to a driftwood strewn beach next to an old cannery with a sheltered cove and boat ramp. Commonly known around town as a great place to take your pup, Jackson Beach offers a gentle slope into the water and amazing views of the Olympic Mountains. When the tide is low, it’s a great spot to wade out into the bay (we recommend wearing shoes!) while watching kite surfers and seals sharing the same space.

4. Egg Lake

You know you are in the country when you join local teenagers at this summer hangout off Egg Lake Road, just a few miles from downtown Friday Harbor. The warmest option for cooling off, Egg Lake is really an oversized pond with cattails, tall grasses, and lilypads. But that doesn’t stop island youth and dogs from using it as a place cool off on a San Juan summer day. In the evening you’ll find rowboats gliding across the still water with quiet anglers attempting to to catch trout and bass for dinner. Whether you just dip your toes, or take the whole plunge, you will find a swim on Egg Lake’s shady shoreline a calm respite from the heat of the day.

5. The Spa at Earthbox Pool

It’s not general knowledge, but by booking a massage, facial, or other service at the Spa at Earthbox, you can ask the front desk for a key to access their indoor pool. Due to it’s small size, it’s not a place to get in your workout laps, but it’s a great choice to take a soak after a relaxing treatment on a cold January day. As a bonus, spa guests also have access to their hot tub and sauna! The Spa at Earthbox is a short 5-10 minute walk from the Tucker House Inn and Harrison House Suites at 410 Spring Street.

Every so often a guest will ask us, “Where’s the beach?” anticipating that our harbor town sits on a sandy bay that’s great for a swim, sunbathing, and letting the kids play in the water. It’s to our delight that we let them know about San Juan Island’s magical places to have a “different kind of beach experience.” Sometimes we say, “Think of Maine.” — We are a bit like that state in the upper right corner of the country. So, if you have a hankering for summertime fun in the waters of the Pacific Northwest, come psyched for chilly conditions — and pack your wetsuit if you have room. 

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