Content by Jennifer Furber, Photo By Lindsey Smith
1. Jakle’s Lagoon & Mount Finlayson
Jakle’s Lagoon is located just south of Fourth of July Beach on Cattle Point. A moderate hike with minimal steep sections and around seven total switchbacks. This hike is part of San Juan Island’s National Historical Park. Jakle’s Lagoon is named after Cattle Point Lighthouse’s first lighthouse keeper, George Jakle. This hike peaks at the highest point on San Juan’s south end at 295 above sea level.
From the parking lot, take the “Mount Finlayson” trail. This trail is named after Roderick Finlayson, a founder of Victoria, B.C. The trail runs flat alongside the ridge of Cattle Point Road. At 295 feet above sea level, Mt Finlayson’s peak provides a spectacular view of America Camp’s prairie, Cattlepoint’s lighthouse and a picturesque view of a shorline trail that winds through the forest to a salty lagoon. You’ll also enjoy views of both Haro and Juan de Fuca Straits, the Olympic Mountains on the Olympic Penninsula and Vancouver Island. At 1.3 miles, a path called “Lagoon Loop” veers left and down. Follow this for a total loop of 2.9 miles. Or, at the intersection to “Lagoon Loop,” follow a winding trail through lush evergreens to Jakle’s Lagoon.
2. Young Hill
Second on our list, Young Hill is located at the north end of the island with a 650-foot summit that provides sweeping views of San Juan, Canada’s Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, and beyond.
From the English Camp parking lot, it’s a 1.1 mile hike to the top. A quarter of the way up, the 1860s Royal Marine Cemetery is along a side trail to the right. Gravestones memorialize Pig War soldiers, including a man who died by being, as it says on the grave, “accidentally shot by his brother.”
The trail rises at a steep and steady gradient, with plenty of places to rest. The thick forest of evergreens, madrona, and oak trees look best in wet PNW winter. At the summit, the trees thin to a rocky clearning to sit and take in the views. This moderate-difficult round-trip hike is 2.2 miles.
3. Lime Kiln Point State Park
Lime Kiln Point State Park is a 36-acre day-use park with a restored, historic lighthouse located on San Juan Island’s west side. Also known as Whale Watch Park, it is common to see orca whales swimming through the kelp beds in the waters off Lime Kiln, looking for salmon. From the parking lot, Whale Watch Point is a paved, 300-yard walk just past public restrooms. Just past the lighthouse, to the north, is a short walk to the old Lime Kiln and 1.6 miles of trails. In 1860, limestone was quarried and kilns were built to produce lime for over sixty years. The main kiln sits below a hearty set of stairs.
The park is also home to the historic lighthouse you’ve seen in San Juan Island photos. It’s been around since 1919, shortly after the lighthouse was automated. The lighthouse still serves as a navigational beacon for Haro Strait’s ships. The park features old madrona trees, a rocky shoreline and a dense evergreen forest. A variety of marine life such as minke whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions, otters and bald eagles inhabit the shoreline.
4. South Beach Trail
Up next is America Camp National Historic Park. Home to the longest public beach in all the San Juan Islands. With views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Peninsula, this pebble and sand beach with massive structures and piles of driftwood is a must-see for any beach walker. Whether it’s for beach combing or exercise, this south island spot is a must-see.
From the far end of the beach parking lot, follow the trail through the natural prairie, wind around a few glacial erratics, finally to the peak of “Historic Redoubt,” a land fortification made during the Pig War and used from 1859-1871. This land fortress offered soldiers views in every direction. Follow the trail to the picket-fence around the quarters of Robert Redoubt. Return to your west, which is the site of the 1950s Hudson Bay Company’s Belle Vue Sheep Farm. Continue on the trail down to Granny’s Cove, a beach glass haven along a beautiful sandy stretch.
5. Bell Point Trail
English Camp Historic Park is 15 miles from America Camp on the northwest part of San Juan Island. Here, British troops set up their camp along Garrison Bay. The British settled in one of San Juan’s most protected anchorages on the island. From the parking lot, begin past the restored military buildings to the white blockhouse by the water. Cross the meadow and orchard to Bell Point Trail. This flat trail travels past madrone trees, cedars and junipers. This Easy trail is a 1.7 mile loop.
6. Afterglow Vista Trail
Located at the northern part of San Juan Island, beside Roche Harbor Resort is a fascinating half-mile Easy round-trip hike that is worth the trip. Park at the resort’s Bed and Breakfast de Haro and walk up to the airstrip along Tagney Memorial Drive. The road begins to curve left, and look for the “Afterglow Vista Trail” sign. Immediately, you will walk beside a historic cemetery then continue on a gravel road until you reach the iron gates that hold the words “Afterglow Vista” at the top. This is the entrance to the McMillin Family Mausoleum. The McMillins were the original builders of Roche Harbor. Around a stone table with chairs that contain the cremated remains of family members are a circle of Doric columns.
San Juan Island has many natural hidden gems if you’re willing to get out and explore them. Make a trip out to the island, spend a day trekking the wondrous winter trails, then end your day by checking in to the San Juan Island Inn Collection and cozy up next to the fire with a mug of hot cocoa in hand. You’re bound to have a day to remember.