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The Ultimate San Juan Island Scenic Tour

San Juan Island is part of Washington State’s Scenic Byways – one of the only state byways that has a land and water-based component via the inter-island ferry. Getting here is half the fun, as we like to say!

The San Juan Island byway has photo-worthy outlooks around every curve and hill, so don’t rush your tour. You don’t want to miss a thing! Savor the scenery, breathe deeply, relax and and fill your lungs with the salty air, build in time for a walk or hike, and pack a picnic lunch (or order one from our kitchen!) so you can stop and take in that million-dollar view. The entire loop is about 35 miles, which is also often the speed limit. Keep in mind that we share our narrow roads with bicyclists, mopeds, pedestrians, and vehicles (as well as wildlife such as deer and foxes), so exercise caution as you sightsee.

From the Tucker House Inn & Harrison House Suites, head to Spring Street and make a left, heading away from the harbor. Turn left onto Mullis Road (the airport will be to your right). Mullis turns into Cattle Point Road. Follow Cattle Point Road south toward American Camp, one of the two National Park sites on San Juan Island. Stop at the ranger station at the entrance to American Camp for an informative short film about the Pig War and pick up a trail guide for a short historical walk. Ask the rangers about the eagle nest right outside the ranger station. From the Visitor Center, there are several short hikes to Granny’s Cove and Eagle Cove along the west side.

White wooden buildings behind a picket fence

Return to Cattle Point Road and continue south. There are several turnouts along the way where you can park your car, snap a photo, follow the footpaths and take in the expansive views. Once you get to Cattle Point Lighthouse, listen for the sea lions and look for eagles flying in the thermals. Toward the east, you will see Lopez Island, to your south Whidbey Island and Mt. Rainier poking its head through the clouds in the distance, and to the west the Olympic Mountains.

Next head north away from the lighthouse and stop by Jakle’s Lagoon (parking on your right). There you will find the trailhead to Mt. Finlayson through a dense cedar and fern forest. It is a short, steep hike to the top and the views across the prairie are spectacular. Looking for a little less cardio? Turn off Cattle Point Road to your left and visit South Beach. Sit atop a driftwood log, picnic, rest, or read a book.

Continue north along Cattle Point Road and turn left onto False Bay Drive. In a mile, you will see False Bay on your left. This is a great place for tide pooling during low tide. During really low tides, you can walk out to the big rock in the middle of the bay. Keep an eye out for whales passing by the channel or seals in the bay.

sandy beach at low tide

Continue along False Bay Road and turn left on Bailer Hill Road. This will take you to the west side of the island. Turn right on Wold Road and visit Pelindaba Lavender Farm. Meander through the fields, take their self-guided tour to learn how lavender essential oil is distilled and the many uses of this herb, and visit the Gate House Gift Shop to take home a few gifts – including some culinary lavender.

Return to Bailer Hill Road and make a right toward the west side. As you crest the hill, slow down and look to your left. The most amazing scenery will come into view. Stop at one of the turnouts to snap a photograph and explore the paths along the Westside Preserve.

Bailer Hill Road, which has now become West Side Road, will take you to Lime Kiln State Park. This is our “Whale Watch Park,” one of the only places in the world to view orcas in the wild from shore. While the Southern Resident Killer Whales are here throughout the season, we see them with regularity from the shores of Lime Kiln State Park during the summer months. You can spend hours here if you like: touring the lighthouse, hiking to the historic lime kilns, waiting for the orcas to swim by. It’s also an excellent spot to sit and watch the sunset!

As you leave Lime Kiln State Park, make a left and continue on West Side Road toward Mitchell Bay Road. If you turn left, it will take you to Mitchell Bay and Snug Harbor Resort. If you curve to the right, Mitchell Bay Road will dead end into West Valley Road. Turn left on West Valley Road and on your left you will see Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm. The alpacas are adorable and friendly and the gift shop has beautiful hand-knitted clothing. If you are a knitter, you can buy yarn and meet the animals responsible for it.

Continue along West Valley Road to English Camp, the other National Park site on San Juan Island, and follow the narrow road into the park. Along the quiet of Garrison Bay, there is a serene parade ground and formal garden. The one-mile Bell Point Trail at the far end of the parade ground is a picturesque flat walk around Westcott and Garrison Bays. Hike to Mt. Young and enjoy one of the most scenic vistas on the island. The trailhead is on the opposite side of the parking lot, but if you are running short on time, there is shorter trailhead across West Valley Road just past the camp entrance. During the spring, view the wild flowers that pop up along the trail.

At the top of Mt. Young, enjoy sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains, Victoria, and the northern San Juan Islands. You can extend your hike and go down the back side of the hill through the Department of Natural Resources land. However, cell service is often unavailable so make sure you are prepared to navigate your way down. Maps are available on the San Juan Island Trails website.

View from a hilltop across a valley and out over the water

Turn left out of English Camp onto West Valley Road; turn left onto Roche Harbor Road. The northernmost hamlet on San Juan Island is Roche Harbor, a seasonal boater village. Here you may join kayaking or whale watching adventures or just explore, shop, and dine at one of three restaurants. During the summer, island artists have kiosks in the main square. At sunset each night, observe the traditional colors ceremony. Visit the chapel, lime kilns, and the historic Bed and Breakfast de Haro where President Theodore Roosevelt and John Wayne once stayed.

After you leave Roche Harbor, enjoy a visit to the San Juan Islands Sculpture Park & Nature Reserve on your right, just across from the airstrip. There are about 130 outdoor sculptures on the 19-acre property. Or park on the north end of the airstrip and follow the path through the woods to the John S. McMillin Memorial Mausoleum, perhaps San Juan Island’s most interesting monument.

Monument with large columns in a forested area

From here you might head south back towards Friday Harbor. However, consider first heading back towards the harbor along Roche Harbor Road but this time following Armadale Road rather than turning right into the marina parking lot. Toast to a fabulous day on San Juan Island with a visit to the San Juan Island Distillery. There you can sample hard cider, gin, brandy, and Calvados, made using heirloom apples and local island botanicals. There will be another opportunity to continue your liquid arts tour as you head south back towards town on Roche Harbor Road. Look for San Juan Vineyard’s tasting room, which will be located on the left.

Continue following Roche Harbor Road south back to Friday Harbor. Take a left at the stop sign onto Guard Street to Second Street. Go to the next stop sign and make a left on Spring Street and a right on First Street which turns into Harrison St. Park your car back at the Tucker House Inn & Harrison House Suites and explore Friday Harbor on foot.

Friday Harbor is a wonderful seaside village with lots of great shops, historic buildings, museums, and restaurants. After your busy day of touring, consider a quiet, intimate dinner at Coho Restaurant. Call us for a reservation and we’ll have something chilled and bubbly ready for your arrival!

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lighthouse at a rocky shorline with evergree trees at back

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